Green Builders, Inc. is ahead of the trend. Right now, green building is mainly done by custom builders who add extra features if the homeowner wants it. Production builders have energy efficient features as extra options that a homeowner can add on to the package of a home. For Clark Wilson, president and CEO of Austin-based Green Builders, Inc., it’s something different. He wants every home he builds in a community to have energy efficient features, no questions asked. It is part of the home you buy, not tacked on as an extra. And it’s affordable.
Staff Writer Jennifer Powell talks with Wilson about why he’s making energy efficiency standard and keeping it affordable.
As a green builder, you take it a step further than most builders. Many builders only offer energy efficient features as options. You offer green homes with standard energy efficient features. What inspired you to take on this road?
Well, the concept for green came to me after more than 30 years in the construction and development industry, because I was bought out by a large public home builder, and retired from that company after the buyout in 2002. I began to look around and became interested in the future of homes and communities, and I became convinced that green sustainable building practices were going to become necessities for the future.
I really looked around and green building was mostly done by small custom builders and except for the larger builders who were beginning to dabble in green by offering optional things to be bolted onto their current production houses.
And truly green homes and communities weren’t available on a large scale to really make any kind of a big difference. So I put together a team of land developers, engineers, construction architects and green building science people to create beautiful, long-lasting green homes on a larger scale and on a price that people could afford. Thus Green Builders was created.
What advice would you give to builders who say it’s difficult to build green, too expensive, just a fad, etc.?
I believe it's a trend that's going to last, and that it's something that's going to be required either by the government or your buyers or both. So it's not one of these flash-in-the-pan trends that if you duck your head long enough will pass. This is a necessity, so if you want to be in the business you better get with the program.
Are there small steps builders can take to get started?
Sure. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. So the steps you can take would be to get with a green building architect, green building scientist and begin to look at your plans and really think through what you're trying to accomplish, which is a much more energy-efficient and water-efficient [house] using green materials and methods wherever you can. It's our job as builders to come up with innovative things that you can do that don't drive up the cost of the home.
Green building is about efficiency – efficiency in both the end product all the way through the building of that product. There are a lot of things in green that are actually cost saving, and you then apply those cost savings into the features that are more expensive. And that result – for instance, your savings – it's an allocation of resources game. Look at your resources and allocate them properly where you're going to have an energy- and water-efficient home.
If a product is marketed as being energy-efficient, but the manufacturing and delivery is not energy efficient, in your opinion, is that product still green?
If for example you offer recycled carbon that's being used and manufactured in a sustainable manner, you should have discovered whether that product is or isn’t that way in your due diligence of determining what you're going to put into that product. If it turns out that the marketing was better than the actual performance … you would want to continue to evaluate all the products that you're using every day or every cycle and see if there is something more sustainable. Or if it turns out you were hood-winked, then obviously you should re-evaluate the use of that vendor or supplier in a pretty stern manner.
Do you think it is more difficult now to market energy-efficient homes?
From a marketing standpoint, energy and water efficiency are going to resonate a whole lot more with people because that affects them in their pocketbook the day they move into the home. … What sells is the energy and water efficiency and the savings in utilities; and the comfort in the home is second. And then health would go hand-in-hand with comfort. The sustainable building practices are going to be what pleases your environmentalists, your government and your code people more, and that's fine. Those are all stakeholders in our industry. But none of those stakeholders will be happy if you don't sell anything, if you haven't accomplished anything. It has to come out to be pleasing quality and the right location, right price, right interest rates – all the things that go into a successful housing project still come into play. And the green just gives you a differentiator and an edge that if you have it, you win.
What are some common mistakes builders make in marketing green building?
The first time you touch the customer or the customer sees you is that Web site. So it's just not a brochure to put out on the Web with a pretty picture. It does need to be interactive. It does need to be educational. It does need to be state-of-the-art, consumer-friendly and educational, a place that they'll continue to come back and use as a resource. Given the fact that the mortgage and the housing market is slow right now, we're seeing lots and lots and lots of traffic on the Web site. They've been doing their homework. They've been Web surfing … and we're seeing our Web site traffic continue to build even in these slow times, and what that means is that we're building up something that will be unleashed, and unleashed in a green way. But it's still going to take some time for the housing market to heal.
Do you have an opinion, one way or the other, on whether there should be a single, national standard for green building, and if so, what standard would you choose?
My opinion on that would be is that each location, each locale, has different climate issues, has different natural resources, manufacturers, so it's going to be difficult to have a national code. The National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Green Building Council both have very good third-party rating systems, and so do a lot of locations around the country. So I would say that a third-party rater is going to be more in tune with the local conditions, the local energy needs and things like that than a national code would be.
Do you think green is here to stay?
Absolutely. Green building is not a fad. And it is a great differentiator at this time. The fact that we grabbed the lead position means that we're going to have to continue to lead in the green building industry. But I would much rather try to sell energy efficiency right now than another discount. I'd rather be adding value than discounting.
You can learn more about Clark Wilson and his company at www.greenbuildersinc.com