High Energy Prices Spur Rise of Environment-friendly Building

Rising energy prices have homeowners and builders looking to add a new color to their home designs: green. Green building is the practice of designing homes with energy efficient and environmentally friendly features – elements that often add to the up-front cost of a home, but are intended to offset long-term energy expenses.

“There’s a new generation of housing that is evolving … and green building is one aspect that is helping builders build that next generation of houses,” Kristin Shewfelt, vice-chair of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes Committee.

As Shewfelt sees it, in five to 10 years builders who do not do green building will be behind the curve and left behind in the residential development market. A recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders and McGraw Hill Construction suggests she’s on the mark.

The survey found that there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of builders dedicated to green building issues since 2005, when 2 percent of residential projects were considered green. The number of builders who are moderately or heavily involved in green building projects is expected to increase by another 30 percent by 2007 to reach a total of 64 percent of all builders, according to the survey.

“Buyers are becoming more aware of long-term operating costs,” Shewfelt said. “[Green building] really has evolved into a very complex and competitive market.”

Alan Abrams, president of Abrams Design Build in Washington, D.C., says the environmental consciousness of his clients is changing, and during the last year has noticed that many people possess an increasing level of awareness when it comes to green building issues.

“The idea that green building adds inordinate cost to building is a myth,” Abrams said. “The payback period on energy improvement is decreasing at an accelerating rate. It’s a very low-risk investment.”

On average, green building design increases the up-front costs of a home by 2 percent, and produces energy savings equivalent to 20 percent of construction costs, according to a 2003 study by California’s Sustainable Building Task Force.

Abrams noted that many features of green building, such as orienting windows to maximize natural light and passive solar heating, add no cost to a project.

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