At the press conference at the International Builders Show the press kept on challenging the NAHB spokesmen about the differences between LEED for homes (known as LEED-h) and the new NAHB National Green Building Program (NAHBgreen). The responses centered on the word “mandate” but the definition of that seemed to float between referring to governmental mandates that all construction be “green” and issues with the number of mandatory items required for a home to pass LEED-h minimum standards. The alleged cost of these programs was also a source of great confusion and rancor. During and after the conference I kept reflecting on how wrong headed all the tension between LEED-h and NAHBgreen is and how it distracts us and keeps us from getting our message out which is all about transforming the market and the way people build and buy homes and the decisions we all make about remodeling and maintaining the homes we have.

Let’s get one thing very straight here. LEED and NAHB are on the same side. We are both focused on helping the market shift to recognize energy efficient and resource efficient building systems that result in well maintained houses that are healthier to live in than the status quo and use fewer materials to build and less fuel and water to live in and last longer.

There are significant differences between the two programs. LEED-h is focused on serving the “Top 25% of the Most Environmentally Conscious Builders in America”. It is a green building program for high end, high performance homes and, as such, its requirements are very rigorous and the standard of proof in terms of third party verification is very stringent and therefore more expensive. The “NAHB National Green Building Program” is aimed at every builder in America not just the top 25% of the greenest builders in America. Its standards of proof are designed to make the program meaningful and verifiable but not onerous to participate in from the builder’s or the verifier’s perspective. A pre-construction plan review, two site visits and a paper trail showing receipts and photographs of systems implementation are all that are required. Third party oversight and “consulting” are minimized. The system is designed to make it easy and inexpensive for builders to step up to green building best practices. In that builders are going to be using the Green Certificate as a marketing tool when they sell their products, the documentation has to be stringent enough to stand up in court if the builder is accused of “green-washing” by cheating on the certification.

I have been having all my homes scored to both LEED-h and NAHBgreen as well as to the North Carolina version of the NAHBgreen system that our state has modified to fit our particular climate and humidity and water conservation challenges. But I’m an NAHBgreen builder because I want to be part of improving the way America builds homes and I believe that NAHBgreen has a better chance of creating a market shift than LEED-h does.

If we want to make a difference we need to be able to build green homes for school teachers and factory workers and cops and the real life beer drinking folks who make this country work. Not just for the movie stars and Prius driving, granola crunching, chardonnay sipping, crème de la crème.

Ed Begley and Brad Pitt need homes too and I’m thrilled to think that they are building structures that push the envelope for zero carbon footprint LEED-h platinum excellence. But I spent some time talking with LEED-h builder Steve Glenn in Los Angeles the other day about how much it costs him to build one of these super-green homes and he’s looking at $400 per square foot for construction (not including land costs.) His cost for LEED-h certification is $5,000 - just for the report card! Maybe people in LA can afford that but I would have a pretty hard time selling it in Carrboro, North Carolina. My cost for LEED-h certification is only $3,000 here in NC for the same report card that Steve pays $5,000 for in LA but the NAHBgreen report card is $150 here and across the country.

If we care about making green building affordable and accessible then we are going to need a program that has an affordable level of entry and is accessible to the average builder. NAHBgreen is that program. But that doesn’t make us the enemy of LEED-h. They provide a very challenging program with a stringent verification; NAHB provides a very welcoming program with a lot of peer support and encouragement for new builders taking the first steps towards Energy Star and Green certification. The market is big enough for both programs and it’s going to take both to move our country away from the crises of out-of-control consumption we are in.

Builders and developers worry about government mandates and their concern is justified. Our local Orange County NC County Commissioners have made it clear that they want every home and building built here to be Energy Star and Green Certified in two years. The local Home Builders Association has made it clear that we will not buy in unless our National Green Building Standard is one of the definitions of green that are accepted by the county. Imagine if they adopted the LEED-h standard instead, and only the top 25% of the most environmentally conscious builders in America were allowed to build here. A move such as that would have a devastating effect on affordable housing in our county.

When I talk to builders about LEED vrs NAHBgreen, I find it is useful to compare it to a religion. In all too many ways it is an apt analogy. The LEED-h providers are like the high priests and priestesses of green, up in the fancy stone church on the rich side of town. The NAHB crew are the folks in the revival tent down by the river. You don’t need to take a bath and put on nice clothes to come to our church. But we’re both preaching from the same gospel. “Listen up Builders and Architects of America, there’s a better way to build homes that doesn’t cost much more but saves energy and water, and lasts longer, and makes for much less warrantee expense, and it’s a better way to do business, and it’s easy to get involved.”

The enemy is not the high priest mumbling in Latin up on the hill. The enemy is those who are still building inefficient, drafty and leaky, minimum standard homes that waste energy and water and cost more to maintain and will have a shorter life span than homes built with existing green building systems. But the goal of our program is not to attack those builders either, just to bring them into our tent and show them how easy it is to join our congregation.

Here are a few more of the best of the gleanings form my time on the floor

Beth and I love the designers at MTI so I made a special point of seeing what they are up to. There are a lot of people designing tubs and showers and Kohler generally snaps up the top designers yet here is this little company coming out year after year with cutting edge brilliant stuff at a great price point. Their free-standing Osiris bath tubs (with the wide flat lip for wine glasses and paperback novels) have become almost standard equipment in our master bathrooms, a huge amount of luxury at an amazingly low price (considering what it would cost with a different label) and they nailed it again, on several products!

Clearly the sexiest bathtub I’ve ever seen is their new Elise tub made from some solid surface material that resembles Corian, a luscious matte finish totally unlike any acrylic whirlpool tub. Pretty expensive in comparison to the Acrylic tubs but just gorgeous and they come with several matching vanity sink options.

But they still do the whirlpool tubs like the Osiris but made them better by adding electric radiant heaters behind the shoulders. This is a thin, low-voltage heater that they embed in the tub before they put the gel coat on. Lean back and the area behind your back both above and below the water line is warm like a hot rock on a sunny riverbank. They did the same for the seat (and even floors) in their new line of showers so when you sit down to shave your legs you don’t have a clammy plastic seating experience. And even they make the matching heavy frameless glass shower enclosures to save another trade from having to measure and fit.

They’ve also addressed the issue of germs growing in the plumbing of a whirlpool with new technology and come up with a big challenge to Jacuzzi’s lock on the shower floor market with their new teak wood shower receiver. It is an acrylic shower floor that pairs easily with tile or glass wall treatments but has a teak duckboard floor that covers up the acrylic floor creating the appeal of a casual wood floor with the leak resistance and low maintenance of an acrylic floor. I haven’t seen the documentation but I think it’s safe to assume that when a company sweats the details as much as these guys do the teak is likely to be FSC certified sustainably harvested.

Finally, a very pedestrian product that solves a very common problem. We do a lot of stucco applications on chimneys and ICF walls and veneer stone applications that all require galvanized wire mesh to attach the stucco or thin set to the substrate. This stuff is very unpleasant to work with and can lead to moisture migration into the wall. Spider lath is a plastic stucco lathe with rubber gaskets that you nail through to attach it to the wall so you will not have leaks through the fastener penetration and it comes in a 4’ x 20 foot light weight roll that is very easy to work with and corrosion proof. It solves a difficult problem in a very elegant way.

Michaels Picks from the IBS

The classes at the IBS were great but having been to a few shows already I knew who the really good teachers were and I spent a lot more time on the show room floor than I have in times past. I skipped all the silly games, although the value of all the prizes given away was said to be in excess of a million dollars and the attendance was down 10% to only 192,000 so the odds would have been fairly good. I should have brought my mother-in-law who would have made a full time job of entering all the contests and would have undoubtedly come home with some really great stuff. But I was solo other than hanging out with Dan Morrison and all the good folks from Fine Homebuilding and Environmental Building News so here are the best of the gleanings form my time on the floor.

The booth advertised invisible speakers and I walked in to a flat screen with an all star band in a plain room with no speakers but great surround sound. Deep bass crisp highs white paint. It turns out the speakers look like two foot square pieces of sheetrock with nail pattern marked so you don't damage the electronics and a self re-set breaker inside to prevent you from burning them out. I didn't ask how loud it would go but it was definitely party level in there.

I've been a Bose fan for years and these may not have been quite as crisp as that but I would definitely put them in my own house.

Many of my clients already have a serious investment in home audio and video components and a collection of music on PC and MP3 players and just want to find an affordable way to integrate the many parts into a unified system. The Hi Fi by Hai (sorry about that name fellas) is a system that connects all the various stuff you already own into a central system while allowing you to leave them distributed all around the house. The tuner in the living room can feed the news to the speakers in the kitchen in the morning, the computer in the office can now feed tunes to the kitchen in the afternoon and the game on the TV can feed audio to the kitchen in the evening. It's a great idea. As with all this electronic stuff I want to see it work in real life before I completely but in but this does look like a great solution to a persistent problem. Plus the system uses the energy efficient Class D amplifiers that use much less power and virtually no power on standby. This is NOT and audiophile solution like the Bose home audio but works with the audiophile equipment you already own to project good quality sound throughout your home.

Classes at the IBS

The classes at the IBS have been extraordinary this time. Wednesday afternoon I went to a panel discussion featuring Peter Pfeiffer, one of my favorite architects from Austin Texas, speaking on “Real, Relevant, and Do-able Green Building Techniques.” I got to ask some questions that have been bugging me about the efficacy of radiant barriers and air gaps in spray foamed roofs and walls. (Peter is in favor of them in roofs but not so much in walls.) There still seems to be not enough hard information about the opacity of spray foam to radiant heat.

The next day started out with a long talk from Bill McDonough on the evolution of “Cradle to Cradle Analysis” and ended with a panel discussion Entitled “Greenwash or Green Integrity” featuring Ron Jones who is a great green motivational speaker and a person I have gained a lot of respect for through his role as chair of the NAHB-ICC National Green Building Standards. He’s sort of the Barak Obama of Green. He manages to find a way to state what we all know in our hearts to be true in a way that makes us feel encouraged about ourselves and the green building movement. He puts ideas together in a way that builds consensus and enthusiasm and that’s worth a lot right there.

The next morning found me in a class lead by Scott Sedum on business management and reducing the wasted effort in the building process that was really provocative and beneficial. He’s a great presenter and a very organized individual. He sent everybody home with a CD of his writings and ways to improve their businesses. If I incorporate even one of the good ideas gleaned from that class, my business will be better as a result.

I spent a good part of that day roaming the IBS floor picking up new product information especially in the low-rent “South Pavilion” where all the new businesses had their booths. But at 3:30 in the afternoon my long time Building Science hero Joe Lstiburek was presenting on “Managing Moisture in Residential Building Envelopes" and I finally got to meet the man himself. In the early 1980’s I happened to come across an article Joe had written that showed the results of thermal imaging they were doing as part of the Canadian R-2000 program and first came across the term “Building Science” and knew what my life’s work would be. I have followed Joe's writing and his website ever since and his research has deeply influenced the way I build houses.

Of course I had a lot of questions to ask about rain screens and sealed crawlspaces and radiant heat penetration of spray foam in roof applications and eventually he said “I’ll answer any questions you want, but it will have to be over a cold beer at the bar at the Peabody Hotel, and I’m buying.” So we went to the hotel and drank beer and talked about building science and he answered all my questions, and raised more of course. I was too shy to ask for someone to take a picture of me with my hero but here he is during the question and answer period. The look of concentration on the faces in the audience gives you a sense of how respected his thoughts are among builders.

What is it with the NAHB?

What is it with the NAHB that they scheduled “Green Day” at the International Builders Show for Valentines Day and the National Green Building Conference for Mothers Day? Are they anti-marriage or just misogynistic?

We were going to give them the benefit of the doubt but then, during the National Press Conference for the new NAHB-ICC National Green Building Standard, they have a guy stand in for Donna Stankus to talk about the remodeling section and in illustrating the importance of green remodeling he pointed out that the average American home changes hands every seven years by saying “Most Americans change their homes as often as I change my wives” - dead silence in a room full of national press, many of whom are women. Last I checked, people change their underwear or their socks but, having lived through a divorce, I can assure you that we do not simply “change wives.”

Still it was nice to see all the NAHB staff dressed in matching green-themed golf shirts and all the disposable “I heart Green” buttons everyone was wearing. I really had to be there for the press releases for the new National Green Building Standard in I gave so much time to stewarding it through the ANSI process (even though I was in the room as an un-invited interloper.) It was really fun to be at the press conference for the on-line green scoring tool that I helped create. Especially since they used a slide from the website to illustrate the scoring tool that featured a photograph of the Berry Residence we finished last summer.

It was gratifying to see all the hard work come to fruition even though it was a major disconnect to see it happen at the Orlando Convention Center with 192,000 other builders and an unknown number of “spokes models” in too-tight tee-shirts and high heels. I can understand that if you’re selling vinyl siding then a cute girl in shorts and a tank top might bring attention to your booth. But I am a little confused about what the cute girl in the extra small NAHB Research Center outfit had to do with the National Homebuilding Questionnaire she was handing out.

In the past year I’ve been exposed to the very best of what the NAHB has to offer through the National Green Building Conference, the NAHB-ICC National Green Building Standard consensus process and the beta test group. The brilliant people at the research center who made that thing work were at least fifty percent women, and smart ones who really understand building science and the ANSI Standard Process. Emily English, Calli Schmidt, Megan Inouye, and Amber Wood are a few great examples but there are many more behind them, smart women making the green building movement work. Our own Durham North Carolina just named Michele Myers, a redneck-woman-green-homebuilder to Builder of the Year.

So I thought we had evolved to a higher standard. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and the NAHB will continue to support causes I don’t line up with. Still, I do believe that a more gender equitable Home Builders Association is something we can work towards and that we’ll look back at these days sometime and just shake our heads and grimace.


Chandler Design-Build Creative Construction

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