History of Green Building

The home building industry coined the phrase “green building” in the late 1980’s, turning a small movement of energy efficient, resource sensitive homes into a quiet revolution-one that that has become the preferred way to build and remodel. Green Building, sustainability and energy efficient homes are now part of the vocabulary of new home construction and remodeling.  As professional builders we have welcomed the national attention brought to these important issues. Some of us have been building homes with many of these practices for over twenty five years, especially in the northern part of the country. However we take the subject with a healthy grain of salt. Green building is a far more complex science than is portrayed in the media. News stories or magazine articles typically focus on specific products such as insulated windows, high efficiency furnaces, solar panels, or recycled-content flooring. While these products provide measurable benefits in terms of energy savings, and better use of natural resources, genuine green building is much more complex.

  Over the last decade, while consistently improving energy efficient building practices and introducing new technology and products each year, the building industry has been challenged with educating the public in the many aspects of the science of green building technology.  We were finding that the term “green” was being increasingly applied as an easy way to identify many products that are used by consumers, including building materials and new homes, as having a better or smaller impact on the environment. In some instances, intended or not, the term “green washing” comes into play. Simply, it refers to incomplete, exaggerated, or downright untrue promises made about a product’s environmental performance with no real evidence to back it up. Professional Builders’ were confronted with “green claims” from a variety of building products manufacturers, and realized the growing need for true verification and testing methods.

In 2007 the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish a much needed and nationally recognizable standard definition of green building. The resulting ICC 700 National Green Building Standard is the first and only residential green building rating system to undergo the full consensus process and receive approval from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This green standard defines green building levels for single-and multi-family homes, residential remodeling projects and site development projects, while still allowing for the flexibility required for regionally appropriate best practices.

  A Builder building green homes or as I prefer “high performance homes”, uses a systematic approach to design, construction, and on-going operational durability in which the sum of the benefits are far greater than the individual components. This is the basis of the performance rating systems such as HERS (home energy rating system) that certified third party Raters actually verify performance and certify new homes.  The National Green Building standard, US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental design or LEED. and the Federal Governments’ Energy Star program are the widely accepted certification programs.  Thousands of new homes and buildings are built each year to these standards and many undergo the certification process individually as well. No longer can someone make a claim of building “green homes” without actually having to prove certification has been done under these programs. Additionally, the International Codes Council (ICC) which manages and updates the national residential building code (IRC) that all States adopt and use has improved the energy codes in the last few years to reflect a minimum standard in energy efficiency that is getting closer to the widely accepted National Green Building standard.

 Home building is quickly becoming a profession where only those Builders and Remodeling Contractors that understand building sciences and the intricacies of the codes will be able to survive. The complicated rules and regulations that govern our industry are challenging industry professionals and the public alike. Only those professionals that understand and practice the best technology and disciplines will soon be in demand. Many Builders have also taken steps to become Certified Green Professionals (CGP) designed to help the consumer identify the difference between green built homes and homes built to the minimum building code.

To sum up, green building, means incorporating environmental considerations and resource efficiency into every step of the land development and home building process to minimize impact on the environment. It is a common sense approach to a variety of issues that affect all of us, such as increasing energy prices, depletion of water resources, changing weather patterns, and our primary dependence on fossil fuels.  The key components are as follows;

  • Energy efficiency improvements such as high levels of insulation, minimizing air infiltration, high efficient HVAC systems, high performance windows and doors, and energy efficient light fixtures and appliances.
  • Resources conservation using materials such as engineered wood and wood alternatives recycled building materials, sustainably harvested lumber and more durable products.
  • Indoor environmental quality considerations such as effective HVAC equipment, air filters and humidifiers, formaldehyde-free finishes, low allergen materials, and products with a minimum off-gassing or low volatile organic compound.
  • Water conservation measures such as water saving appliances and fixtures, filtration systems, low maintenance, with native species and drought resistant landscaping.
  • Site design planning for subdivisions that minimize disruption and preserving of natural open space, and the use of natural storm water management systems.
  • Homeowner education through manuals and operating guides for recourse efficient lifestyles.

With these  systematic approaches to green or sustainable building and developing in Marquette Michigan, we can and are building new homes that not only leave as small an environmental footprint as possible, but also deliver convenience, comfort, safety, and a high level of value.