Saving green by going green

Building environmentally friendly homes

By Valerie Smith / The Bulletin

Earth Advantage

Based in Portland, Earth Advantage started as a branch of Portland General Electric, according to its website. It became a standalone nonprofit in 2005 and offers certification of residential and commercial buildings, education for builders and consumers and research.

Earth Advantage offers three levels of certification: silver, gold and platinum, along with certifications for net zero and net zero ready, multifamily certification and remodel certification.

New home certification is based on points earned in five categories — energy efficiency, healthy indoor air quality, resource efficiency, environmental responsibility and water conservation.

U.S. Green Building Council

Based in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Green Building Council has 76 chapters, 13,000 member companies and organizations and more than 181,000 professionals who hold LEED credentials.

In 2000, the organization established Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green certification program that now covers not only homes but also building design and construction, interior design and construction, building operations and maintenance and neighborhood development.

Projects must meet standards, depending on the category, and certification is based on points earned. It offers four levels of certification: certified, silver, gold and platinum.

Sources: Earth Advantage and U.S. Green Building Council websites

Changing building codes, increased consumer awareness and demand have prompted contractors to build more green, or environmentally friendly, homes nationally and locally.

While building a green home may cost homeowners more upfront — 2.4 percent on average, nationally — the green features will provide the buyer savings on energy bills in the future, according to green building experts.

“Homeowners interest in green building is due to a lot of people realizing the more money you spend to make homes energy efficient, the more money it will save on their energy bill in the long run,” said Matt Douglas, green building consultant with Earth Advantage, a Portland nonprofit that promotes sustainability.

From 2009 to 2013, the number of homes certified, at all levels, by Earth Advantage in Central Oregon increased 71 percent, from 94 in 2009 to 161 four years later, according to the organization.

“I definitely think green building is going to benefit us (as consumers),” he said. “It’s going to reduce our energy load.”

Building a green home begins at the foundation and frame. Adding space around trusses and wall framing allows for more insulation or reduces heat loss. Common green features include double-walled insulation, ductless heat pumps, sealed windows and Energy Star appliances.

Benefits of a green-built home include energy efficiency, water conservation and better indoor air quality.

From the outside, however, a finished home with environmentally friendly features may not look much different than houses with them, at least at first glance.

Earth Advantage, in Oregon and Washington, and the U.S. Green Building Council, nationally, have set standards for sustainable building and certify homes and commercial buildings that meet the requirements.

Earth Advantage, which became an independent nonprofit in 2005, scores homes that meet standards in five categories and offers builders three levels of certification: silver, gold and platinum. It also certifies small commercial buildings, educates building professionals and the public and conducts research.

Established in 1992, the U.S. Green Building Council created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building certification program in 2000. It works internationally and has set the benchmark for other organizations providing green building certification.

The organization estimates the U.S. has 150,000 LEED-certified homes, with 1,244 of them in Oregon. It saw growth in certifications of about 80 percent from 2007 to 2013.

“We define green building as buildings and communities that are designed, built and operated, to enable an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life,” said Jacob Kriss, media specialist for the Green Building Council.

Both organizations provide contractors, building owners and occupants with a basic framework to achieve and implement green building during construction.

Changes in Oregon building code policies and government incentives have helped increase the building of green homes in Central Oregon, according to Tim Knopp, Central Oregon Builders Association vice president.

Building green, Knopp believes, has, or will soon, become the norm.

“I would anticipate that, because of code changes a couple of years ago, a lot of the things that we’ve been working on in terms of green building, have basically become somewhat standard,” said Knopp.

SolAire Homebuilders built Bend’s first LEED platinum home in 2008 in NorthWest Crossing. It earned the Bend company the 2009 Green Building Project of the Year from the National Association of Home Builders.

Even with the increase in green homebuilding, Earth Advantage hopes to provide more information to the public, to make prospective buyers more aware of the value of owning a green home, said Peter Brown, the agency’s director of residential services.

“In essence third-party certification programs are assuring the homeowner they are getting the best value for their money,” he said. “Elements of a green home directly lead to improved comfort, durability, better health and of course better energy efficiency.”

When it’s time to sell, green-certified homes can sell for 8-9 percent more than non-certified green homes, according to Earth Advantage.

Michael Scannell, president of Bend-based WoodCraft Building Inc. saw green building as a way to continue his 35-year career in construction.

“When this market slowed down, I thought, maybe I should get in some other line of work,” said Scannell.

But the move to building green homes has kept his business growing.

“I would hate to have to go back to doing regular building again,” he said.

Woodcraft Building won Custom Home Green Builder of the Year from Earth Advantage, and the Central Oregon Builders Association Green Building Award, both in 2013.

“It’s kind of challenging, but you have to think outside of the box. Anyone can throw a wall up and build a house, but the challenges of trying to think through this green process is grueling,” he said.

“Your mind thinks these things, and your hands put it together. It is more rewarding, and it keeps building homes interesting for me.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325

vsmith@bendbulletin.com