New Shade of Green: Resource-efficient, smart homes become the norm

“Going Green” isn’t what it used to be in the real estate and building industries. Today you hear much less about green building than you did five or ten years ago. But that doesn’t mean the trend is diminishing. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“It’s still a thing,” said Ryan McCoon, with a chuckle. “You don’t hear about it as much. It’s become the norm.”

McCoon’s Endura Performance Homes has become one of the standard-bearers of the new green, focusing on creating homes that are energy- and resource-efficient, comfortable and healthy to live in while being easy to maintain and have less impact on the environment.

Amanda Stinton of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said designations such as LEED, Energy Star, and others from the National Association of Home Builders or local or regional groups are focusing on renewable or sustainable aspects.

“Home buyers want homes that operate well, are comfortable and healthy,” said Stinton, director of Sustainability & Green Designation 
Center for Specialized Realtor® Education.

Smart homes

Kim Pontius, executive vice president of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors, said another popular term in use in the industry is “smart,” and he’s not talking about phones. Smart homes are incorporating technology into their construction in ways that might not have been imaginable a decade or more ago.

Or maybe they were. In his 1980 book “The Third Wave,” the late futurist Alvin Toffler imagined a scenario where you get a call: It’s Fred, your house. He goes on to describe how Fred is reporting to you on conditions at your home. From thermostats to burglar alarms, skylights to garage doors, many facets of homes can now be automated, or set and changed remotely.

EdisonThe new look of ‘green’

Where people used to talk about ecology, now it’s about reducing energy costs, both in the manufacture of homes and their day-to-day use of electricity and fuel, according to Pontius. He said the focus has gone from a global “save the planet” mantra to more personalized objectives, such as saving energy and spending less money. “It’s how green is changing,” he said.

Judy Porter concurs. The veteran Realtor with Real Estate One was one of the first to go through NAR’s Green certification. She is now touting a design by Eastwood Custom Homes they call the Edison, which incorporates many features endemic to the green movement, including additional insulation, particularly the slab upon which the house rests.

“We just started a new development, Woodside Trails,” she said. “The heat bill (for those homes) will be $30 to $50 per month.” The homes run between $159,000 and $179,000.

One of the advantages of the Edison models is one of the reasons they are not being embraced as being totally green: They use electric baseboard heat. That enables owners to shut off heat completely in rooms that aren’t being used, but electric heat is still viewed with suspicion or outright disdain by those looking at environmental standards.

Going green up top – literally

One relatively new way in which the industry is looking to reduce costs is an area where the term “green” makes perfect sense. Local firm Inhabitect is building green roofs. This isn’t just referring to processes intended to reduce energy use – these roofs include grasses and other plantings growing on them. Nathan Griswold, the president, CEO and founder of the company, has been involved in live roof construction for 14 years, and is one of the first individuals to receive Green Roof Professional (GRP) accreditation from Green Roofs for Health Cities.

“There are a lot of reasons people are doing this,” he said, suggesting they offer a “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental and social factors. On the economic side, he said they increase energy efficiency, leading to less use of air conditioning and electricity. Thus, when a customer sells such a building, it will also be more valuable.

Environmentally, they manage storm water, since it soaks into the soil rather than running off into streets or sewers. That means that expensive stormwater systems mandated by governmental regulations can be much smaller or eliminated altogether. As the buildings require less energy (as above), they also foster burning less fossil fuel. Lastly, they potentially increasing biodiversity, depending on which plants are used.

Social benefits include increasing the community’s health and well-being.

“When people see the plants, they want to know more, to be a part of it,” said Griswold.
He said it can even increase productivity. As an example, he offers Cherry Capital Foods, where the green roof has become an outdoor patio for employees.

He’s installed green roofs on both homes and commercial developments, over 1,000 in total between his work here and in Chicago before starting his own firm. Local clients include Windward Condominiums, the aforementioned Cherry Capital Foods, and the new Munson Cowell Family Cancer Center.

Griswold said his biggest challenge is educating people, from architects and engineers to developers, homeowners, and government officials. For his efforts he’s also been named Environmentalist of the Year by NMEAC (Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council).

McCoon’s Endura Homes look at the rest of the puzzle, from the home’s design and orientation to its efficiency and indoor air quality. Each home built by Endura is certified by third party inspectors to meet the criteria for either LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes or NGBS (National Green Building Standard).

Typically they surpass the building standards for their area, which McCoon said are really just minimums. “It’s the poorest quality home that the federal or state government will allow you to build,” he said.

He also utilizes local recycling programs to divert as much as 95 percent of the construction waste from landfills.

Long-term vs. short-term

Stinton said the coursework and ongoing certification process for gaining the Green designation from the NAR relies extensively on local instructors and standards. That way the designation is both national and local in scope.

Porter said she is glad she went through the process to gain her Green certification, as it gave her insights into the ways processes and technology were changing the industry. However, she hasn’t kept up her certification as she still sees a reluctance among her clients to embrace things which might make purchasing a home more costly.

McCoon said he understands that and hopes people are able to take a longer view. “It’s like a foam cup versus a Stanley thermos bottle,” he said. While the foam cup is cheaper, the thermos bottle will work for a much longer time and is a better long-term investment.