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The 'green' standard

Builders in Florida have a new checklist to help them build more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly houses, which surveys show many buyers want.

By JUDY STARK

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001


Green logo
Builders whose homes score at least 200 points on a checklist can display this logo, identifying them as “green” homes.

ORLANDO -- Things are about to get a little easier for home buyers whose idea of "living green" extends beyond recycling newspapers, bottles and cans.

The Florida Green Building Coalition introduced its "Florida Green Home Designation Standard Checklist" at the recent Southeast Building Conference.

Builders whose homes score at least 200 points on the checklist can have their homes certified by the coalition and can display a logo identifying them as "green" homes.

They get 100 points simply for fulfilling the basic requirements of the statewide energy code. They earn additional points by adding environmentally friendly features such as energy-efficient appliances, light-colored roofs, unpaved surfaces or landscapes that rely on natural watering rather than irrigation systems.

Some of the options have greater consumer appeal than others, and that's why there are a number of choices, depending on how basic builders and buyers want to get. Buyers might be happy to earn points by incorporating a central vacuum system or an irrigation shutoff that turns off the lawn sprinkler system when it's raining.

Fewer builders or buyers may opt for a waterless toilet or a single-bulb fixture in the bathroom. ("I don't think we'll do that," said Karen Childress of WCI Communities in Bonita Springs, developer of country club communities.) That's the point: There are lots of ways to build green, and they don't mandate deprivation or ugliness.

The entire checklist, as well as the standards, are available at the coalition's Web site, www.fgbc.org. Green construction and development typically refer to the use of materials and technologies that reduce the use of energy and water, employ recycled materials, promote indoor air quality, reduce dependence on cars, are disaster-resistant and employ natural heating and cooling, such as sun and shade.

The standard, which is voluntary, applies to new and remodeled homes. Similar certification programs are in place in other states.

"Every builder will eventually do this," said Drew Smith, a builder with Pruett Builders of Sarasota, who is president of the Florida Green Building Coalition. "Buyers will equate this symbol with quality, over and above the standard energy code."

The certification program should benefit builders, he said, by increasing referrals; by reducing the number of call-backs through the use of low-maintenance, high-quality materials; and by promotion through advertising, yard signs and other methods.

"This will become just like the Energy Star program," Smith predicted, referring to a federal program that certifies building components, appliances and homes that use less energy than standard codes allow.

Building to green specifications, Smith said, adds 8 to 10 percent to the cost of a home, but the expectation is that homeowners will recoup upfront costs through reduced energy bills.

Fannie Mae offers energy-efficient mortgages that take into consideration the cash that buyers save on utility costs and can then apply to their mortgages. Whirlpool offers rebates on appliances to new-home buyers.

The coalition, whose members include builders, developers, architects, engineers and lenders, plans three pilot projects over the next year -- in Sarasota, Gainesville and Miami-Dade -- to certify municipalities as "green communities." Those communities would offer incentives to green builders, Smith explained, such as "top-of-the-pile status" for plan and permit review, reduced fees and reduced taxes and impact fees.

"It will be a year down the road before we certify our first green community," he said.

Some builders shrug off environmental concerns, saying their buyers aren't interested, don't ask about them and are unwilling to pay more for them. A survey taken last August by Professional Builder magazine suggests, however, that the builders may be misreading their market.

Ninety-five percent of builders said the biggest deterrent to using green materials was cost. But when they were asked how much extra they thought buyers would be willing to pay for green features -- and buyers were asked the same question -- the builders underestimated the buyers in almost every price category (see chart). Builders, for instance, thought that only 14.7 percent of buyers would spend an extra $5,000 on those features, but 27.6 percent of buyers said they would spend that much.

"The builders are five years behind the buyers. Buyers are very educated," said Meghan Stromberg, senior editor at Professional Builder, who presented details of the survey. "People will pay if they understand the benefits."

One major Florida developer has already bought into the value of green building. WCI Communities Inc. (whose projects include Walden Lake in Plant City, Waterlefe in Bradenton and the new Sun City Center Fort Myers) and Audubon International, a not-for-profit environmental organization based near Albany, N.Y., have created what may be a first-of-its-kind agreement that will lead to the development of environmentally sustainable residential communities.

Under the $1.4-million agreement, Audubon International will work with WCI to apply Audubon's Principles for Resource Management in the design, planning and construction of 10 communities the company is planning throughout Florida. The agreement will guide planning and development decisions relating to natural resource conservation and protection, water quality and water conservation, habitat protection and energy conservation.

Recently WCI provided a grant of $350,000 to help create Florida Gulf Coast University's Green Building Learning and Demonstration Center. A part of the center's mission will be to develop and test green building materials and practices for application in the consumer marketplace.

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Details of the Professional Builder survey can be found online at www.housingzone.com/topics/pb/green/survey/
2000index.asp.

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