Utilizing Green Building Strategies

Introduce a holistic approach to green building into our production home business

By Troy Johns

If you’re wondering how to bring green building into your volume construction company, keep reading. Green as a brand has matured and now comes to mean many different things to consumers. Attributes such as indoor air quality, durability and repurposing materials are now high on consumers’ must have lists. 

Our company committed to taking this holistic-minded approach to green building early on. To do it cost effectively we developed significant efficiencies with our subcontractors, giving homebuyers the sustainable features they want while maintaining affordability. While it may seem daunting, holistically integrating green within your company is possible, and will produce a better product. There are a few tools I have learned over the years that can help you be successful.

 If you are in an area where green building has not been established, you must identify partners and involve them in your transition.”

When I first started building green in 2008, we encountered a variety of issues before we could even swing a hammer.  Municipalities uncomfortable with what they hadn’t seen before, appraisers who could not justify valuations above code, lack of certification or accreditation programs, lack of knowledgeable third party verifiers, and realtors who resisted learning how to sell a different type of home.  The cards were stacked against us right out of the gate. 

But while navigating these challenges, I would eventually meet someone who knew someone who could help in some way. And what I ultimately learned was that all of these aforementioned naysayers were actually my future partners. We just needed to find common ground to help grow our businesses together.  

If you are in an area where green building has not been established, you must identify partners and involve them in your transition. Find like-minded people (they do exist) and build together. Home Innovation Research Labs, who runs the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) program, was a key partner I identified early on. They were able to guide me through the process and introduced me to many other essential partners. With each step forward we built on the step before.  

Consumers desiring green often have eyes bigger than their pocketbook. Many want the full green package but get sticker shock when they realize the true costs associated with getting “everything.”  Once you identify your client’s passion points, you can tailor their project to fit their budget. For example, if your client is energy-centered, picking out a homesite with proper solar gain becomes a higher priority and a key realtor partner could work with you to achieve this goal. Another customer may want repurposed materials used throughout the home. A relationship with a salvage yard or designer in your area will make this seamless. Using recycled 100+ year old products takes floor plan preparation and the help of a green-minded designer or engineer. Regardless of the type and level of green your customer chooses, a green certified mortgage broker is a key partner as you work to balance the overall cost/benefit with your client. 

Another powerful tool is to train others. If you become the ‘green guru’ in your area they will ask you to come and train their people. Invest in yourself and others through collection of knowledge. Be the smartest person in the room as it relates to green building.  Believe it or not, some of our best recognition has come from events where we train other builders how to build holistically green.  

Identifying knowledgeable partners and educating yourself and others will make the task of bringing green into your homes much smoother. By leveraging good partners, we produce around 100 production homes per year and every home is certified NGBS Gold. Eighty-five percent of the work that goes into our homes has an assembly line approach, but 15% is custom to each client.

If we are going to do all this amazing work then we might as well benefit from it. I am surprised as I travel around the country that I meet very few builders jumping onto the green building wagon.  This market is wide open in most cities and towns.  Often going green positions you as the only green builder in your area.  What a great opportunity to stand out.  Focus on comarketing with your new partners you’ve connected with.  Let the world know you ‘went green’. Local publications are always looking for new content and “local builder goes green” will get your phone ringing.  

Going green may seem intimidating, and to be honest, our first year was. But that was over 13 years ago. Today, the concept is better known, and most people will feel more comfortable giving it a try. If you’re worried about the learning curve, you should be, it’s real. But it’s not out of reach and using these tools will help shorten it. I promise you, the pride and profits will come. 

Troy Johns is the Founder and co-owner of Urban NW Homes in Vancouver, Wash. Their mission is to bring healthier homes to all market price points.