Monday, January 23, 2012


Green seems to be fading from the home builder's vocabulary lately and after a story by Trish Holder of Greenspiration published in this blog I received the following comment. 

As a woman who has been planning for 4 years, off and on, to purchase a modular home that performs economically and efficiently, patience is a virtue. Codes and Certification criteria has changed and continues to do so. The devil is in the details on the craft level when putting an efficient house together and in writing up an articulate and thorough sales order to do so. I would hope that the Builders Planning Toolkit for ICC700 NAGB compliance woud assist in this process, but the publication is no longer available online, nor do builders and modular home sale reps at the buyer contact level know what ICC700 is - even when it is part of their website. All I want is what one of the websites states: "How to go about planning a home that qualifies for one of the levels of ICC700". Thank heavens I have patience and I have 2 more years.

What are we telling people that want a "green" home?  

Has the modular housing industry really dropped the ball? I would like to hear from you about the future of "Green."


Anonymous said...

The future of green is shaky at best. Mostly due to how green is perfectly exemplified by the "buyer's" comments in your blog. Self identified green buyers frequently want to discuss the perfect home endlessly and then usually don't buy because the price is too high due to the green features.

It is hard enough to sell homes to people who do actually buy. The value in green is realized in the buyer's emotions (they feel better about themselves). That is just not a value proposition very many people are willing to pay for these days. Some buyers will pay for energy efficiency and the savings that go with it.

SPeterson said...

I agree with Anonymous. As I have commented before and Anon has now seconded, "green" is a feel-good emotion that quickly goes away when the green building costs you more of your hard earned green that you anticipated.

Being green stops at the on-off switch. Energy efficiency is still controlled by the person paying the bills.

I have asked this question many times and have yet to get a clear cut and definitive answer: "What does building green actually mean?"

Does a green home actually save more energy than a conventionally built home? Probably. But the key is the payback or return on the huge investment into the overly-priced green materials, gadgets and construction that make up the green parts of a home or building .

IMO, the normal home buyer could care less whether the home is green or not. When giving the choice of being more green or having more green, the latter will usually win.

Harris/FW said...

Green is ENERGY SAVINGS according to the 7 families with whom we contracted and broke ground on custom homes last year. We expect 10 more this year. We do not build on spec.

The fundamentals on a typical home:
- 2400SF Colonial 2-sty on conditioned, unfinished basement (total 3600SF)

- Shoot for Net Zero w/ $50K additional funds (equals $239/mo. on 30yr mortgage at 4%)

- $50K buys…

ENERGY EFFICIENCY – cut consumption by at least half:
geothermal heatpump and desuperheater upgrade (max 3tons) plus ERV ($15k); super-insulated walls (e.g. 2x8@24"OC w closed cell foam, FG batts, TUFF-R) and really good windows (e.g. Plygem MWClassic w/ HP2-SC glass) ($10k) NOTE: it seriously helps to build modular on the framing and windows described in that last ingredient!

RENEWABLE ENERGY – you need less renewable energy once energy consumption is reduced:
solar PV (e.g. 5kW) ($25k)

- Result: 3600SF home's energy bills plummet by more than $239/mo (compared to software modeled equivalent code-built home). NZE achieved.

- Result: owners apply for 30% Fed Tax credit on solar and geothermal AND apply for State grants and county property tax credits

- Result: their house is far more comfortable, quiet, and healthy, than the neighbor’s code built home

- Result: as energy costs rise their house will be more valuable

DISCLOSURE: we’ve not gathered data of actual occupant use; we are relying on HERS Scores and REMrate modeling. Conjecture from owners is positive so far.

We build ONLY modular.

Coach said...

And this is why Harris of Finish Werks in Baltimore, MD is building such Energy efficient and green homes...he knows his stuff and can explain it to his clients.

He is a good example of finding a niche, becoming an expert in it and then being able to talk with prospective buyers in a way that makes sense to build with him.

Harris is a rare breed and a great builder.

Anonymous said...

Harris' comments although interesting are also meaningless unless he provides actual costs,on a timeline basis with depreciation. You may feel its only $x/month, but if you sell a house in N years and nobody will pay for the equipment as it depreciates at Day 1, your 239/month seems cheap, but your $25,000 net loss seems high. Its the same continuing problem mod builders have - they lack clear transparency versus stick builders and cloud the issue with incomplete data/analysis as we have just seen. Maybe mod guys need to have better financial types around who can actually deliver verifiable numbers.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe stick builders when they talk about green and energy savings. I've watched tract builders put up energy Star and green homes in my community and let me tell you something. These homes were built exactly the same way their non-green homes were.
At least Harris is putting some effort into building better homes. I just wonder if the factory that sells him his finished homes is really putting in the things he thinks they are.

Harris/FW said...

As to Anon "Harris' comments although interesting are also meaningless" some thoughts: telling the team how to play while warming the bench is lame. Doing it anonymously with a patronizing tone is even weaker. Applying your criticism of me (I don't care) to ALL modular builders, well, that's just plain weak-suck.

It matters little how you build green - if that is your intention, as long as you are making the effort. It's hard enough to build these days; harder still to deliver more for the money.

Our clients are asking for high performance and we provide some comfort in the numbers. If they want to speak with an accountant about NPV then fine. We're not accountants and we tell them so. If they want to look at the breakdown of silicon PV panels then we show them the reduction in voltage output over time. If they want to account for the fact that geothermal ground loops last far longer than air-source compressors, that's great too.

This is green building - we can't possibly predict outcomes any better than a code build home. All we can do is educate, disclose, and plan.

My questions is, are you actually moving the ball down field or flapping your gums from the sidelines? My hat's off to anyone that is willing to build to a better Spec.

My hat's still on, Anonymous.

Harris/FW said...

Yes - Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes is actually installing 3" of CC foam (on the drywall), R-21 high density FG batts, and foam board on the outside of our 2x8/24OC walls. They have to -- our HERS Rater travels to Selinsgrove, PA to verify as part of Energy Star's Thermal Enclosure Checklist.

That's right - he works for us, and not Icon. No conflict of interest. We get photos of all jobs while moving down the line too. Icon has gotten used to the process and they are delivering as agreed to.

Anonymous said...

Harris-Not being critical of your comments at all. Maybe you're a bit too sensitive to this discussion, as you perfectly prove my thoughts by saying -"...This is green building - we can't possibly predict outcomes any better than a code build home. All we can do is educate, disclose, and plan...". If you as a builder tell me to go talk to a CPA after reviewing your proposal, what exactly are you educating or disclosing? That you dont know the benefit, just the upfront cost?

William said...

Well Coach after all your blogs you finally hit a hot button. And thanks to Harris/FW you got some much needed comments.
I think Harris/FW is on the right track but I would be remiss if I did not mention that I know mod manufacturers other than Icon/Legacy who use foam insulation, foam board, etc. as indicated by Harris -- so this is not something unique or surprising.
But in spite of liking what Harris/FW has to say I also agree with the various Anonymoust, SPeterson, etal comments. I think for a GREEN builder to be 100% open and honest with homebuyers they need to have actual case studies DONE ON THEIR PREVIOUS SALES to show homebuyers what their savings will be and how many years it will take them to recoup the extra investment in their new green home.
When I see that being done --- with GUARANTEES made to the homebuyer regarding their monthly/annual savings I may become convinced.

Harris/FW said...

William, you cannot make any guarantees on savings. That would be like the Honda Dealer guaranteeing that your Civic Si will get 34MPG hwy when in fact your lead-footed teenage son is driving it like Dale Jr.

I took NAHB's MCGP training last fall, and the teacher was a luxury custom builder. He builds on Long Island for the uber wealthy (e.g. Lawyers). He said that in NO instance whatsoever are we to guarantee anything other than delivery of the spec proposed (e.g. insulation). Occupant behavior (typical lengthy teenager shower) will grossly affect any assumptions.

I agree with you that we need to better document case studies, but these are subjective exercises too. Every home is different, and every occupant is different. It is illogical to draw any objective comparisons because every situation is different. A Civic Si driven by my mother, in Arizona, at the speed limit will crush the MPG of that teenage hotrodder doing donuts in the snow.

I make similar analogies with our clients. There is no subversion, no distracting, no misrepresentation.

THEY MAY NEVER MAKE NET ZERO EVEN WITH 20kW PV, but there is a good chance they might because they understand the essential difference between a crappy 2x4 wall with Batts hung class-2 and a 2x8 wall with spray foam.

Anonymous said...

Harris/FW. Where are you building? How much / what foam insulation are you using on the exterior?. . . In my neck of the woods, we'd call your wall a "composting wall".

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of high-performance walls, but done wrong it rots.

SPeterson said...

Harris/FW: If every teenaged son drove like Dale Jr, all cars would indeed get 30+ MPG, but only because Jr drives so slow!

Just kidding you. I admire your passion for Green but until there are enough proven, definitive facts and stats (not hypothetical, potential or assumed savings) showing that green pays off for the long term ownership, I think the general public will opt out of being green. Sure, those who can afford to feel good will go green, but in this current housing market? Few and far between, I think.

When selling $250/sf compared to $150/sf, with the same amenities but no green construction, how many potential homeowners would say, "Build me the $250/sf home and I will save energy if I can? Yeah, I know that I will spend $150,000 more for this 1500sf home, but doggone it! I FEEL GOOD ABOUT BEING GREEN!" How many of these same green homeowners will complain when the home does do as advertised, as in save money?

Anonymous said...

This is a new anonymous. Harris: It sounds like you have found a niche that is a profession, a passion, and a profitable venture. That is a winning trifecta. Congratulations, a lot of people in our business would trade places with you.

I think green and energy efficiency are actually two different types of building. Green is about feel good emotion. Energy efficiency is about saving money/solid building science techniques. There is some overlap, but I think they are mostly different buyers.

Regardless of which one, both want features that add to the cost of the home. The problem that we have run into is that these features increase the cost of the home, but not the appraised value. Thus, financing this type of home requires the owners to have the down payment, plus essentially pay cash for the green options. This is simply the market saying these are nice features, but there is little resale value to them.

Very limited demand coupled with unfinanceable options. For better or worse, green is a very small niche.

Anonymous said...

ICC 700 is simple.
Finding materials that are certified Green, having a 3rd party rater in the construction process and producing a validation report at the end verifying the builder did what they said and installed those items which were verified by the 3rd party rater.
I have not meet a site builder to date to validate a Senior Couple living 24/7 in their home can warranty an affordable Zero Energy home.
I am a modular builder and have done it.
Think like this,
Would Rolex send 7 watchmakers to your kitchen, build the watch and you would expect to get quality workmanship of an efficient, low cost timepiece that keeps accurate time with a warranty to its performance without a 3rd party verification? I think not, same as a on site a with subcontractors

2moreyears said...

Let's put the kabash on building a green home as a path to feel good right now. We all feel the pain of escalating energy costs. It is up to individuals to plug the leaks in their pocketbooks by plugging energy leaks in their homes. That is the most important aspect of "green" to me. Yes it takes looking at how much energy reduction strategies cost vs. projections/estimates of future energy costs and ROI. It involves using tax and local incentives. It is all about spending $ to save $ in the long run. Hasn't everyone paid more to replce their business and home lighting to reduce electricity consumption? Bulb chang to compact Fl or LED yeilds a significant savings. Getting back to energy upgrades in the home: Perhaps all the energy upgrades available (structural, heat/geothermal, solar, insulation) would not result in a practical ROI. Then the "sweet spot" of adopting a few of the measures could be calculated. Businesses do these calcs every day. I think that the modular home sales folks and builders don't have the tools to support customer inqueries about planning homes that adopt energy consumption avoidance strategies that have the potential to pay for themselves and even make money. PV solar has done that in recent years and can set an example for the financial analysis structure, as well. I thin kit is time to ask for some kind of industry wide suppport that reaches far beyond what the green products are. Businesses need a client interviewing tool that can shorten potentially lengthy conversations and give clients an idea of approx. costs, effectiveness and ROI. Builders need a strategy to zero in on the type of "green" buyer. Speaking for this green buyer, I am seeking a good ROI and energy consumption aviodance strategy. When I sold solar I came up with interviewing techniques that screened both clients' committment and capability of the property in question to be a suitable solar site. I avoided many unnecessary wasteful site sales visits for myself and salesforce because folks or roofs were not suitable for the product. I can't help but speculate that there may be a method for the modular industry as well to screen and focus the energy concerned buyer - perhaps relegated to the factory technical sales reps or a new position/ responsibility within the factory.