Monday, September 17, 2012

TURNING GREEN - A Builder's Experience

An Article from Harris Woodward, FinishWerks Homes

Last week I got a call from a lady that wanted to build a green shopping center. She envisioned green countertops and lifestyles. Stuff of fantasy that I realize now would draw little seed money. 5 years ago I would have been excited to learn more. Instead I just sighed, wondering when this doe-eyed person would allow me to get off the phone. I’m not being sexist – I’ve experienced plenty of ramblings from crunchy green men too.

Five years ago I was wandering in the wilderness, wondering how I was going to take my home building business green. I attended multiple green networking meetings, interfacing with green architects, dozens of geothermal and solar power guys, permaculture specialists, ecobrokers, and every sort of earthy crunchy quasi-building related vocation you can think of. Everywhere were business cards with the “coveted” LEED A.P. credential. After hundreds of hours, I got exactly ZERO leads. I will, however, give credit to this mostly useless exercise for having met my county executive and Governor and placing photos with them on our website. Good credibility builder here…

So, in addition to understanding that I had to “go green” I also learned what I had to do: study green building methods, confirm my mod factory can build to a minimum Energy Star standard, read and post quality news articles on our website for prospects consumption, and join my local Builder’s Association newly formed Green Building Council. I took NAHB’s Certified Green Professional course and got the certificate framed in my office (and posted on the website). I attended all the free Energy Star for Homes webinars I could. Suddenly, I was learning what green building was about: credibility and economics.


If there’s one thing our clients understand its green building. Our messaging must convey same. The folks that call on us for a higher-performing home are the same ones that surf the Net, scouring for energy efficiency, indoor air quality and, to a lesser extent, sustainable building methods. We realized in 2008 when oil was $142/barrel that we had to retool our website with as much energy efficiency information as possible. We placed Energy Star logos everywhere. I sent my team and key subs links to the Energy Star webinars. We became members of multiple green home building groups & associations.

We built pages discussing heat pumps and insulation and water saving toilets. We created pages with information on savings calculators and tax incentives from the government and local utilities. We found that by providing more information prospects – and most have been women gathering information for their husbands! – were already primed when they called our office. They had buy-in that we actually knew how to build green.


Let’s not kid each other. It’s hard enough to build a code home and eek out a profit. It can be harder still trying to include green features. Here in Maryland we were forced on January 1st to learn high performance construction methods with the adoption of IECC 2012. So at least we had some economic parity with other builders. But the focus for everyone, including construction lenders and clients, remains Cost. Upgraded insulation, windows, and heat pumps must be cost-justified. I explain ROI directly from what I learned in the CGP course: $150/mo in energy savings pays for a lot of energy-efficiency upgrades on a 30yr mortgage (which also bring more comfort and quality construction). I show how a really well built home with half the HVAC load requires half the number of ground loops (a costly part of Geothermal). If I’ve been fortunate enough to get the prospect’s ear, it’s my sale to lose if I cannot carefully explain the economic advantages of a well built, extremely energy efficient home.

In this vein, what I cannot explain is how Blu Homes got M$60 as recently reported here! That’s a stunner.
In the end, I turned green because I had to remain cutting-edge and to provide a value-add differentiator from my competitors. What I learned is that I needed to educate myself so I could control the conversation with our well-educated prospects. I needed to convey my expertise at every opportunity. To this day we have not built one home to LEED standards, nor will I ever seek LEED AP credentials.

A fundamental and thorough understanding of Energy Star for Homes is all that you really need to go green. No tree-hugging required.

Finish Werks LLC, MHBR No 4716
8600 Foundry St Box 2053
SavageMD 20763
Discover Truth In BuildingTM

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Harris,

It sounds like you are down on the payoff for your hard work and time in understanding green and energy star requirements.

From the outside looking in you have certainly set yourself apart from the others. I build energy star modulars (everyone) because we had to by local code.

I am glad I was forced to learn what to do to make the house meet the energy star code requirements. We are now working on adding PV, Goe systems open loops, and superior insulation.

I believe I can and have sold green on economics. I do not want to scare away someone who just simple cares about environmental issues, but we mostly sell on economics.

You have always been an inspiration and someone to learn from. Your company has been a leader. We do not compete in the same market but you have set goals for my company without knowing it.

You were are on the right path. I am selling energy efficiencies. Thank you for your silent support and teaching.

Jonathan Davidson
Long Island Modular Homes