How to Green Your Trades

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Here's how remodelers and home builders can make sure their trade contractors follow green building practices

January 01, 2010

You're a green remodeler. Your clients expect you care about building an energy-efficient home and other sustainable practices. All you have to do is live up to that standard — a possibility if your trade contractors are on board. So how do you green the trades? How do you make sure that they are upholding the standards you market — and promised?

"You can't assume that because you're a green remodeler, your contractors are, too," says David Scott, vice president at Fireside Hearth & Home, which sub-contracts some of its work in addition to working as a contractor for remodelers and builders.

To be confident the job gets done right and ensure your trade contractors are green, too, heed this advice.

  1. Identify your green remodeling standards.

    If you're going to employ green building practices, be sure to identify and document your green remodeling standards and protocol. Whether it's choosing the most sustainable SEER rating for your projects, detailing green-oriented ductwork, determining the appropriate water pressure or the like, you have to go in with a plan — and communicate it. That's the approach Neal Fiske of TriplePoint Construction of St. Petersburg, Fla., takes. The company markets itself as a green remodeler, and it identifies the standard features it delivers. "We take a whole-systems approach to the house, and our trade partners have to be on board with it," Fiske says.

    Scott recommends talking about the goals with trade partners, using the example, "I want to reduce costs by 30 percent, so what products and practices can help me achieve that goal?"
  2. Partner with the right trades

    After you've identified the standards, make sure you're partnered with or that you choose the right trades. Scott says remodelers have to ask the questions to find out how they do business. "Align yourself with the trade partners that have a right way to do something — and only the right way," he says.

    Fiske agrees: "If they're not up to that type of industry standard ... it winds up being a problem down the road."

    Both Fiske and Scott consider whether a trade has green certification. Fireside, says Scott, places high value on National Housing Quality Award certification, which stipulates trades adhere to smart building and management practices. Fiske, meanwhile, values certification but says, "I'd rather use companies that have the practices in place."
  3. Get 'em trained

    "The only way to get the right activity on a job is through formal training and communication," says Scott. Fireside, for example, conducts training sessions twice a month with its subcontractors to ensure they're up to date on practices and green codes, which is particularly important for its California locations, he says. From waste reduction to communicating sustainable habits subcontractors should have, it's an ongoing process. The company also uses "hot spot" training, often with visual cues such as signs, to illustrate correct and incorrect behaviors.

    TriplePoint, however, takes a different approach all together, holding its trade contractors responsible for their own training. "We don't want to be training them," Fiske says. "We select companies that already have the due diligence."
  4. Follow up

    Even if you've chosen the right partners, identified your green standards and made sure contractors are trained properly, it's important to check their work. At TriplePoint, all clients receive written standards that will be applied to each portion of their home, and spot checks on job sites ensure they're being followed.

    If you follow these steps and still have problems, ditch the trade partners that don't work. "There are so many contractors dying to get into green, which is a niche," Fiske says. "Don't stick with the bad ones because your reputation will go down."

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