'Embracing Green' Webcast Questions

September 30, 2008

Following are answers to the questions we didn't get to during the live webcast, from our expert panelists Michael McCutcheon and Michael Anschel:

Q. I am on a board to plan a use and renovate a 300,000 sq ft historic building. The plan is to renovate green. What are some sources for grants or funding you have come across on large projects like this?

Michael McCutcheon: No suggestions.

Michael Anschel: I have not seen anything on the national level, but I have see a number of cities start to develop internal programs to provide lower interest loans and grants for Green building. Renovation grants may be harder to find as new construction tends to get more attention primarily because it is easier to understand and write rules around. I would check with the Housing and Economic development head of your local governmental unit. I imagine that historical restoration grants are easier to obtain than Green ones. There are a number of tax incentives that have been appearing on the books directed at alternative energy solutions and energy improvements to buildings.  Good Luck!

Q: There are so many certification programs out there. How can a remodeler know which ones to pursue?

Michael McCutcheon: Nation-wide, I suggest the NARI Green training. For Californians, I suggest Certified Green Building Professional training from Build It Green.

Michael Anschel: Great question. First let’s clarify the type of certification you are after. If you are looking to certify your work then you need only find what certification programs exist in your state. If you don’t have a local Green building certification program in your state, you can use the NAHB certification. Their bronze and silver levels should be largely ignored and you should shoot for the Gold level and above. In the absence of a local program, some remodelers have begun to use neighboring states Green remodeling certification programs. Not all programs are equal and some are better than others, however a good program will always require third-party review by a HERS rater or other certified agency.

If you are asking about certification for yourself, then I don’t think it matters much which one you get. The NARI program is probably the most rigorous of the bunch available right now and it takes a few months to complete the course. The thing to remember in all of this is that you are trying to educate yourself on Green building and the more you can learn the better. When it comes to your projects, your being certified has no bearing on the certification granted to the project, other than to make it easier for you to understand the criteria and be successful in your endeavor.

Q. There seems to be so much information out "there" today. For someone like me who is VERY interested in this topic and would like to take a persuasive leadership role to inspire others in my Company, what is the single best starting point to obtain a good foundation of the Green Movement? Is there a "Best Practices" book? Is there a fundamental learning program that is considered to be one of the best?

Michael McCutcheon: Green Remodeling by David Johnston and Kim Masters is a good starting point.

Michael Anschel: Lester Brown’s “Plan B 3.0”, Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language”, Wayne Grady “Green House”, Joe Listibruk’s “Building in (cold, cool, hot, humid) climates” books.

Q. What role do you think the government should take in promoting and encouraging green building and sustainability within local communities?

Michael McCutcheon: Setting clear standards for Green building. Offer incentives, such as faster permit turnaround, for green plans.

Michael Anschel: There is not a short answer to this question. Government has a unique and wonderful opportunity to help Green building take root and grow. Mandating that projects get certified is one option, grants and incentives to have projects certified is another. Most importantly there is a very clear need for cities to address existing homes and buildings as they are our primary consumers. This is a challenge for most municipalities, however new construction has a significantly smaller impact on our world than existing buildings. I think a hybrid of incentive and requirements is the best way to go about changing the way we treat existing homes and buildings.

Q. What is the most important thing you've done to green your company?

Michael McCutcheon: Taking green building training myself, and then following through with green initiatives throughout the company. The leader of the company has to set the tone.

Michael Anschel: We made it a part of our culture. We talk about it, we research it, we share information, we are all on a mission together to have as many certified Green projects as we can. By making Green our mission and our culture we give tangible meaning to our efforts that excites and drives each of us to do a little better.

Q. How do you make sure your subs follow green practices?

Michael McCutcheon: Make sure the plans and specs are clear. Find and work with subs who are committed and knowledgeable about green. Or, if there are none, teach them what they have to know. You are only as good (and green) as your subs, employees, and suppliers......

Michael Anschel: We write it into our specs, and we make sure that it is in the bid package that we send out. We share the checklist that we are using for certification and often require the sub to send a letter of confirmation that a material or system was installed. Overall the process of building certified projects has been the single biggest help in getting our subs to change their habits.

Q. How do you overcome the obstacles around green such as vinyl?

Michael McCutcheon: Don't use it.

Michael Anschel: There is virtually no application I can think of where vinyl is appropriate. More importantly I can think of no application where vinyl is either the only solution or the best solution. From wall coverings, to windows, to cladding materials I don’t see a place for vinyl in our homes. There are some products the utilize vinyl components, such as Romex, and I don’t see the need to avoid them completely. I would be on the look out for vinyl alternatives in the near future as more countries place bans on the use of vinyl based products.

Q. How would you explain chain of custody?

Michael McCutcheon: To maintain integrity in the certification process, it is necessary to control and document the entire process from where a material from "creation" to delivery to the job site. Otherwise, we can't be sure it is what we think it is.

Michael Anschel: Ditto!

Q. Is LEED still the top organization to be certified through, or is the NAHB and other organizations close on their heels?

Michael McCutcheon: LEED is the premier organization for commercial green building. Other organizations such as NAHB, NARI, and Build It Green are filling the gap in residential. LEED for Homes is coming, but, from what I hear, is more suitable for custom work, since the certification is relatively cumbersome and expensive.

Michael Anschel: The USGBC’s LEED programs are the most visible and best known which makes them both powerful and valuable. Their primary focus is the commercial world and not the residential one. The NAHB Model Green Home guidelines were seen as thin and not serious enough to be considered by most serious Green experts. Cities have mostly ignored them. The new standards that NAHB is working on may change that, but the rating system will need to make significant strides before it is able to be taken seriously. To that end, the LEED-for Homes program is the only national certification program that has value right now. That said, LEED for Homes falls short of being a great program, and in those communities that have their own Green building program (California, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington, Georgia) it is typically seen as being slightly inferior to the local standards.

Choosing a standard that allows you to certify a project without doing much is probably not worth using. The certification that requires some work and sees a real change take place in the process is one that is worth using. If you are only in this field for marketing then you may choose to use the lesser program, but if you are serious about doing the right thing for your clients and your community then you will choose the better program.

Q. Is it possible to get a copy of Michael's check list?

Michael McCutcheon: You might also check out the green building checklists available at www.builditgreen.org.

Michael Anschel: http://mngreenstar.org/certification-download.html
Be sure to follow the instructions for macro settings to take advantage of the checklist’s functionality and sorting features.

Q. As an solar design professional, I have found that the U.S. lags behind Canada in energy efficient building programs. How do you view the NRCAN software tools for heat load analysis? How do you find that they compared those that are more common in the U.S.? I have personally used HOT 2000 since 1983 and have not needed to replace this very accurate software tool.

Michael McCutcheon: Don't know.

Michael Anschel: I have not used the HOT2000 design tool and it sounds like it is worth checking out. We do use the Energy 10 software in addition to the Rem Design/rate software which we are required to use for our HERS scores.

Q. With falling home values and a little more costs associated with "going green", what would you recommend to use to sell Green Products in a State like Michigan that does not offer any tax incentives for homeowners that decide to "Go Green"?

Michael McCutcheon: Focus on low or no cost green options such as job site recycling, use of locally sourced materials, re-use of materials, low voc paint, etc.

Michael Anschel: I believe that selling on value and benefit is the best way to approach this. Selling on price alone in this market puts you at a disadvantage. Homes that have been certified Green tend to resist market downturns and hold their value. In a down market more than ever it is critical to develop a strong platform for market differentiation. I would also add that there is a misconception that Green costs more. A number of builders and remodelers who have become proficient in the Green process have stated that there is no additional cost to build Green.

Q. If you wish to green your office or business operations, where would you start researching the process?

Michael McCutcheon:

Web search at sites like:

www.usgbc.com

www.builditgreen.org

www.stopwaste.org

www.nari.org

www.affordablecomfort.org

www.eeba.org

www.eere.energy.gov

Michael Anschel:

www.mngreenstar.org

http://green.schererbros.com/

www.unscrewamerica.org

Q. Can a remodeled kitchen and Bath REALLY be Green?

Michael McCutcheon: Yes. Check out the Build It Green remodeling guidelines for specific suggestions www.builditgreen.org

Michael Anschel: I believe they can. BUT you have to consider the entire home. If you remodel the bathroom and the process of that remodel is green, and the home is evaluated and tested and fixed if needed. Check out the MN GreenStar guidelines and the system used to allow certification for small projects. The primary issue at hand is that you cannot ignore what is taking place in the home by putting on the “my scope of work” blinders. Remodelers should always be reviewing the entire home and making sure that we are not creating a dangerous environment of our clients, or leaving a serious issue unattended. Remember, Green is not the same as energy efficient or even building performance. It is about health, and impact.

Q. How would you go about offering only energy efficiency updates for existing homes?

Michael McCutcheon: Learn about Home Performance testing, probably by partnering initially with a qualified company. Also, see if your local utility offers any programs...

Michael Anschel: I wouldn’t. I think there is a real danger in only improving the energy efficiency of a home that was not designed to operate at that efficiency. Like overclocking a processor, or changing the limits on a regulator you open yourself up to real risk. In Minneapolis testing discovered that 20% of homes in South Minneapolis were backdrafting prior to improvements. This means that flue gas was running back into the home creating potentially fatal conditions. Simply adding fan-fold and siding to a home can reduce air-infiltration by 40%, which could easily create a dangerous and unhealthy environment for the occupants. This is the reason that Green building makes sense for our industry. It represents a balanced approach.

Q. Are any municipalities offering good incentives, i.e., reduced permit fees, tax breaks, etc. for green projects. What is a good resource for this info?

Michael McCutcheon: There are some good programs in California, usually run by the energy or water utilities. The state here also has very good incentives for solar PV and hot water.

Michael Anschel: New Mexico has a great tax credit system in place. They are offering $5.00 per sf tax credit for the firs 2,000 sf if you build a LEED Silver Home, and $9.00 per sf for the first 2000 sf for a LEED Platinum Home.

St. Louis Park, MN has a Green incentive program that they have set up to buy down loans and cover the cost of the testing and certification.

Q. Should there be national standards or is the industry best served with local programs?

Michael McCutcheon: I prefer national standards that could be incorporated into the International building code. Local areas could then modify the national standards as required. Naturally, national standards would need to take local climate variations into account, but that should be possible, since building science guidelines for different climates are fairly well understood.

Michael Anschel: It would be great to have a national standard, but there is not currently anything that would work. When the NAHB’s standard goes online it will serve as a kind of baseline but the worry is that it will be outdated before it ever makes it out the door. There is also the concern that national standards do not address local and regional concerns very well. Green building is hyper sensitive to these issues, and so from state to state, climate to climate, region to region you will see various overlays and amendments emerge.  What would be beneficial would be if the local programs could agree on a single definition of Green construction so that manufacturers knew how to integrate better with the programs. That said, if every manufacturer were to simply create the best product possible with the least amount of impact they wouldn’t have to worry about the subtle differences between programs.

Q. What percentage of your customers only want energy efficiency updates as opposed adding SF or remodeling kitchens or baths?

Michael McCutcheon: Something like 5%

Michael Anschel: No suggestions.

Q. We are a custom wooden column manufacturer in CT, under pressure from clients to turn cellular pvc. I have seen manufacturers taut their synthetic materials are 'green' for low maintenance. I beleive locking up carbon & sustainable forestry practices is preferable. Do you as remodelers have a preference or good source for reliable material info?

Michael McCutcheon: My company prefers locally sourced renewable materials. We try to minimize the use of vinyl, plastic, and other products from the petroleum industries.

Michael Anschel: Stick with the wood for northern and central climates. If you identify the hot humid southern climates as your market consider PVC, but only as a last resort. PVC products have already been banned in some countries, and it is just a matter of time before the vinyl market in the US comes under deep scrutiny and regulation.

Q. How do you decipher true green product and a one that looks green but is not?

Michael McCutcheon: No suggestions.

Michael Anschel: Simple. You have to look at how the product was created. Where did the raw materials come from? What were the conditions for the workers who extracted and processed the material? What was the manufacturing process like? Emissions? Health and safety of the workers? How was the material transported? What is the total amount of embodied energy in the product? What is the carbon footprint of the product? What is the LCA of the product? What happens to the product after its useful life has ended?

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