According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability and comfort.
Green building is also commonly referred to as sustainable or high performance building – i.e. energy efficient.
However, using green building products does not necessarily mean that a home is sustainable or energy efficient. Similarly, if it is energy efficient, it may not necessarily be sustainable or vice versa. The best approach to building then would be one that addresses all of these objectives, one that is environmentally sensitive, incorporates sustainable design practices and reduces energy use.
“At Coolman Communities we view sustainability as more than just an ENERGY STAR® rating, we have been committed to green building practices for more than 30 years,” Carol Carden, who has been with the company nearly that long and is now an owner and president, said. “To be quite honest, just about the time you start wondering if it’s worth it, someone walks through the door who confirms that we’re doing thing for our buyers and Valparaiso.”
Currently, every home in Coolman’s Fairfield Green is built to the National Green Building Standard (NGBS), the most rigorous national rating system available for residential buildings according to Home Innovation Research Labs, which trains verifiers.
NGBS Green Certified homes incorporate sufficient green practices designed to increase resource efficiency, boost energy efficiency, reduce water use, minimize land development impacts, improve the indoor environment and help ensure future performance through informed owner operation and maintenance.
“Our homes are sustainable in so many aspects all the way around – a lot of builders talk about it, but we choose to walk the talk and literally do it,” Carden added. “We have been providing our buyers an industry best 2/10 year Professional Warranty for over 30 years, and we’ve never had a claim. Everything is absolutely covered for two years, and the structure is for 10. Right now, we’re liking the new normal. We know we’re doing something right when we sell 13 homes in two weeks. It’s awesome.”
When it comes to providing solutions for better performing homes, Dave Gring of Steiner Homes works with buyers to ensure their homes achieve superior energy efficiency, durability and comfort in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner.
“All of our homes are ENERGY STAR tested, and we always want to determine the most cost-effective solutions with the greatest energy savings possible,” he explained. “Then, standard features such as blown-in cellulose insulation, which is an excellent product, ensures a good tight finish on the building envelope. For the last 3-4 years we’ve also been using Jeld Wen Builder’s Vinyl windows, which are ENERGY STAR rated for excellent performance. Our HVAC and water heaters are all highly efficient as well, and I would say that we use sustainable SmartSide or Vinyl siding equally on our exteriors based on buyer preference.”
While the new energy requirements for one-and-two-family dwellings and townhomes in Indiana ensure that all aspects of a home’s thermal envelope are well-insulated and air-sealed, that the HVAC system is sized properly and that its ductwork is efficient and properly installed, many local builders have been going above and beyond what the code requires for years.
Like Coolman and Steiner, a number of local homebuilders enlist a third-party certified expert to assess the energy efficiency of their homes. Along with giving them the opportunity to pass along the cost savings of tiered rebates from Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) for qualifying new homes that are either Silver Star (HERS 75), Gold Star (HERS 67) or ENERGY STAR 3.0, more people are learning about the importance of these rating systems.
For example, HERS, the Home Energy Rating System by RESNET® - Residential Energy Service Network – is the industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency. It’s officially recognized by the federal government for verification of building energy performance for programs including ENERGY STAR and the U.S. Department of Energy's Building America Program, by the IRS for federal tax credits and by mortgage lending programs that recognize the cost of energy efficiency investments (EEMs).
While both Carden and Gring admit that their building practices can cost more than traditional methods and materials, their buyers are willing to make that investment in their future. With measurable costs recouped over time with lower energy bills and less water usage, not all green initiatives or sustainable building choices cost more.
“Utilizing sound building practices that increase insulation values and properly positioning new homes to take advantage of natural heating and cooling properties, like passive solar design, can greatly improve HVAC system productivity while new product offerings like our Jeld Wen windows offer amazing new levels of efficiency,” Gring added.