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updated: 2/25/2011 11:46 AM

Homebuilders across the suburbs attempt to be more 'green'

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  • Airhart Construction used green materials and technology to build this Blanchard townhouse model at its Courthouse Square community in Wheaton.

      Airhart Construction used green materials and technology to build this Blanchard townhouse model at its Courthouse Square community in Wheaton.
    Courtesy of Airhart Construction

  • Eight miles of new street in Wyndham Deerpoint Homes' Tall Oaks subdivision in Elgin were paved with asphalt that contains recycled roof shingles.

      Eight miles of new street in Wyndham Deerpoint Homes' Tall Oaks subdivision in Elgin were paved with asphalt that contains recycled roof shingles.
    Courtesy of Wyndham Deerpoint Homes

  • Cellulose blown-in insulation is used by Airhart Construction to seal the wall cavity and better reduce air loss and infiltration.

      Cellulose blown-in insulation is used by Airhart Construction to seal the wall cavity and better reduce air loss and infiltration.
    Courtesy of Airhart Construction

  • See homes each week in Friday's Daily Herald

    Graphic: See homes each week in Friday's Daily Herald

 
By Sherry Giewald

Green building. Are people daunted by the concept? Are they diving into the deep water or merely getting their feet wet?

As new green technologies emerge in the home-building industry, people need to be aware of their options because improvements have changed the way we live today.

They need to become educated about green building concepts, learn how new technologies work and understand how these new methods will benefit them. Otherwise, how can people make wise decisions when they purchase a new home or renovate an older one?

Builders say people are more apt to select green options when they can see an immediate benefit to themselves.

"Most people focus on things that benefit them the most," said Bill Whelan, marketing director for Airhart Construction, based in West Chicago. "Saving energy is a big part of being green, and energy-efficient features are really important to buyers right now."

When Airhart tells clients that the company recycles a high percentage of its waste and that a lot of building materials they use come from recyclers, they're happy about it, Whelan said. "But they're more concerned with stuff that results in saving energy."

Jason Werr, president of JAW Builders Inc. in Wheaton, sees more interest in green building, especially when it comes to reducing heating and cooling expenses. "Green building has made a complete turn in the past six months, especially on the energy side of things," he said. "It's a huge component of green building, and most people are thinking about it."

Although some aspects of green building can be very complex, builders share their knowledge with clients because education is the best way to prepare people for change. It is education that will smooth the transition from the old to the new way of thinking.

Airhart Construction offers a comprehensive video for prospective buyers to watch that explains and shows that Airhart exceeds Energy Star requirements and uses exceptional green products and processes.

Of interest is their use of cellulose blown-in insulation that fully seals the wall cavity to better reduce possible air movement. This is such a good product and, because it's so energy efficient, it's also green, Whelan said.

People will also learn Airhart uses 2-by-6-inch studs rather than two-by-fours to produce a stronger frame. They'll see them install a 36-inch ice and water shield on the roof edge and cover it with textured and layered architectural grade shingles. Airhart also measures the tightness of the house to make sure there is no outside air penetration.

Werr offers clients a personal tour of his Emerald-certified green home, which is his family's primary residence and model home where clients can see firsthand all the green aspects of the home. Werr is the first in Illinois to achieve this certification by the National Association of Home Builders.

The custom Craftsman-style, 3,600-square-foot home features five bedrooms, four baths and basement and displays many green features that clients can see and learn about from Werr.

One of the home's notable features is his geothermal heating and air conditioning system. Werr shows people the system and explains how it works. "My furnace doesn't run during the day because the house is so tight," he said. "Even the day of the blizzard, my furnace didn't even kick on. They say, 'Let me get this straight now.' They want to know the ROI (return on investment), and it's important for them to know they'll receive an immediate payback."

More people are interested in the geothermal system now because of the 30 percent government tax credit, Werr said. "People are finally realizing what it is and how it works."

Builders are also challenged to keep up with the latest green building techniques and to achieve one of the several levels of green building certifications. More knowledge will lead to a higher level of accomplishment and innovation.

"Education is a process we're going through," Werr said. "Builders who don't want to learn about green building will be left in the dust."

One builder who will not be left in the dust is green builder Wyndham Deerpoint Homes. The homebuilder is paving a smooth green road, literally, with a road mixture at its Tall Oaks subdivision that includes recycled asphalt roofing shingles ground up from old roofs.

The eight miles of green roads are designed to last longer as well as divert shingle waste from landfills and reduce the amount of aggregate, sand and oil normally needed for paving.

"This initiative is something we'd like to do for future subdivisions," said Rich Guerard, principal with Wyndham Deerpoint Homes.

"The Tall Oaks paving was the first time the paving contractor, general contractor, developer, hot mix asphalt plant and the city of Elgin had used this mix," said Matt Vondra, representative from Southwind RAS, the Bartlett-based company responsible for recycling the asphalt shingles and advocating paving using green technology.

"Similar recycling efforts have been used for up to 20 years in some states, but Illinois has been slow to adopt specifications that allow for the use of recycled asphalt shingles," he said.

While some people choose to remain in their homes and invest money in remodeling or upgrading their home's features, remodelers say they don't see a lot of interest in green from these clients.

People are asking a lot of questions about it, but it generally costs more. So even though they're interested, they don't follow through because of the costs, said Patrick Finn, owner of Patrick A. Finn Ltd. in Palatine.

"We ask people how long they're planning to be in their house because it takes a little longer to recoup their costs. If they're going to remain in the house for five years or longer, it's easier for them to buy into the green idea."

It's becoming more mainstream, Finn said. "Maybe 10 percent of people believe in it and are going to do it. We see some people who will do it no mater what. They like the bamboo flooring, which is pretty popular now, and recycled materials on countertops and insulations products."

Although the company tells clients about the green products so they can make an informed decision, it tries to give customers what they want, Finn said.

"Remodeling usually costs more than originally anticipated, so if something has to go, it's the green."

Bryan Nooner doesn't see much interest in green. The concept hasn't trickled down into the remodeling area yet, said Nooner of Distinctive Remodelers in Orland Park. "I'm one of the biggest guys in remodel, and we don't see it happening.

"People in their homes are more into 'how does it look.' If people can't touch it, feel it, see it, they don't want to put it behind the walls. We're here to meet our customers' needs, to sell into their needs."

For Finn, some of the green is just good construction practice that they've been using for years -- high efficiency furnace, insulation, good quality windows and doors and plumbing fixtures, he said. "They're called green because of low energy consumption, but they've been around for years."

Airhart has also been doing green stuff for a while, such as high-efficiency furnaces and energy-efficient water heaters, and insulated glass, Whelan said. "Although we are good stewards of the environment and implement many green products and practices, our main focus is on building a really fine house."

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