A gold star for green builder Michael Chandler
What does the Builder Advocate award mean to you?
“I would say that incredibly affirming is the word, that it is an acknowledgement that I’m on the right path. We’re not going to get to where we need to be if we only build two or three really cool houses a year. We’ve got to get out there and fix the bad houses and stop building more bad houses, and that means taking the message to the people who are building the houses. I think the award says that what I’m doing is the right path. It’s important to understand that this is big important work that we are doing and it’s really critical.”
Is the green home movement making progress?
“We’re starting to see production level builders putting out silver level homes. It’s exciting when you see somebody building 100 homes per year kicking out EnergyStar, WaterSense, and indoor air quality silver-rated green homes. At 100 per year, you start to realize, oh man, this thing has legs!”
Will the green home movement gain from the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico and recent coal mining accidents?
“In the long run, I think these terrible disasters in the Gulf and at the coal mines … inevitably, these things will start to be good for the green building movement in sort of a sad way.”
You are actually in favor of higher gas prices. Is that right?
“Well, anything that can raise the price of energy without causing inflation overall is going to be good for the green building movement. I tell people I’d like to see gas at $6 a gallon because when gas goes up our phone rings off the hook. Our phone is ringing right now very strongly. [Higher gas] should move us in the direction of better implementation of green building.”
Yet, you also think the electric movement has its own issues. Can you explain?
“Electric cars are coming on – there’s no stopping that. But until we can really address the failure of electric generation being based so much on natural gas and coal, Id like to see people go slow on electric cars. Gasoline is still the best way to power a car in terms of value. Using coal and natural gas to generate electricity is something that we need to fix. Distributed electrical generation is something we should be pushing for, where every town or community has a number of different ways to trickle energy into the grid. I think we need to look very seriously at the electric energy production mix in America before we jump on the electric car bandwagon. Right now electric cars are burning coal at 30 percent efficiency and gas looks pretty good compared to that.”
Many homeowners would love to go green, but they just don’t know where to start. What advice do you give this group?
“That’s a real big problem. The advice I always give the people who want to put in bamboo flooring and a geothermal pump and call it green is that so much of the work has been done by the certifying agencies to help sort this out. If you are thinking about going green, think about going green certified so that you have the help of the people who wrote the national green building standard and the people that put together the LEED for homes program and the EarthCraft House program. Harvest that knowledge by having your work certified.”
Any other advice?
“Don’t just stop at EnergyStar. I’ve seen people do EnergyStar certification without doing duct blaster testing. Blower door tests are good, but the duct blaster test is where you find what needs to be fixed, at least in the South. But in the end it’s really important to get certified, because certification will ask the hard questions.”
I know you teach green building to trades people. What type of thought leadership do you preach to them?
“I’m about to start teaching the advanced green building and renovating class. I find it fascinating when I get people that don’t believe humans are behind global warming but are still in a green building class because they realize that building green is where the market is going. If you are not going to be part of the green building movement, you will be left behind. Building codes are going green. Regardless of whether or not you think green certification is important, you’ll be getting green certified by your building inspectors in a year or two. So you may as well be proactive and start to learn about it when it’s optional so that you can understand where the cost savings are.”
What are the biggest concerns for builders when it comes to green?
“Well, we see these guys who get the green fever, and they’ll try to get every single point in the book and then complain about how expensive that can be, and where the heck do they find FSC-certified framing lumber. Well, my advice is to run the scoring tool on the house you finished last year and see what you could have done in a cost effective way to make that better. Don’t look at the house you’re about to build and try to get to Platinum. Go back and look at what you’ve already done, and the odds are that if you are a conscientious and quality-focused builder, you are likely already doing a lot of things green.”
What green features typically have the best return-on-investment for homeowners?
“I think the green feature that gives the homeowner the biggest ROI is getting third party certification. It’s definitely the biggest bang for the buck, as well as EnergyStar, but I tell builders you shouldn’t charge customers for it because it should be part of our business plan to certify or test everything we build. Beyond that, enveloping improvements are clearly your best return on investment. That means things like spray foam for sealed attacks and crawl spaces. Sealed crawls are huge and very inexpensive if done during construction of the house.
“I can do a sealed crawl during construction of the house for an up-charge of about $500. Sealed attacks are really important but the up-charge for that is about $3,000, so there is slower payback. I try to explain to people that rather than assuming the cost of energy will be steady for the next 10 years, that you need to say at what multiple of current energy prices does the increase in the mortgage payment balance the increasing costs of fuel? If you can design a house so that when fuel costs double, it is equivalent to the increase in the mortgage payment, then you are still making a smart investment because fuel costs are going to more than double.”