Ask the Expert: Is it more expensive to build green?

| by Teena Hammond
Ask the Expert: Is it more expensive to build green?

There's a common assumption among some that it's more expensive to build green than to use traditional building materials and methods. So here at ProudGreenHome we turned to our Approved Contributing Experts, also known as ACEs, to share with us their thoughts.

The question, and their responses, are part of our new twice-monthly feature, Ask the Expert, where our experts weigh in to give their opinions on pertinent topics in green hombuilding.

Our ACEs responding are Lois Vitt Sale, chief sustainability officer at Chicago-based Wight & Co., an integrated architecture, engineering and construction firm; and Chris Conway, president of Conway Construction and the exclusive Earthcraft House technical adviser for Northern Virginia.

ProudGreenHome: Is it more expensive to build green?

Lois Vitt Sale:My answer is no, it doesn't have to be. In a book by Greg Kats, "Greening Our Built World," 170 LEED-certified buildings were studied against a data base of similar buildings. The average construction premium, notwithstanding their level of certification, was 1.7 percent.

However, when asked if green buildings cost more, people polled said they believed green buildings cost 17 percent more than conventional buildings. Are there building elements that are highly sustainable that cost more? Absolutely. Renewable energy and vegetated roofs are always going to cost more because they are additional systems that boost the ecological function of the buildings they adorn. Within any building project, an owner has a myriad of choices to make.

Until the advent of green buildings, people weren't chronically dissecting the building elements to determine where the premiums were buried. Does that marble floor cost more? Does the stone base around the exterior walls cost more? Does that beautiful cedar shake roof cost more? Yes, more than many other products that might be selected for the composition of a durable, aesthetically pleasing building. These items are not the choice with the least initial cost. We continue to ask this question of cost when we should be really asking about lifecycle costs — operating costs, durability, sustainable return on investment. A professional who is really thinking sustainably will be hard pressed to take apart the costs of a building and provide a line-by-line examination because the components of his solution will so well integrate that the envelope, orientation, landscape and mechanical system will all be contributing to how well the building operates.

When we get to a place where low carbon, durable buildings that are integrated into the landscape are the first choice, the conventional choice, this question might finally be put to rest.

Chris Conway:No, it really isn't more expensive to build a green, sustainable home. What you really have to take into consideration when you want to build in a more environmentally conscious way is how you want to approach the build.

Here are some simple tips to get you into the green on a budget mindset:

  • Form your team, and source your products from the very beginning. You want to make sure that you have your team established from the get-go, so that everyone knows what the goal is from the outset. When your whole team understands what you want to achieve and you have outlined the strategy from the beginning, it is easier to stay within your budget and the parameters you set forth.
  • Next, you will want to make sure that you understand your selection options for interior features, considering everything from your energy-efficiency products and the HVAC unit and whole home systems, down to the flooring and even the tile selections, because you can go green down to the grout in the tiles. It is just a matter of making sure you budget accordingly and know how to source the materials.
  • Link up with the green gurus around you, and make sure you plot your course to stay on budget, because it does not have to be more expensive to build green.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Going Green, Heating & Cooling, Trends / Statistics



Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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