Want To Build Green in the New River Valley?

Interested in building a truly green home in the New River Valley? Lots of builders say they’re “going green”, and it’s true – many are paying attention to what makes a home energy-efficient. They have to; consumers are finally demanding it. But insulated windows and a shade tree that’ll reach maturity in 20 years don’t quite cut it.

I’ve mentioned Green Valley Builders before (remember that Mt. Tabor Meadows project?), and recently they unveiled the first home in the New River Valley that’s received LEED® Silver Certification.  The certifications are given out by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and in order to qualify for a home – and the process of building itself – undergoes a rigourous set of certifications.  It’s not for the faint of heart, from what I understand, but kudos to Green Valley Builders – and the new homeowners – for achieving it!  I like Green Valley’s explanation of what LEED means to a homebuyer:

“For the homebuyer, LEED is like the nutrition label on the side of a cereal box; it clearly labels in measurable terms that the home has healthy, green, efficient features that have been third-party verified.”

True awareness in regards to the impact we’re having in our communities, and on our planet, is here folks.  And in the New River Valley construction industry, Green Valley Builders is leading the way.

3 thoughts on “Want To Build Green in the New River Valley?

  1. Hderrick

    Good questions. It is true that critics of the LEED program – many of whom have subscribed whole-heartedly to sustainable building practices for years – have a point that there are areas where a building can achieve LEED certification for “bogus stuff” as architect Frank Gehry put it. For example, a home could be certified as LEED and still have fiberglass insulation (Green Valley’s homes have cellulose and spray foam insulation by the way). And while they’re right that it isn’t a perfect rating system, it does help move the fringe green building movement into the mainstream. Like other green building programs, it is a point system, and in order to achieve the required amount of points while staying within your budget, you are going to have to make some tradeoffs. Would it be great to put geothermal and photovoltaic systems in every home? Sure. Is it realistic in terms of the average homeowner’s budget? Not really. Can we at least make sure the home has a tight building envelope with the right sized HVAC equipment? Sure.

    The fact of the matter is, particularly in residential building, you can’t design and build a totally sustainable home and expect most homebuyers to be able to afford it. It costs more to properly seal the building envelope, put better insulation in the walls, do all the required diagnostic testing ensure the home’s efficiency, AND still have all the fancy appliances and countertops that most of us want in a new home. But the result is a better performing home that is more durable, operates more efficiently, and ultimately saves the homeowner money and our environment’s resources.

    Another reason why it’s difficult to bring these practices to the public is that we as human beings are slaves to immediate gratification. If I said, here are two houses, both have the exact same floorplan, in the exact same neighborhood and have the same cosmetic features like appliances, flooring and custom cabinets. But this one costs about $10,000 more because it has advanced framing, better insulation, all CFL lighting fixtures and will save you $10,000+ over the life of the home. Most people are going to say, “Nah, give me the cheaper one.” Because like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, WE WANT IT NOW! Trying to change that mindset is often difficult for sustainable builders and material suppliers.

    So LEED isn’t perfect, but it is one of the most credible systems out there to measure your home’s energy efficiency. Let’s put it another way – you see a lot of ENERGY STAR qualified homes because the ENERGY STAR program is much easier to attain. For example, ENERGY STAR homes must have a minimum score of 86 out of a 100 on Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) scale. That basically means that after the third party testing, the home is at least 14% more energy-efficient than the standard home built to code. But LEED – and Green Valley Builders – is a lot tougher than that. In fact, 804 Petra Pass has a HERS rating of 51, making it 49% more energy efficient than the standard home. What that means for the Lewis family is their electricity bill has averaged $185.62 per month since March, along with a $20 per month natural gas bill to run a four-bedroom, 3.5 bath house totaling 3,402 square feet for SEVEN PEOPLE. I think for a family of seven in these economic times, that’s a pretty big deal.

  2. Anonymous

    I haven’t seen the article in the Valley Business Front, Heather – what makes the LEED program “green enough”, according to the article? And why is it difficult for builders to bring these practices to the public?

  3. Hderrick

    Thanks for sharing this story Jeremy! I was talking to Monica Rokicki, chair of the Southwest Virginia chapter of USGBC and LEED AP at Balzer, and she was saying it’s impressive that a builder in these times takes on the LEED for Homes program. Because the truth is, it isn’t exactly easy for a builder to build better, more energy-efficient homes and stay competitive with price. There was also a story in the August Valley Business Front with a somewhat negative critique on the LEED program that it isn’t “green enough,” however, I think they failed to report on how difficult it is for residential builders especially to bring these innovative green building practices to the general public. So it may not be perfect, but isn’t it better than “building as usual?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *