Local sustainable builders and the Western North Carolina Green Building Council reached an important milestone last month with the certification of the 1,000th Green Built North Carolina home in the greater Asheville area. The property, located at 87 Fenner Ave. in Asheville, was built by JAG & Associates Construction, a local contractor known for its work in the green-building sector.
Since its grassroots beginnings in the spring of 2000, the Green Building Council has worked to promote and facilitate green construction projects around the region, partnering with contractors to educate the public on the advantages of sustainable, low-impact housing. “As a society, we have the capacity to build homes that are affordable and have minimal impact on the environment,” says Maggie Leslie, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We have the capability to build homes that use zero fossil fuels to operate, capture their own water, treat it on-site and have zero toxic chemicals.” Leslie sees her organization as a driving force in the green-building market that’s helping local communities reconnect with their natural surroundings.
Located off Merrimon Avenue just north of UNC Asheville, the Fenner Avenue project’s roughly 2,000 square feet include three bedrooms and two baths. Among the home’s energy-efficient features are airtight construction, a fresh air ventilation system, water-saving appliances and low-toxic finishes. A south-facing roof area gives future owners the option of installing solar panels to cut energy costs and carbon emissions still more.
JAG Construction, which has operated in Asheville and environs since 2003, has built more than 60 certified homes since joining the Green Building Council in 2006, says company founder Jody Guokas, demonstrating a commitment to both energy-saving practices and high-quality craftmanship. Rob Johnson, Operations Manager for JAG, explains that “our focus is not just being a green builder, but using our experience to get other builders to buy in and make green building practices the standard in the industry.” Johnson cites the Fenner property, which he personally oversaw, as an example of the standards they strive for in all their projects.
The Fenner Avenue property, says Leslie, is further proof that the nonprofit’s Green Built North Carolina program is gaining momentum among builders and buyers alike. “We are thrilled to have reached this milestone, particularly after a challenging few years for the homebuilding market,” she says. “When I began working in the industry in 2003, there were few builders that knew how to build high-performance green homes, and just as few people asking for them. But now, 230 contractors have built at least one project, and it’s no longer difficult to find a subcontractor to install insulation or a heating-and-cooling system to our standards.”
Homes certified by the program, the nonprofit maintains, sell faster, hold their value longer, save energy, lower utility bills and protect the environment. Four levels of certification — certified, silver, gold and platinum — accommodate contractors and construction firms with varying budgets and levels of experience, while setting clear goals for improving energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact.
“One of the true measures of the program’s success,” notes Leslie, “is that many contractors began building at the certified level. Over time they’ve added more and more green elements to their homes and now build at the silver and gold level as standard practice.”
These 1,000 certified properties, the council reports, have already reduced carbon emissions in the region by an estimated 5,000 tons a year while saving homeowners an average of $815 annually on utility bills. “Everyone wins with green building — the homeowner, the contractor and the environment,” says Leslie. “Building green doesn’t mean doing without — on the contrary, a green home is based on a foundation of quality craftsmanship.” And while individuals have different reasons for deciding to go green, Leslie believes the program “helps give people the ability to get all of those things without having to choose” between two sets of values.
The Green Building Council offers step-by-step instructions for both homeowners and builders, outlining the certification process for new green homes. Beginning with an online orientation course, participants then work with certified raters throughout the building process, using a checklist that focuses on energy and water usage, including things like appliances, HVAC systems and indoor air quality. Each category is assigned a numerical value based on how well it meets these requirements, and the total score (which must be at least 105 in order to qualify) determines the level of certification.
The Fenner Avenue property has achieved gold certification, meaning it’s “rated to be 45 percent more efficient than a home built to code,” Leslie explains. It was listed at $415,000, and at press time, a buyer was expected to close on the property any day.
Besides on-site advice and design support, the Green Building Council offers contractors marketing assistance, workshops on green building techniques, and quality assurance by third-party firms. “Certification programs have been created as an educational pathway for builders and homeowners to make educated choices based on their values,” says Leslie. “We help them make choices about saving water and energy, indoor air quality, green materials and renewable energy, and then provide an extra set of eyes during the construction process to prevent green washing.”
But rather than resting on their laurels, both the nonprofit and JAG are aiming to expand their work. A new program called Green Gauge, Leslie explains, provides an assessment tool for retrofitting existing structures to make them more energy-efficient. “The program is designed to be simple, low-cost and provide recommendations on cost-effective upgrades, offering graphical comparisons of energy and water use compared to average homes. We think homebuyers should know what it will cost to live in a home before they buy it.”
Johnson adds that “so many existing houses are being overlooked. Green Gauge is a great opportunity for us to address these deficiencies with homeowners and really make a big difference in that area.” He goes on to speak to their general goal of making green building the standard for the construction industry in Asheville:
“It took Asheville from 2006 until now to meet that target [of 1,000 Green Built NC homes]. If you were to compare that to the number of homes built regionally in that eight-year span, it should be an important wake up call to the region that very few builders are actively building and certifying green homes. This a serious problem for a region that’s in the midst of a major growth spurt.”
It is time for home buyers to ask for more from their builders in this region, not just upgrades or more square footage. If you could apply the quantifiable 40-50% energy savings of an NC Green Built and ENERGYSTAR certified home to even a third of the homes built regionally every year, we could start to make some real impact. Until then, we have our work cut out for us in our role as leaders in this movement.”
The council is also updating its certification guidelines and participating in the Living Building Challenge, an international movement whose goal is producing “homes that are net-zero-energy, net-zero-water and built with local and nontoxic materials,” she reveals.