Custom high-performance certified green homes? Been there, done that.
If you already build a decent custom home that is anywhere near Energy Star certified, getting it green should be reasonably easy to do and cost you less than $1 per square foot. It’s not really breaking new ground in most communities anymore to build a nationally certified custom green home, unless it’s a freakishly designed emerald- or platinum-level zero-energy home. In short, the custom market in housing, like the custom segment in many industries, is leading the way when it comes to integrating green design details, products, materials, and construction methodologies that will ultimately become mainstream.
Now, logically, these practices should be trickling down to semicustom and high-end production homes for the middle class, right? And as they become more widespread and costs drop, the final frontier will be starter homes, workforce housing and government-subsidized housing, correct? Well, my experience shows that the middle market is being left behind as low-income housing jumps to the front of the race to build nationally certified green homes.
In the last year alone, we have priced out 200 LEED-certified Section 8 townhouses that came in at less than $70 per square foot, including a gross profit of approximately 12%. We are currently working on the pricing of 95 single-family homes considered LEED/NGBS-certified workforce housing, and they are coming in very close to the same cost and gross profit return. How is this possible?
The home-size adjuster in each program is what makes it possible. In essence, there is a sliding scale that compensates for the effect of home size on resource consumption. All else being equal, a larger home consumes more materials and energy than a smaller home over its life cycle, so both programs adjust their awards threshold points in each category based on the size of the home. Thus, smaller-than-average homes require fewer points to reach a given award threshold than larger-than-average homes.
The average home sizes for the LEED program are 1900 square feet with three bedrooms, 2600 square feet with four bedrooms, and 2850 square feet with five bedrooms. The NGBS also applies bonus points to the scoring for smaller-than-average homes. The bottom line is that the ratio of a small home to a large number of bedrooms has a much easier time reaching any given point threshold in either program than does the ratio of a large home to a small number of bedrooms.
And that’s the key to how we are making green affordable in the workforce housing and/or low-income market. These houses are smaller and they have lots of bedrooms. That makes them a lot easier to certify. A 1700-sq.-ft. townhouse with four bedrooms gets a 10-point credit and only needs 35 points to be certified. At that point, it becomes a footrace to the least expensive way to get those points. But does that make it greener? That’s the topic of my next blog!