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Green Building Movement Taking Hold Locally

Green products were once considered a fringe market, but times have changed. Green-meaning eco-status, not color-has entered the mainstream in a big way, because consumers in all walks of life are demanding products that save energy, promote sustainability and don't destroy the environment.

Nowhere is this movement more apparent than the homebuilding industry.

The American Institute of Architects, for instance, issued a report this month that said Americans are demanding green products in unprecedented numbers, including energy-efficient appliances and alternative materials such as bamboo.

Green was the overriding theme in New York City last month at the Architectural Digest Home Show. Examples of new green products included a bed made from specially grown sustainable wood; a table made from recycled camel bones; flooring made from 400-year-old elm recovered from China.

The trend continued at the International Builders' Show in Orlando, Florida, where the National Homebuilders' Association unveiled its annual showcase home, an ultra-modern dwelling designed to showcase the latest design and construction trends. In this year's model, green, energy-efficient design was the theme. Practically every aspect of the building was designed with maximum energy savings and minimum environmental impact in mind, and it was the first New American Home to feature a photovoltaic system.

The green emphasis continued locally when 50 realtors, homebuilders, developers, mortgage bankers and others gathered March 16 at Amerititle in Medford for an energy-efficient homebuilding seminar where speakers traded information on a variety of green topics, including tax incentives and rebates for energy-efficient homes, techniques being used by local builders, availability of green construction materials, the local emergence of green mortgages and a discussion about how to define what constitutes a "green" home.

Don McCoy, an eco-broker for Exit Realty Group in Medford, one of the organizers of the seminar, couldn't hide his enthusiasm for what he called "the first big meeting in the valley" focused on green, energy-efficient homebuilding.

McCoy told the group he decided to pursue his certification as an eco-broker when he began having clients asking about green homes and he realized he didn't know enough about the topic.

In December he became the first certified eco-broker in Southern Oregon. Since then five other realtors have gained eco-certification. Another dozen are taking classes to gain certification.

The force behind this mainstream push toward greener homes is the consumer, McCoy and other speakers said. People are getting tired of $600 heating bills. Consumers are more knowledgeable about alternative materials, the need for more healthful products to improve indoor air quality, and the benefits of water-wise landscaping, among many other factors.

A green home encompasses many aspects, said Fred Gant, a green building consultant who addressed the Medford group about Earth Advantage, a group that does testing to certify green homes. "You can't just have bamboo floors and say a house is green. There are so many ingredients, and they are part of a whole concept."

A true green home begins with how a building is situated on a lot, its orientation to the sun, Gant said. The concept continues with energy-efficient appliances and windows, sealed ducts, water-wise landscaping, and building materials that minimize indoor air pollution, among many other factors.

"We think of the house as a system," said Mark Wickman, owner of Vision Homes. "The relationship between heat, moisture and air affects every system in a house."

Environmental groups are not the ones organizing seminars like the one in Medford; nor is the push for greener homes occurring because of government mandates. The movement is emerging because consumers want it, which means there is money in it for builders, lenders, architects, designers and everyone associated with the home-building industry.

There is also money in it for homeowners-partly because energy-efficient homes are far less expensive to operate, and partly because green-built homes are better-built homes, with better, longer-lasting materials that add value to a home. This dawning awareness on the part of appraisers and underwriters runs counter to arguments from mainstream builders of the past, who argued that greener, more energy-efficient homes cost too much.

"A green home is worth more," McCoy says simply. "You use better materials, and better building techniques. The key is that lenders are starting to realize it, too."

Wickman, who builds subdivisions, said he started building energy efficient homes because they are better homes. "We try to build homes for the masses," he said, "not for someone trying to live off the grid."

A standard, code-built home leaks 20 to 30 percent of its energy, he said, meaning that for every dollar spent on heating and cooling, 20 to 30 cents is lost. An energy efficient home loses six-percent or less, he said.