University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #FCS3308

Differences between Green Homebuilders and Traditional Homebuilders1

Randall A. Cantrell2

This research was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2010-65400-20435 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Quick Facts

  • More than 100,000 housing units were certified by the LEED for Homes program and the NGBS ICC-700 standard (LEED, 2014; Home Innovation Research Labs, 2015).

  • Architects are learning more about and specifying more green building products such as Environmentally Certified Wood Products (ECWPs) used in the US residential construction sector because ECWPs are a pivotal means for accumulating points toward green residential certification (Bowers, Ganguly, & Eastin, 2014).

Terms to Help You Get Started

  • Green Building: Describes a set of policies and practices to ensure buildings are built and used in ways that are as environmentally responsible and resource-efficient as possible from construction to demolition (Allen and Iano, 2008)

  • USGBC: US Green Building Council

  • LEED for Homes: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes, a residential green building program established by the USGBC

  • NGBS ICC-700: One of the more prominent Green Building Programs in the US. Known as ICC-700 and developed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)

  • Environmentally Certified Wood Products: Wood products that have been certified to have been produced in accordance with a documented process that ensures responsible forest management practices

  • Forest Stewardship Council: A non-profit organization that sets standards to ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible and socially beneficial manner (Taylor, 2012)

  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative Label: A label indicating that forest products were derived from well-managed forests (SFI, 2012)

Keywords

Residential Green Building Programs, Environmentally Certified Wood Products, Forest Stewardship Council

What is “green” building?

Homebuilders are not a homogeneous group. Throughout the majority of the US homebuilding history, homebuilders may have used similar practices and building materials, but homebuilders who build to a “green” standard differ from those who do not. This study’s reference to “green” implies green building certification programs (GBCPs), which are transparent, third-party-maintained mechanisms whereby homebuilders receive points for incorporating specific conservation measures into the process of erecting a home.

How might you benefit by understanding differences between types of builders?

Within the residential construction sector, there are innovative builders who erect homes according to nationally recognized green standards. In doing so, they attempt to increase home occupants’ awareness and desire for new building products and materials (Koebel, Papadakis, Hudson, & Cavell, 2003). In other words, homebuyers need to understand what it means to buy a home that is certified by a green building program (GBP). Some builders understand better than others the benefits associated with building to such standards. Alternatively, there are builders who think they understand enough to convince homeowners they are building to green standards without the need for certification through a GBCP. This may be true, but often “green washing” takes place, and the builder sells what sounds like a green construction project when in reality it is a piecemeal, quasi-green construction job.

Green building practices such as whole-house systems (US Department of Energy, 2011a) must be embraced by competitive homebuilders in order that they may better inform homebuyers of the merits of such building concepts. That is, no one aspect of construction (or remodeling) should be conducted without the builder being aware of its impacts on other subsystems within the home. Similarly, future energy codes will demand that homebuilders be informed and trained in order to respond to energy-performance increases (US Department of Energy 2011b). Ill-prepared or ill-informed companies will become less competitive as green building practices for the residential construction sector continue to gain recognition.

What Is the basis for comparison between homebuilder types?

This paper is based on a study that collected information from homebuilders and remodelers who were involved in two or more residential construction projects during 2010 (Cantrell, 2012). The goal was to develop profiles for two categories of US builders—green and traditional—by differentiating them along six distinct dimensions: 1) attributes that drive material selection; 2) perceptions of wood, steel, and concrete as building materials; 3) familiarity with building-product technologies; 4) environmental impacts of building materials; 5) perceptions of environmentally certified wood programs; and 6) perceptions of green building programs.

What are the differences between green homebuilders and traditional homebuilders?

Attributes That Drive Material Selection

Traditional builders place significantly less emphasis on sustainability when selecting materials than green builders do. A green builder will choose building materials made from recycled materials and derived from renewable raw materials; consider the energy efficiency, recyclability, and length of service life of the materials; and often use materials produced locally. Green builders consider these selection criteria to be more important than do traditional builders.

Perceptions of Wood, Steel, and Concrete as Building Materials

Green builders believe more strongly than traditional builders do that steel and concrete have a long service life, though green builders are significantly more neutral than traditional builders (i.e., green builders score closer to 3 on a 1–5 scale while traditional builders score greater than 3) regarding the perceptions that wood or steel contribute to a high level of energy efficiency in the finished house and that steel is highly renewable. However, green builders believe more strongly than traditional builders do that wood is a highly renewable material and that concrete and steel are recyclable. Green builders do not believe that the manufacturing process of steel and concrete has a low CO2 emmision or that the energy required to manufacture them is low however, traditional builders are much more neutral about these two issues related to the manufacture of concrete.

Familiarity with Building-Product Technologies

Both categories of builders are knowledgeable about energy-efficient windows, water-conserving fixtures, energy-efficient appliances, and low-VOC paints; however, green builders are more informed about these four technologies than are traditional builders. Both types of builders still have much knowledge to gain about heat-recovery ventilators, solar power generation, solar water heating, structural insulated panels, concrete with reduced cement, and tankless water heaters.

Environmental Impacts of Building Materials

Both categories of builders are knowledgeable about the impacts on the environment of low-VOC paints, heat-recovery ventilators, solar power generation, solar water heating, concrete with reduced cement, water-conserving fixtures, tankless water heaters, and energy-efficient appliances, but traditional builders are significantly less knowledgeable about them than green builders are.

Perceptions of Environmentally Certified Wood Programs

Neither category of builder is as familiar with environmentally certified wood programs as it could be, but traditional builders are significantly less knowledgeable about them than green builders are.

Perceptions of Green Building Programs

Neither category of builder is as familiar with green building programs as it could be, but green builders are more familiar with them than traditional builders are. Interestingly, traditional builders feel more strongly than green builders do that the ICC-700 program is more effective in reducing the environmental footprint of the house than is the LEED for Homes program, has more of an influence on home sales than does the LEED for Homes program, and has greater customer brand recognition than does the LEED for Homes program. However, green builders are much more neutral regarding these three beliefs. These feelings on the part of the traditional builder are most likely due to a lack of familiarity with the two green building programs and are potentially influenced by hearsay and speculation.

Summary

Green builders and traditional builders differ in their beliefs considerably. In some cases, it may economically benefit the traditional builder to become better informed about environmental concerns. It is doubtful that green builders are simply out to make the world a better place; they must also earn a profit for their efforts. Clearly markets (i.e., homebuyers) are rewarding green builders for their approach toward construction. This is not to imply that traditional builders do not have access to viable markets as well, but more markets will open to them if they become more aware of what motivates green-conscious homebuyers. Moreover, “green-washing” is rampant in the marketing of the green movement, and it is understandable how a busy homebuilder with limited time to attend conferences and workshops or read multiple literature sources could be misinformed. This could cause them to make choices in good faith that result in less sustainable building practices. The homebuilding market is highly competitive, however, and will become even more so as building codes continue to become more stringent and homebuyers more savvy. Thus, homebuilders of all types must take it upon themselves to maintain the level of knowledge required to guide homebuyers through the myriad choices available to them.

References and Resources

Allen, E., & Iano, J. (2008). Fundamentals of building construction: materials and mehtods. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bowers, T., Ganguly, I., & Eastin, I. (2014). Eco-labeled wood products in the U.S. residential construction industry: Architects’ awareness and usage of certified wood and green building programs. The Forestry Chronicle, 90(5): 605–613.

Cantrell, R. (2012). Comparisons between Green Homebuilders and Traditional Homebuilders. Journal of Forest Products Business Research, 9(3), 1–11.

Green Building. (May 21, 2015). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 8, 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_building.

Home Innovation Research Labs. (2015). Rigorous ICC 700 National Green Building Standard Certification. Retrieved June 8, 2015 from http://www.homeinnovation.com/green.

Koebel, T., Papadakis, M., Hudson, E., & Cavell, M. (2003). The Diffusion of Innovation in the Residential Building Industry. Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.

SFI. (2015). Retrieved June 8, 2015 from http://www.sfiprogram.org/.

Taylor, N. W., Kip, J., & Ruppert, K. C. (2008). Energy Efficient Homes: Easy Steps to Saving Money in Your Home (FCS3267). Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1028

U.S. Department of Energy. (2015a). Whole-House Systems Approach. Retrieved June 8, 2015 from http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/whole-house-systems-approach

US Green Building Council. (2015). LEED. Retrieved June 8, 2015 from http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=147.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS3308, one of a series of the Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date March 2012. Revised June 2015. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Randall A. Cantrell, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.