June 29, 2011
Business of Building
Business of Building
Savvy Consumers Putting a Premium on Green Building Professionals


 Joanne Theunissen, CGP, Howling Hammer Builders, Inc.

During a recent interview with the editors of Business of Building eSource, green builder and industry advocate Joanne Theunissen, CGP, of Howling Hammer Builders, Inc. based in Mount Pleasant, Mich., discussed her experiences selling green and energy-efficient homes, consumer response to green features and the benefits being knowledgeable and open minded when it comes to green building concepts.

Business of Building eSource (BoB): How do you differentiate between energy efficiency and green building when talking with potential clients?

Joanne Theunissen: While energy efficiency is a vital component of green building, it is only one element of green building. Energy efficiency is about how a home uses power — i.e., electricity, heating and air conditioning and water heating equipment.

Green building, on the other hand, involves much more. Green building encompasses the total home being built or remodeled and also addresses issues such as the effective use of resources inside and outside the home, indoor air quality, water conservation, and overall conservation.

Building green requires builders to evaluate how their home owners intend to use their home as well as to analyze the design and implementation of every stage of construction — including how energy will be used.

BoB: While green products and green building are being touted not only across the country but around the world, many builders report that their customers are skeptical about their return on investment from building green and buying green products. Is this true with your customers and, if so, what do you tell them to change their minds?

Theunissen: Green values have been expounded upon in the media and in advertising during the past decade, but sadly there has also been a lot of misinformation and tremendous confusion about what “green” actually means. Also, in this economy no one wants to spend money foolishly, so many consumers are hesitant to invest in green technology.

But there are consumers looking for credible ways to determine how to get the best bang for their green buck. Recognizable and credible labels such as Energy Star remain popular because people trust them.

With my new clients, I always begin my conversations by determining their motivations for considering green or even wanting to have a “green” discussion. Their reasons for going green range between saving the planet for future generations and saving money now.

For those clients who want to go totally green, it comes at no small price and we need to use every technology and best building practice available. Before we begin, however, we need to identify their more tangible motivations and needs.

For the clients who focus on the costs savings that come with energy conservation, we prepare an analysis of their home’s energy use with and without energy-saving technologies so they can compare the initial investment in relation to savings. They can realize small savings by simply choosing the right appliances, but delving deeper into a home’s mechanical systems and an insulation and air sealing package can give them bigger returns.

Certainly no one minds saving money on the cost of running their house, but we shouldn’t overlook another issue that motivates some clients — controlling their home’s indoor air quality.

BoB: How important is education when marketing and selling green?

Theunissen: Properly educating a client about the benefits of buying green or energy efficiency is crucial to the success of any green builder or remodeler. Keep in mind that prospective clients can’t see most of the components that make a home more energy efficient, so being able to explain the processes and components so they can understand them is important.

I am finding that more and more consumers come to us after already having done a lot of homework. While some clients have a pretty good sense of some of the elements of building science, many are confused or misinformed about the best practices in energy efficiency and green building.

To cut through the confusion and misinformation, salespeople must understand the product they’re trying to sell and be able to explain it.

BoB: With the news about the Appraisal Institute launching a “Green” Valuation Program to educate appraisers on intricacies of valuing green and energy-efficient homes, what does this mean for the industry?

Theunissen: Builders and remodelers who are building green or energy-efficient designs have been severely hindered by the inability to obtain accurate appraisals. Even when appraisers have tried to set a value on our projects, they hit a wall when they attempt to find the necessary comparables.

When you take into consideration the additional costs of energy-efficient technologies and improved building sciences, it only makes sense for an appraiser to be allowed to use an energy auditor’s analysis of what it will cost to run the home in determining long-term value.

With the Appraisal Institute expanding its educational program to include how to properly appraise energy-efficient and green homes, I think it will take about two years to hurdle the wall blocking more accurate appraisals of homes with green features and technology.

BoB: As a builder and one of the first Certified Green Professionals (CGP) in your state, what advice would you give to a builder who was on the fence about implementing green building concepts and practices?

Theunissen: Home building is fast becoming a profession where only those who understand building sciences and the intricacies of code development will be in demand. The rules and regulations governing our industry are complicating our world and the very survival of most builders and remodelers will hinge on their ability to comply and perform accordingly.

Green building may have become an overused and somewhat misunderstood term, but the benefits of becoming certified in the various aspects of green building and remodeling and becoming knowledgeable about technologies and building practices are invaluable not only to their business, but to their clients as well.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and are seeking builders or remodelers who are knowledgeable about green building practices.

Going a step further, a CGP certification and can help a consumer identify the difference between green-built homes and homes built to the minimum building code.

BoB: The NAHB Research Center recently convened a consensus committee to completely review and update the current version of the ANSI approved ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. Why was this important?

Theunissen: The National Green Building Standard allows builders and remodelers to design and execute a building project that follows understandable and recognizable procedures. The standard also provides builders new to green building a path that will enable them to understand the components that make a home green.

There’s no question that this is an extremely difficult time for the industry. We’re attempting to recover from the worst housing recession this country has ever seen while also facing regulatory hurdles and obstacles in the marketplace. It’s no wonder many feel as though we’re an industry that isn’t getting its fair share of breaks.

But, with all that said, if builders and remodelers embrace the research and technologies involved in residential green building, it can be an exciting time for those who desires to build quality homes that will last generations.

Joanne Theunissen is the owner/designer for Howling Hammer Builders, Inc. in Mount Pleasant, Mich., chair of the NAHB National Sales and Marketing Counciland an active member of the Home Builders Association of Central Michiganand the Michigan Association of Home Builders. She served as  chair of the NAHB National Green Building Conference and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Canadian publication Shattered and in NAHB’s Building Women. She also has been interviewed on CNN, CNBC and where she shared her expertise on green building, sales and marketing, 50+ housing and other building industry topics and issues.

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