To hear the national media talk, the small Kansas town of Greensburg is a phoenix with green wings, rebuilding from the wreckage of a May 2007 tornado as the model of environmentally conscious construction. But for lumber dealers that tend to equate going green with using certified wood, Greensburg isn't worth notice.
The community of Greensburg is committed to constructing all major city-owned buildings to a LEED Platinum standard. Major newspapers and TV operations have reported on Greensburg's efforts, and the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has green construction advisers on the scene. But while private residents are encouraged to build green, there's no requirement they do so. And when NREL's John Holton does dispense his advice, the issue of certified lumber is discussed "only a little bit," he says.
"On the [priority] scale, with what were working on, certified wood is low," Holton tells ProSales. On the other hand, Holton says lumberyards are key players in bringing other green products to town. For example, he said there's a great need for various types of insulation to help reduce energy costs. NREL and others also are pushing Greensburg residents to use such materials as thermal-pane windows and energy-efficient appliances.
There are several recent projects touted by their sponsors as green that don't use wood certified by groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). On the other hand, LBM executives shouldn't dismiss those projects because they don't use certified wood. These projects do involve purchases of plenty more green products that many lumberyards already stock.
For instance, Beazer Homes, America's eighth-largest builder with 11,366 closings last year, according to Builder magazine's Builder 100, recently announced a new line of homes called eSmart. Each eSmart home will contain programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs, Energy Star dishwashers, water-saving bathroom faucets and showerheads, high-quality air filters, and carpets and paints with lower emission levels of volatile organic chemicals. What they don't have, however, is certified lumber.
The goals of the eSmart program "are to immediately raise the national baseline for greener products that will lower a homeowner's operating expenses and improve indoor air quality," a Beazer spokesperson told ProSales.
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, Fla., K2 Urbancorp won attention for its Evening Rose traditional neighborhood development. The 36-acre infill development includes 130 homes, among them 99 four-bedroom, 2.5-bath single-family units of roughly 2,100 square feet. Each house will be built to a minimum of LEED certification with the option for homeowners to upgrade to LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
But while the homes feature blown-in fiberglass insulation, Andersen's Silver Line low-E windows, and HSPF heat pumps that will reduce the homeowners' monthly utility bills by about 30%, K2 owner David Wamsley says there's no certified wood. It's too hard to source in his area, he says.
Due south of Tallahassee, Darren Brinkley of REAL Building in St. Petersburg, Fla., has finished what is billed as the first home in Florida to win a LEED Gold rating. The LEED system gives points for wood only if the framing lumber is FSC-certified. Instead, Brinkley used a package of prebuilt sections sold by Weyerhaeuser, which hews solely to the SFI standard.
In all these cases, builders that think green appear interested primarily in saving energy. A nationwide survey of 655 builders and remodelers conducted last fall for Hanley Wood LLC, ProSales' parent, found that 73% ranked "energy efficiency" a 1 or 2 in a five-point scale of importance. In contrast, green attributes such as durability and indoor quality got less than half those scores.
While half of those surveyed said they regarded themselves as green builders, most figured they deserved that status by installing such amenities as Energy Star appliances and high-efficiency windows. In contrast, only 36% said they use certified lumber now, and 22% never plan to do so.