I recently had the opportunity to join 20 building pros in York, Pa., at the National Association of Home Builders' training program, Green Building for Building Professionals. Throughout the program, instructor Bill Asdal, owner of Chester, N.J.-based Asdal Builders, repeatedly told attendees that many building professionals already employ at least some green basic construction techniques.
"We don't have consensus yet in the country on what's green," he said, "so I like to set the bar low. If you change a light bulb to a compact fluorescent, are you green?" He responded: "Yes."
Asdal's point is an important lesson for dealers. When builders ask you about green products, you have an opportunity to remind them about the building techniques they use that are already green. One of the biggest points of emphasis in the class, for instance, was paying attention to details like air and moisture sealing. Caulking rim joists, windows and doors, and electrical and plumbing penetrations puts builders on the path to being green, Asdal said.
For dealers, emphasizing the importance of air and moisture sealing can lead to increased sales of sealing products such as caulk, foam, and tape. You also can make yourself a resource by telling builders about advanced sealing practices and airtight construction.
Using water-resistive barriers, such as housewrap, to manage moisture in the exterior wall was another point of emphasis. The instructor highlighted various parts of the home where builders often neglect to use a wrap or paper, lessening the home's durability. Making yourself an expert on proper housewrap use gives you practical green building knowledge to pass on to your customers, and can lead to higher sales of the product.
The NAHB Green Building textbook handed out at the session makes clear that green building isn't rocket science. In the section on durability, the guide states, "Many of the best practices intended to improve durability require little more than good judgment and a basic knowledge of the factors that affect building durability." Those practices include providing sheltered entries, such as awnings, for exterior doors. Yet again, educating your customers about the importance of exterior overhangs can lead to higher sales of the necessary products and make you a green authority.
In fact, catching up on building science knowledge may become a necessity as interest in green building grows. Many of my classmates were hardly green building novices. Several pros were experimenting with photovoltaic or wind-power technologies.
On the other hand, while the NAHB green building program went into great depth on certain subjects, it didn't apply rigor to some difficult questions. The resource efficiency chapter, for instance, spends about 20 pages on engineered building systems and wood products, but mentions three "alternative" siding products beyond wood–fiber cement, vinyl-type, and masonry–in just a third of a page.
Some discussions were similarly lightweight. At one point, a participant asked a great question: "Why is vinyl green?" Another participant responded that it's recyclable, and the instructor added that it doesn't need to be painted. Plus, "it lasts forever," the questioner noted. He marveled that his sister continued to tell him vinyl was not a green material. And that was it, end of discussion.
The greenness of vinyl is a difficult issue. Reasonable people can disagree on the subject. But I do know that any conversation about the material's environmental friendliness needs to include discussion of its manufacture and disposal. During this class, none of those issues were explored. The conversation demonstrated that many builders are not yet fully educated on all aspects of the green building equation.
Nevertheless, while the class missed some opportunities for important discussions on building materials' real environmental effects, dealers can learn a great deal from the seminar. It's an effective refresher on building science principles and provides exposure to green technologies they you may not have encountered.
The two-day course costs $300 (less for NAHB members) and is offered at home-builders associations nationwide. For more information, visit www.nahb.org/cgpinfo and click on Green Building for Building Professionals, or call the NAHB at 800.368.5242.
–Jeffrey Lee is a contributing editor to EcoHome magazine.