Green Movement Sweeps U.S. Construction Industry
LIANE HANSEN, host:
With energy costs rising and the nation growing more environmentally aware, a green movement is underway in the U.S. construction industry. Major developers around the country are spending billions of dollars on office buildings, apartments and smaller homes that are certified to be environmentally sound.
NPR's Chris Arnold has the story.
CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:
When we talk about green building these days, we're not talking about a few bearded hippies in California living off the grid inside of geodesic domes. In just the past few years, green building has taken a major turn into the mainstream.
(Soundbite of construction site)
ARNOLD: In Boston, this 140-unit luxury condo project is under construction, but in addition to nice looking fixtures, appliances, and wood floors, the bathroom faucets going in here will save water, the wood floors weren't cut out of a rainforest, and the A/C and heat systems save energy and boost indoor air quality.
Tim Pappas, the building's developer, says it will consume 30 percent less electricity than a conventional building.
Mr. TIM PAPPAS (Construction Developer, Pappas Enterprises): Many of the systems that we're using are new and different and innovative, or we're trying to modify them in a way that makes them more efficient.
ARNOLD: The sloped roof of the building will be planted with native grasses that will absorb rainwater and cut down on storm water runoff. The cabinetry in some kitchens will be made out of boards manufactured using wheat instead of wood.
And there are lots of other green buildings going up around the country, which is a pretty big change for the construction industry.
Mr. HARVEY BERNSTEIN (McGraw-Hill Construction): Very much so. You can really see the shift since, you know, in the last five or six years.
ARNOLD: Harvey Bernstein tracks the construction business for the research firm McGraw-Hill. He says green building projects worth a total of $10 billion got started this year, and he projects a five-fold increase by 2010. That would be between five and ten percent of the overall construction market.
Bernstein says, by next year, half of all home builders in the U.S. will be using green building methods on at least some of their projects.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: That shows you the impact that this green movement has had on the homebuilding industry.
ARNOLD: Some of the push has been coming from the National Association of Homebuilders and a non-profit group called the U.S. Green Building Council. Also, more homeowners and corporations want to buy green buildings, so developers are just building more of them.
Still, as with supposedly quote-unquote "natural foods" that you see at the grocery store, there are a hodgepodge of different standards for what people call a green building. So the Green Building Council has established a strict set of requirements, and since 2001 it's been certifying green buildings.
Mr. JASON BURRELL (Construction Project Manager): Recycled contents. I have over ten percent already.
ARNOLD: In Boston, at the condo development, Jason Burrell, the project manager, is in a green building progress meeting. The developer wants this building to achieve a gold ranking from the Green Building Council, its second highest level of greenness.
The developer, Tim Pappas, is hoping that gold ranking will be a good marketing tool. The environmental benefits are touted in the sales brochures, and even in a cooling housing market Pappas says his sales office here is bustling.
Mr. PAPPAS: We've been extremely busy, and we're selling units every week. We have not made any price concessions or reductions. And everyone who comes into the building, I think, walks away really intrigued by green.
ARNOLD: But how much does all this add to the price tag? Most developers, when they're polled, cite cost as the number one obstacle to green construction. But Pappas says it might not be as expensive as they think.
Pappas says he waded into this first green building thinking it could add as much as a 15 percent premium.
Mr. PAPPAS: What we've realized is that we were completely wrong, that we were able to do it a lot more efficiently, that the real cost of building green is substantially lower than that.
ARNOLD: Pappas estimates now that going green has only added about five percent to the cost of this 140-unit condo development, and he thinks he'll make that money back because he sees being green as a selling advantage.
Pappas has three more large-scale developments in the planning phase and says he's going to use green building methods for all of them.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.