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Building 'Green' Can Be Good For Your Wallet

November 17, 2008 - By Louise Wrege, Herald Palladium

ST. JOSEPH - Building energy-efficient "green" homes that save natural resources is more than just recycling shingles or choosing environmentally friendly materials for construction. It is a comprehensive process that even involves planting trees strategically, making rain gardens and going for low-grow, no-mow grass, says home builder Greg Powell, who was recently sworn in as president of the Michigan Association of Home Builders. And there is another component in this type of construction that can't be bought at the building supply store or the landscape nursery - the moral component. "It's not just about saving energy and resource use. It's the right thing to do," Powell said. "The right thing to do is to not dump storm water down the drain, not waste energy, not put volatile organic compounds from paint into the air."

Powell believes home building is definitely headed in the green direction. His own company, Powell Construction, founded in 1997, is now a green builder.

Designing and building a green home takes into account the entire house and the land it sits on. He said many builders say they are green and may be doing some things to save natural resources, but many are not doing them in a comprehensive way.

The critical element is having a third party inspect the house to certify that it is green. The inspector then provides an energy report.

A lot of heat, and therefore money, is lost when air leaks out of houses. As part of the process of evaluating a new house, the inspector depressurizes it and uses metering equipment to see where the air leakage is and in what amount. That helps the inspector decide how energy-efficient the house is.

For example, a Home Energy Rating Certificate given to a recent house Powell's firm built in Watervliet estimated that the homeowner will pay $636 a year to heat it - saving $604 a year from what the homeowner would have paid if the home were of conventional construction.

Powell said it costs a little more to build green, but the house's energy efficiency easily recoups the extra cost. A green-built house has insulated foundations, uses energy-efficient windows and appliances, has a tankless water heater and decks made of recycled wood products and composites. It is surrounded by native plants that don't need a lot of watering, trees planted in strategic locations to help with energy efficiency, and rain gardens to take care of the home's own storm runoff rather than using the public storm water system.

Powell said the owners of green-built homes are educated on how to prevent moisture damage in their new homes, which means the homes will last longer.

His company is also experimenting with a low-grow, no-mow grass that only needs to be mowed once a year to cut the seed heads off. By dramatically reducing mowing, this grass saves the homeowner money in gas for the mower, and the mower throws out less pollution. He said this grass also does not require a lot of watering, so the homeowner does not need to invest in an in-ground sprinkler system or spend a lot of money on water.

Green methods are also available to people who want to remodel their older houses. Powell said federal tax credits are available to people who remodel their homes to be greener. The state home builders association is promoting legislation that would also give tax credits at the state level for green remodeling. "The tax credits will never pay for the cost of the improvement, but it certainly helps," he said.

Besides being president of the state association, Powell is on the board of directors for the National Association of Home Builders and is a member of the Southwestern Michigan Home Builders Association. He is also on the board of directors for Cornerstone Alliance and for HomeAid Michigan, an organization that helps build housing for homeless families and individuals. In addition, he is on the city of St. Joseph's Construction Board of Appeals and the city's Property Maintenance Board of Appeals.

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