December 7, 2007 in Business

Here’s the Dirt: Homebuilders going green

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by J. BART RAYNIAK photo

Ben Deibel, of Greenstone Homes, inspects a coil and line set for heat pumps, air conditioning and supplemental heating at a house under construction in Liberty Lake. Greenstone recently pledged to build only Northwest Energy Star compliant dwellings.
(Full-size photo)

Regional homebuilders increasingly are constructing “green,” energy-efficient dwellings – houses that may cost consumers thousands of dollars more upfront but offer long-term rewards, advocates say.

Several major builders, including Greenstone Homes and Condron Homes LLC, have pledged to build houses compliant with the Northwest Energy Star program. It provides guidelines on energy-efficient building practices and uses independent inspectors to certify homes as compliant.

A related effort spearheaded by the Spokane Home Builders Association, meanwhile, is devising standards for Inland Northwest BuiltGreen, a program to grade single-family and other homes on efficiency and sustainability. Builders already have constructed several houses as part of a months-long pilot run, said Paul Warfield, association spokesman.

The program would build on Energy Star guidelines, ranking structures on their energy efficiency, use of recycled and sustainable materials, indoor air quality and site preparation and lifecycle, Warfield said. The concept is similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED guidelines, which some local companies already use for commercial construction.

To meet Energy Star standards, homes must include efficient heating and ventilation equipment, energy-saving appliances and use at least half compact-fluorescent lighting fixtures.

Condron Homes of Spokane hopes to increase its market share, catering to customers “shocked and appalled” that green-building programs aren’t more prevalent in Eastern Washington, said owner Corey Condron. The builder, which does about 125 homes a year, has constructed about 20 Energy Star-compliant homes, he said.

“Folks moving in from the West side of Washington, Oregon, California, are very educated about BuiltGreen and Energy Star programs,” Condron said. “And because of that influx of out of town people moving into the area, there seems to be a growing demand for that product.”

Home buyers may see an average cost increase of $3,000 per home, Condron said. But an Energy Star-compliant home could save more than $400 a year over a standard-built model, according to calculations Condron Homes’ heating contractor performed, he said.

Greenstone Homes has completed 17 Energy Star-certified homes, most of them townhouses in Liberty Lake, said Joe Frank, vice president.

“I think they definitely sell very well,” Frank said. “They have a competitive advantage over the same model that doesn’t have Energy Star.

“Obviously, a lot of people just feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a Portland-based nonprofit funded by utilities, sponsors the regional Energy Star program. Some utilities offer incentives for builders to participate, such as a $650 credit from Avista to builders per Energy Star home, said Tim Clemens, market development lead for the program in Spokane and North Idaho.

More than 750 Northwest homebuilders participate in the Energy Star program, and they have built more than 5,600 compliant homes since 2004, according to a program news release.

The Inland Northwest BuiltGreen program is in pilot stages using standards from Pierce County, Warfield said. A committee that includes representatives from local builders is drafting rules for the program, and single-family guidelines should launch in April, he said. The program, which is also receiving support from Avista and Spokane County, has been “wildly successful” in cities such as Denver and Seattle, he said.

“We wanted to be on the front edge of that and be proactive about it instead of being reactive down the road,” Warfield said.

Dermatology practice plans building

Northwest Dermatology plans to build a 6,700-square-foot building across the street from its current, leased location in north Spokane, the practice’s administrator said.

The roughly $1.5 million project, 755 E. Holland Ave., stems from a lack of space and a growing practice for Dr. Benjamin Hsu, said administrator Patricia Hubert. The practice, which employs about seven, hopes to add another physician and staff, she said.

The practice aims to move in early August, Hubert said.

Hsu is certified in dermatology and internal medicine, and he is a Mohs surgeon – one who uses a microscopically controlled surgery technique for skin cancer – requiring the new building to have a Mohs lab, Hubert said.

Real estate company relocates

The Mackay Group, a family-run real estate company with in-house lending, has a different approach to real estate: All eight people in its downtown office profit when it closes a sale, said Billie Gaura, president.

“There’s no shark tank here,” Guara said.

Started 17 years ago by Guara’s father, Tommy Mackay, the Mackay Group relocated here from Las Vegas this fall after the market there soured. Employees found themselves recommending people “wait out the storm,” Guara said.

“It just felt like there was no service to deliver there,” she said.

The firm focuses on clients’ long-term strategy, said Guara, whose husband and former stepmother also work at the business. Located above Pier 1 Imports at 111 W. North River Drive, it also offers a complimentary service to help people with moving, she said.

Insurance company opens in Valley

American Family Insurance last month began offering auto, home and life insurance products from a new office in Spokane Valley.

The 15-person office will hold an open house today at 9 a.m. at 15920 E. Indiana Ave.

Based in Madison, Wis., American Family has a network of about 3,975 independent contractor agents and more than 8,200 employees in 18 states, according to the company.

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