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Green construction can be fiscally sound

As interest grows in building homes and commercial properties that are sensitive to the environment and that make the best use of resources, what should people consider before building?

David Turner has a two-word answer to that question, “Resource management.”

The owner of Sustainable Construction, a Jackson residential and commercial building company, says those words are the underlying aspect in most of the green or sustainable considerations.

“From energy and water conservation to waste removal and pollutants, resource management is a huge concern moving forward,” he said. “There are many areas the regular folks can get educated on which will result in a lot of resource conservation.”

For the average price house being built in Jackson today, less than $5,000 can be made back in savings throughout the use of the house and cumulative will result in a great resource saving moving forward. He points to the federal tax credit available for many energy saving devices that would be used for resource conservation adding to the benefit.

“When you consider that the U.S. demand for housing is estimated at 70 million between now and 2040, every individual will add a lot of demand for these resources,” Turner said. “We can all be involved in as little as using energy saving light bulbs to spending a little more on the type of hot water heaters we buy.”

Windows and insulation play a large part in savings and resource management in a number of areas of the home too.

David Smith, who’s the state’s first certified green professional home builder under the National Association of Home Builders program, poses some important questions to be considered before building a home.

“People should ask, what level do I want? Is it just in decorating or where I will really see value?” he asked. “What is the budget? How long will I stay in this house?”

He points out the lack of energy tax credits in Mississippi although there are some federal credits available.

“If you want to do solar in Mississippi, there are no tax credits,” Smith said. “Geo thermal heating and cooling costs considerably more than what we normally do in a house, but it can save money in the long term.”

He says homes with a lot of energy-saving devices will have a higher appraisal value because they operate more efficiently and have better products in them. However, it’s difficult to get local comps for appraisals.

Long-time building green advocate Sumesh Arora says the actual design and placement of utilities are the most important factors to consider.

“The location and the directional orientation of the building are important to benefit from natural lighting and localized climate patterns,” he said. “Heating, electricity, water, sewage, ventilation and now computer networking and communications infrastructure are all utility considerations to keep in mind while the building is being designed.”

Arora, who is director of Strategic Biomass Solutions at the Mississippi Technology Alliance, says incorporating energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, where beneficial, in each of these utilities should be a top priority.

“The type of construction materials, whether it is the building structure, window panes or interior paints can all add up to making a building more environmentally friendly with better lighting and indoor air quality,” he added.

As the awareness for building green is increasing, it is getting easier to find the resources to build green.

“However, Mississippi is still quite far behind on the curve when it comes to having a critical mass of green buildings, both commercial and residential, as well as suppliers of such products and services,” Arora said. “There are certainly some very good examples of green efforts in the state, but we still need a lot of education at the consumer, commercial and policy levels.”

He says it is usually somewhat more expensive to build green upfront, depending on the technologies deployed, but over the life of the building, there are financial and environmental benefits.

“It is also cheaper to build green in the first place than to do retrofits to existing construction, which also limits what you can do to the building,” he said.

There are numerous sources of information about this type of building. David Turner suggests the National Association of Home Builders web site, www.nhabgreen.org, which has a rating system complete with tools for buyers.

Arora suggests the U.S. Green Building Council’s web site, www.usgbc.org as a resource along with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s ‘enHance’ program, which can be found at www.deq.state.ms.us/mdeq.nsf and the Technology Alliance’s web site, www.technologyalliance.ms.

The U.S. Department of Energy also has a helpful web site, www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings.

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About Lynn Lofton