Five years ago, “green” home building was a new concept for South Carolina.
Today, the state is on the cusp of making green standard in all new homes – with some leading builders starting their own energy-efficiency programs.
“We feel like building is definitely heading this way,” said Charlie Barber, a green-building specialist for Columbia-based Essex Homes, which recently developed its own program for environmentally friendly building, eBuilt by Essex.
Essex started the program in Charlotte, where it had seen a bigger demand, and expanded it to South Carolina this year.
“We just wanted to stay ahead of the curve,” Barber said.
The curve is about to bend sharper.
In January, the state’s builders will fall under a new building code that will require changes in the way they construct homes to make them more energy efficient, said Mark Nix, executive director of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina.
The state is adopting the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, which requires such items as efficient lighting and programmable thermostats and tighter sealing of the “envelope” around the house so that it leaks less air.
Seminars are planned in the fall to help home builders better understand the code.
Consumers who want to understand the green-building standards – as well as other green-building programs available locally – will get some help when the association launches a new website next month comparing the programs.
“It’s not picking one above any others,” Nix said. Instead, the site aims to lay out the basics of each program so consumers can make informed decisions, he said.
That has become more important as more green-building programs pop up, experts said.
For example, the EnergyStar certification is now on its third version. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program has four levels in its residential-building program alone. The Home Builders Association also has its own certification program.
And local builders, such as Essex, are developing their own programs. Irmo-based Mungo Homes introduced HauSmart last fall. And Lexington’s McGuinn Homes plans to launch its Green Your Way program this fall, which will let buyers select green home-building packages as options – from basic code up to EnergyStar.
“It’s really become a marketing device,” said Wade McGuinn, owner of McGuinn Homes, who is certified under the Home Builders Association’s green-building program.
Since no one national standard has been adopted, “everybody’s kind of adopting their own,” he said. That allows builders to pick the pieces they want for their programs and keep costs down.
Essex, for example, is building all of its homes to its new standard without adding extra cost, Barber said. And home buyers will save 25 percent to 35 percent on their energy bills compared to a home built to the current minimum standards and 55 percent to 65 percent if they are living in a 10- to 15-year-old home, he said.
The new state code will add about $800 to the cost of a 2,400-square-foot house, Nix said. But home buyers should make up the cost quickly by saving on their energy bills, he said.
“It will start paying for itself right away,” he said. “We can benefit everybody by doing this.”