Following Asheville’s Lead: Growing Green Building Across the State
By Ryan Miller
Alright, Asheville. As the North Carolina city with the deepest market penetration and strongest consumer demand for green building, the rest of our state looks to you for inspiration and leadership in green building. Many of the new homes built in your market are “green” certified. Award winning green building companies call your city home. New developments are committed to being green from the start. Your residents don’t just ask for green building, they demand it.
But you know about your region’s great reputation for green building already. WNCGBC has been leading this charge for 15 years now, but green building was cool in your region long before then. So, with such a storied past of green building success and a continually growing green building future, what can other cities and regions learn from Asheville in order to grow their green building markets?
For starters, Asheville’s green building market is as great as it is due to the people that live there. Your residents understand the benefits of green building, pure and simple. Some of you do it to save energy, some to protect the environment and others just to lower your operating costs in that home or building. And because you all have been this way for so long, your real estate, appraisal and lending markets accept that green homes are worth more than others.
Why is that important? Tangible financial return on investment is a leading factor in developing and maintain a green-building market anywhere in the country. Green homes offer greater financial return for the sometimes increased costs to make that home green in the first place.
You have it, most other North Carolina cities don’t.A survey of 3,682 actual and prospective purchasers by the National Association of Home Builders found that buyers would be willing to pay an average of $7,095 more in the upfront cost of a house if that investment saved them $1,000 a year in utility expenses.
Another reason the Asheville movement is important is that a good green building market involves a lot of committed people and companies, all of which you have in locally. This ecosystem takes:
- Real estate professionals that are able to sell the short and long-term features of green homes.
- Appraisers that attach additional valuation to the home for its green features.
- Lenders that provide lower interest rates due to lower mortgage default risks from the buyers of green homes.
- Builders that are willing to invest extra time and sometimes money to make their homes green.
- Home buyers that are willing to pay a higher up-front price in order to reap the short and long-term benefits of green homes.
As a point for comparison, in the case of North Carolina’s leading solar market, which propelled to the third most residential and commercial installed capacity in the country last year, state policies, rebates and incentives were the drivers of that growth. Yes, you folks in Asheville latched on and took advantage, with some of you participating literally decades before others, but the widespread industry growth and increase in consumer demand was a matter of policy, not raw consumer demand like what you all have for green building.
Another advantage to your green building market is the support of WNCGBC, which educates consumers and brings together that ecosystem to organize market needs, market this important work to residents and help individual builders learn how to be green or become more green.
And since there’s only one other organization like WNCGBC in the state – the Green Home Builders of the Triangle – other cities and regions could benefit greatly from an organization providing these types of services and benefits.
So, how will other North Carolina cities act on your successes to grow their green building markets? The two largest opportunities are to educate consumers and builders about their available options and the benefits that come with them, and also to create reliable mechanisms – both financial and transactional – that ensure a higher market value for these green homes. Our association is taking the lead on these and many other market growth opportunities across the state, following your lead.
To improve consumer education across the state, NCBPA launched www.HomeEnergyNC.org in 2015 that centralizes home energy usage and savings information for residents and builders. The site offers helpful tips and tricks, DIY checklists and resources, educational materials and much more.
Why home energy and not green building? In this case, the consumer education angle is geared towards using less energy at home and saving money because of it. That’s an important part of green building and a common entry point for homeowners and builders alike.
To improve the market value of green homes, last year NCBPA completed a first-of-its-kind study to inventory North Carolina’s energy efficient and high performance homes and buildings built new or retrofitted in the past seven years. We found more than 121,000 individual homes and buildings meeting this criteria, with about five percent coming from Asheville. That’s not a high percentage comparatively speaking, but in a smaller market like Asheville, the quality, not the quantity, is what impresses other cities and regions.
Another initiative underway at NCBPA combines the previous two to drive green building further in the state. Our association is leading efforts to create new transaction processes that put green home features and valuation data in the right places to make this happen more accurately, faster and better. Greening the MLS will help introduce current and new homeowners to the market for green homes, and increase their value which provides greater return for the homeowners and builders that invest in them.
So as we think about how Asheville came to be our state’s leader in green building and what other cities and regions can do to grow their own markets, consider the soft and hard sides of the coin. On the one side, an educated, motivated and wanting consumer base is vitally important. If homebuyers don’t value green homes, they won’t pay for them and builders won’t build them.
On the other side, the real estate, appraisal and lending transactions have to give proper value to the added features, benefits and worth of green homes in order to support a sustainable market where the investors in these homes – both builders and homeowners – receive their return on investment as well.
Ryan Miller is the Founder & Executive Director of North Carolina Building Performance Association (NCBPA, a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit trade association based in Raleigh that serves North Carolina’s home and building performance companies and professionals. Learn more about NCBPA at www.BuildingNC.org.