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Building for the Owner You’ll Never Know

Posted by Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief

May 3, 2018 10:16:24 AM

Award-winning homes begin with an attitude of service.

Back in about 1993, when I met my future friend and colleague Ron Jones, he was building one-off custom homes in Albuquerque for well-heeled clients. At the time, we didn’t use terms such as Net Zero or Passive House. Guys like Ron just knew how to build superior, energy-efficient homes: You use the best available materials and install them with precision and care—always keeping the future well-being of your client and future homeowners in mind.

Ron and his subs didn’t need to carry around the Code book and try to squeak by, doing the bare minimum. They considered the Code more of a safety net than a cookbook.

Stay with me. Before I talk about this year’s Green Home of the Year Award winners, let me ask you something:

0318gb_c1a-revHave you ever had the experience of opening up a wall or ceiling in an older home and finding a little “present” from the original builder? Maybe he penciled a date on the rafter or left a note about a renovation. He or she took pride in the work, and wanted to leave a legacy.

I’ve found these notes many times in my own renovation work. But there was also the OTHER kind of non-verbal messages: criss-crossed wires in a senseless tangle, missing insulation, poorly nailed rafters. The list of screw-ups is almost endless. The impression you get is that these contractors weren’t thinking about the future owners of this home. On the contrary, they were thinking about finishing up early, loading up the truck and downing a few beers at the local sports bar.

In other words, great homebuilding and renovation is a mental exercise, above all.

Twenty years ago, I gave a speech comparing custom builders and production builders to Greeks and Spartans. The former group—focused on a long-lasting “legacy” project—delivers a superior house, energy efficient and beautiful. The latter­—narrowly focused and creatively stifled—delivers a “just enough” home.

I should add that today, that comparison is no longer really fair. Many production companies have raised the bar to Net Zero and are building homes a citizen of ancient Greece could be proud of.

Which brings us to the award-winning sustainable homes featured in this issue. These are forward-looking projects, built to please the second, third and fourth owners, not just the immediate occupant. Beautifully designed and sited, they minimize the use of energy and water, yet also address the factors that cause the built environment to deteriorate and lose value: moisture infiltration, wear and tear, and poor indoor air control.

From a long-term perspective, what’s really encouraging is that every one of this year’s winners is built “beyond code,” whether or not it’s certified under a green building program. The principles applied in these stellar projects transfer without translation to every type of residential structure, from tiny homes to multi-story, multi-family apartments.

We’re proud once more to present: the Green Home of the Year Awards

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