First Home Builder Signs Up to Participate in Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership
June 24, 2007 — Signature Custom Homes is going green, verifiably and certifiably green. The locally owned and operated company, headed by Las Vegas native Brian Plaster, has signed up as the first home builder to participate in the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership, a program developed by the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Green Building Initiative of Portland, Ore., to help builders design and construct more environmentally sensitive, or "green," new homes in metropolitan Las Vegas.
The Green Building Partnership will provide Signature Custom Homes, and other home builders that sign up to participate, the technical expertise to use the program's 10-page green building guidelines; administer an impartial, third-party inspection and verification that the program guidelines have been met in the design and construction of a home; and issue certification that a home has been constructed to the program's green building requirements. Third-party inspections and verifications are conducted by companies that have specific training and specialize in the area of environmentally sensitive construction technology.
Green building goes far beyond energy conservation. The Green Building Partnership's goal is to direct the efficient use of resources, materials, energy and water; maximize the indoor environmental quality in new housing; and educate homeowners about the operation and maintenance of a green home.
"Signature Custom Homes is honored to be the first home builder to sign up for this green building program. We want to be part of this locally based effort that's bringing green building to residential construction in our community," said Plaster, 29, who is president of Signature Custom Homes, and the son of home builders Richard and Wendy Plaster, who founded the production home building company, Signature Homes, in Las Vegas in 1978. Signature Custom Homes was launched in 1999; the company builds about five to 10 custom homes a year.
The custom home builder will launch its participation in the Green Building Partnership with the design and construction of two green homes, he said. The first will be a two-story, 7,000-square-foot home in The Ridges Village in Summerlin on the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley for his parents; and the second will be a two-story, 3,500 square-foot home on a lot at Palomino Lane and Shetland Road in the historic Alta Drive neighborhood of Las Vegas for himself and his family.
If all goes well with the design and construction of the two green homes, Signature Homes will consider participating in the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership to build green production new homes, Plaster said. Signature Homes builds approximately 200 to 300 homes annually.
The two custom homes are currently in the design phase; the larger home is being designed by the architectural firm of James Heimler, Architects Inc. of Tarzana, CA. Signature Custom Homes' in-house design team is handling the other home, Plaster said.
"We chose Jim Heimler because he has a long, successful career in this type of environmentally sensitive architecture and construction. He has more than 20 years experience in green building and he's very highly recognized and regarded in the field of green building," Plaster said of the award-winning and socially/environmentally conscious and active architect.
Construction on the home at The Ridges is expected to begin by the end of the year; the home on Palomino and Shetland is expected to get under way in the spring or summer of next year, Plaster said. Some of the homes' green features will include radiant heat barriers, tank-less hot water heaters, low-flow water fixtures, dual-flush low-flow toilets, house paints with low to no volatile organic compounds, dual-glazed and tinted windows filled with argon gas, window awnings, solar panels to produce electricity, a water catchment system, Energy Star appliances, and air conditioning units with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio rating of 17, he said.
He estimates that building green will add about 3 to 5 percent to the cost of constructing the homes, but those extra costs will be recouped in five to seven years because of the savings on resources, such as electricity, gas and water. For example, he believes the solar panels will produce enough electricity to lower a $700-$1,000 monthly power bill in the summer to about $150.
"We believe this is going to be ground-breaking for home building in Las Vegas," he said. "We're going to show that you can still build a phenomenal, beautiful home that can compete with the amenities and features found in the most luxurious custom homes, but include energy efficient and environmentally sensitive products. "We're building them to improve quality of life in our custom homes; we're building homes that are comfortable to live in by incorporating a variety of resource-saving processes."
Plaster said he envisions significant benefits for homeowners who eventually buy green homes. "First, they're going to have much lower operating costs by helping to reduce their need for resources like gas, water and electricity. They're going to save a lot of money over the lifespan of the home. They're also going to benefit from a higher level of indoor air quality, and therefore, more comfortable living."
Ensuring a higher level of indoor air quality is a major component of the green building requirements. For example, the requirements call for, in part, ensuring particleboard, medium-density fiberboard and hardwood plywood substrates are certified to low formaldehyde emission standards; composite wood/agrifiber panel products must either contain no added urea-formaldehyde resins or must be third-party certified for low formaldehyde emissions; installing carpet and padding that hold "Green Label" certificates from Carpet and Rug Institute's indoor air quality testing program or meet equivalent thresholds verified by a third party; and managing potential pollutants generated in the home by providing mechanical exhaust fan to the outside from the kitchen range, bath and laundry; there are also mechanical ventilation requirements for the bedrooms.
"We are pleased that Signature Custom Homes and the Plaster family have taken the historic step to sign up as the first home builders participating in the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership," said Irene Porter, executive director of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, which is the administrator of the local Green Building Partnership. "Signature Homes and the Plasters have 30-years experience in quality home building. They've demonstrated that they're leaders in the area of energy efficiency and conservation, and they have been very active and generous, whether that be civic, cultural and governmental involvement for the benefit of the community," Porter said.
The Southern Nevada Home Builders Association is the oldest and largest local trade organization representing the residential construction industry with nearly 700 members working in all facets of the home building industry. Association members build 90 percent of the new housing constructed annually in Southern Nevada. It is an affiliate of the National Association of Home Builders, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association founded in 1942 to enhance the climate for housing and the building industry. NAHB is made up of 850 state and local associations.
Plaster's interest in the environment runs deep. In addition to growing up in an environmentally conscious family, the graduate of the Meadows School earned a bachelor's of science degree in natural resources, which is a combination of geology and forestry, in 1999 from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. During that period, he also studied sustainable development in Costa Rica.
He went on to earn a master's degree in geography in 2003 from Texas State University in San Marcos. While working for a custom home builder in Austin, Texas, he toured five homes under construction using green-building standards. Austin has one of the oldest green building programs in the United States and most builders participate in that program, Plaster said. The time and experiences in Austin sparked an intense interest in learning more about green building, and perhaps, one day, building green homes himself.
He has networked with other custom home builders involved in green building; he's attended green building conferences, including the green building conference sponsored last year in Albuquerque, N.M. by the National Association of Home Builders, which developed the Model Green Home Building Guidelines in 2004. The NAHB Model Guidelines were developed by a national stakeholder group of nearly 60 builders, environmentalists, government agencies and product manufacturers. The NAHB Model Guidelines provided a baseline for voluntary practical green building approaches for the residential construction industry in Southern Nevada.
Last summer, Plaster put two college interns to work researching the topic of residential green building, and then, writing a report about how it could be done in Southern Nevada. "They looked at how to do it; how to market it," Plaster said. "Their report served as a blueprint to launch our involvement in green building." The interns were from the University of California at Santa Barbara and Connecticut College, he said.
Meanwhile, Plaster was aware of the announcement in June 2005 that the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association was developing a green building program. He said that caught his attention as the potential way to get involved in green building.
The Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Green Building Initiative of Portland, Ore. joined forces in early 2005 to form the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership. The mission of the Green Building Initiative is to accelerate the adoption of building practices that result in energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally sustainable buildings by promoting credible and practical green approaches. The Green Building Initiative partnered with the National Association of Home Builders, and local home builders association chapters, such as the Southern Nevada association, to develop green building programs based on the NAHB Model Guidelines and customized to specific geographic locations.
"The GBI applauds the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership and Signature Custom Homes for their commitment to support growth in residential green building," said Kelly O'Brien, director of residential programs for the GBI. "Their dedication sets an example for builders across Nevada to further accelerate the adoption of green built homes."
SNHBA's Porter said the precedent is in place for a successful green building program in Southern Nevada's home building industry. "Although homes built today are 100 percent more energy-efficient than housing built during the 1970s, the goal of bringing a verifiable, certifiable green building program to our community is to raise the bar on energy conservation and the efficient use of our finite resources. We believe the home building industry is already playing a vital role in that effort," Porter said. "We have members who have continually shown their dedication to the principles of green building as evidenced by their commitment to the Energy Star and Water Smart Homes programs. (Energy Star is a voluntary, energy conservation program of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the home building industry; Water Smart Homes was established by the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Southern Nevada Water Authority as a water-conservation program for the home building industry.)
"Our partnership with the Green Building Initiative has allowed us to create a strategic plan to develop a green building program that will benefit our members and their homebuyers," Porter said. The local program guidelines were developed by the 18-member Green Building Committee of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Green Building Initiative. The committee, which included home builders, energy consultants, energy-related companies, local governments, and utility companies, worked on the establishment of a green building partnership for about a year, and it was unveiled in June 2005. The partnership's green building guidelines were released in October 2006. The 10-page program requirements were customized to meet the special conditions of the Southern Nevada environment.
The interest in green building has increased significantly in recent years. The National Association of Home Builders reported on June 2 that a new survey revealed that more than 97,000 new homes have been built and certified by voluntary, builder-supported green building programs throughout the country since the mid-1990s. That's up more than 50 percent compared with the 61,000 green homes counted by the National Association of Home Builders in the previous survey of 2004.
The national association specifically recognized the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership program in that report, stating "the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association's program is a great example of the beauty of these (NAHB Model) guidelines. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to green home building. Programs must be flexible, dynamic and market based. The Nevada program, based on the NAHB Model Guidelines, is adjusted to reflect the desert climate and water scarcity. It has been recognized as the official and voluntary residential green building program for the city of Las Vegas (in October 2006)"
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SOUTHERN NEVADA GREEN BUILDING PARTNERSHIP GUIDELINES
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to green building, the Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership program requirements are based on fundamental green building principles, including, but not limited to the following: