"If you watch 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' on ABC, they recently had a segment on a zero-energy house, a house that not only saves energy but sells back enough energy to the [power] grid to have a net zero" energy bill, Loyer said. "If it's coming up on national television in prime time, it's getting an enormous amount of attention. It's quickly becoming a question for our high-producing guys of 'why aren't you green?' "
"The interest is incredible" from builders, said James B. Hackler, program manager for a ratings standard program being developed for homes by the U.S. Green Building Council. The council is considered the lead private-public partnership working on the issue, but has focused first on creating and promoting a ratings and certification program for commercial properties.
Geothermal well-drilling during construction of the Eastern Village condo building in Silver Spring.
(Photos Courtesy Of Edg Architects)
The LEED for Homes program, which will start this summer with pilot programs around the country, is a follow-on to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification system that has been around since 2000 for commercial buildings. So far 171 commercial buildings have been certified and about 1,800 have applied to be certified.
"If everyone feels comfortable" with the pilot phase and how the standards might be tweaked for different climates and different building materials popular in particular markets, "then we will relaunch it and make it available to the entire country," Hackler said.
NAHB and the NAHB Research Center formally jumped into the dialogue this January when the two groups issued their first voluntary green-building guidelines at an annual industry convention.
Some green-building purists are concerned that the association's approach, which allows builders to self-certify that they have followed parts of a 200-page green checklist, might water down the overall effort or cause some confusion among consumers. A variety of federal, state and local green-building programs have taken root in the past decade that rate builders with independent certification.
But even die-hard green groups say the launch of the trade association's program represents a key shift from the fringe to the mainstream.
"When I started five years ago, very few people knew what LEED was, very few architectural firms had a LEED-accredited professional on staff, and now they have whole sections of people," said McGuire, coordinator of Maryland's Green Building Network.
There's still a long way to go, though.
NAHB estimates that out of the millions of homes constructed in the last 15 years, only about 61,000 have been built through local green-building programs. But enthusiasts say that doesn't count homes built or remodeled with green practices by niche builders or by industrious homeowners themselves.
And green builder groups are buoyed by how the pace of construction has picked up recently. Of the 61,000 green homes built through local programs, about 14,000 went up in 2004 alone, according to NAHB.
Local organizations acknowledge that it has taken a bit longer than they wished for Mid-Atlantic builders to get their message.
"In an area where energy costs are low and where we haven't had the energy crises like they've had in California and we haven't had the water shortages, the issue hasn't gotten the attention" it draws in other parts of the country, said Annette Osso, executive director of the Virginia Sustainable Building Network.
"And with the market the way it is here, I don't think the builders have thought they needed to worry about [green building]," Otto said. "They haven't been concerned when they're selling houses faster than they can build them."