"Green" Home Building

By Rick Koze

Preserving The Picturesque

Today’s homebuyers are a knowledgeable group who come to their builders with a specific list of wants and needs. One desire that is growing quickly in popularity is the building of “green,” or environmentally-friendly homes. While some may have considered “going green” a fad, this movement has become a priority for homebuyers, especially those concerned about raising families in healthy surroundings. A frank discussion with your home builder about your expectations is the first—and arguably the most important—step in the green home-building process. While the earth-friendly amenities located inside the home are products of other companies, the earth-friendly footprint of a home’s exterior landscape is the responsibility of the builder and a knowledgeable builder is one who takes pride in that.

When putting together the specifications for a green home, buyers research such things as building materials, carpet and wood flooring, furniture and paints. There are many ways to “go green” inside a home, for example, installing attic fans and energy efficient hot water heaters and appliances, as well as using programmable thermostats. (We’ve come a long way from simply using solar panels.) In fact, energy effiency standards for today’s home are continually being set to higher standards, with 2009’s building code currently being adopted. However, most buyers still overlook overall site preparation by the developer as well as the land surrounding each home, both critical areas in terms of preserving a picturesque, environmentally-friendly footprint for homeowners. Developing a new housing community in the Lehigh Valley is not just about leveling land, putting in a few streets and then constructing homes. It involves a careful approach to the placement of roads, home sites and sidewalks to maintain the natural beauty and contour of the land.

While buyers want to be close to all the desired amenities – schools, retail, healthcare systems and major highways – they want that in a bucolic, natural setting. What they want are stands of trees, ponds or streams, nature preserves, walking and biking trails, and play areas for their children.

While it may seem almost impossible to deliver two ideas that are diametrically opposed, one developer can differentiate himself from another if he is educated in land preservation and has his finger on the pulse of the “green” community. Homebuyers—working in conjuction with a builder who understands their needs—can indeed “have it all.” Before developers purchase a parcel of land, they should first check to see if the municipality has a Conservation Design Ordinance, which usually spells out the specific guidelines for the protection of the land. These ordinances cover everything from the number of trees the development needs to the number of acres for open space and recreation to protection for existing ponds and streams. If the municipality does not have some type of ordinance in place, it will be difficult to develop a community with the ambiance a buyer wants.

The next step involves the preparation of the site for building, which is where a seasoned developer can really stand out.

For instance, instead of clear-cutting an entire development and putting tracts of hundreds of homes at a time, each community can be constructed in small phases, which allows the developer to give particular attention to highlighting each home site’s natural grades and features.  Developing in small phases also enables developers to minimize destruction to the environment and the erosion impact on natural streams and ponds.

For someone buying into a development with an existing site, a quick visual inspection of the subdivision and the home site will show how the land was prepared.

If you find yourself at the builder’s sales trailer looking out onto undeveloped land and wanting more facts to make an informed decision, following are some questions you should ask your prospective builder: .

• How many homes will be in the subdivision when it is completed?
• Will you be clear-cutting the land? If not, how much of the existing landscape will remain?
• What percentage of the existing trees will be incorporated into the design of the community?
• Will the land be developed in phases, and what is the time frame for each phase?
• What will be done with the trees that have to be cut down?
• What will happen to the rocks that are visible on the site and those that will be unearthed during excavation?
• Will there be a replanting of trees to any parts of the land?
• Will special bushes, flowers and shrubs be planted to attract birds and insects?
• How will the run-off water be handled?
• How are existing streams and ponds being protected?
• How will the homes be oriented on the land?
• Will homeowners be required to plant a specific number of trees and shrubs at their homesites?

When searching for just the right place to build that new, environmentally friendly home, do your site development research along with your home building research. The time you invest will pay off in a new home that you can enjoy both inside and out.

Rick Koze is president of Kay Builders, Inc., a family business based in Allentown. A Lehigh Valley native and Emmaus High School graduate, Koze holds a B.A. in economics from Yale University. He has more than 15 years’ experience working with Fortune 500 companies.

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