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Spreading the word about why ‘green’ building techniques make sense financially as well as environmentally

A recent Green Careers Connections event co-sponsored by Greenfield Community College highlighted jobs related to the construction industry.

A recent Green Careers Connections event co-sponsored by Greenfield Community College highlighted jobs related to the construction industry.

— The construction industry may have seen better days — before the recession hit, for example.

But things may be starting to turn around with the emergence of the green building industry, Peter Yost of the Brattleboro-based Building Green consulting service told a gathering of job-seekers and students in energy-saving and sustainable building practices last week at Greenfield Community College.

Yost said that when he started paying attention to use of energy-saving and environmentally friendly practices in construction more than 25 years ago it was a little-known field. Now, as evidenced by the dozens of students and others attending the Green Careers Connections event sponsored by Franklin-Hampshire Career Center’s Green Careers program and GCC’s Renewable Energy-Energy Efficiency Program, there are signs that’s changing, Yost said.

“First, (hurricanes) Sandy and Irene have really gotten people’s attention on how buildings work,” said Yost, who teaches courses on building high-performance, efficient houses with materials that have low environmental impact. Those courses — some of them at GCC — have typically attracted architects, engineers and builders. Now they’re starting to draw bankers and appraisers as well.

Yost recalled that the first banker who took the course told him that there are two things that financial institutions are interested in: low risk and high value. The banker said that in giving out mortgages, they consider the operational cost and the life span of a building. He told Yost he thought he could be “a better banker and do better loans for my company” because green buildings, done properly, could lower risk and increase the value of the buildings.

“So we’re starting to get the finance side of things to catch up with the fact that when we build better buildings, they’re worth more,” Yost said.

As a result of the election last month, he added, “We have an administration that’s going to stay focused on the energy side and also the durability side of things.” Yost said he sees growing opportunities for not just improving the energy profile of buildings but also for increasing their life spans.

Some builders, Yost said, are even guaranteeing how their buildings perform. Bigelow Homes of Chicago, for instance, offers an energy cost guarantee for the 300 homes it builds each year.

“When any of us goes to buy a computer or a car, we don’t buy based on price,” Yost said. “We buy them based on value. If we based them on price, all of us would be driving Yugos, and we don’t. So when people go to spend the most money in their lives, which is for their home, they never think of it as a performance item.” Home buyers may look at how close it is to the nearest fire hydrant, the cost per square foot or whether there’s a “bonus room” over the garage, Yost said.

“We never have people going to a car dealer and saying, ‘Can you tell me how much your car costs per pound, because I want the most mass for my dollar.’ No one does that; They think of the automobile as a performance item. One way to have us turn our industry around is to have us work on educating consumers about the fact that ... their home is a performance item. And we’re starting to do that.”

He talked about a Pennsylvania home builder that equips prospective home buyers with infrared cameras at model homes. “It’s going to let you look into the walls,” the visitors are told, and then sent off to inspect the house for themselves.

“When they come back,” Yost said, “they probably haven’t asked for the distance to the hydrant; they’re totally tuned into how that building worked.”

Turning the conversation around to how buildings perform is going to take public education, Yost said.

“When we change that conversation, people are going to be stumbling over themselves to find builders, energy auditors, remodelers and architects that understand the difference between the two,” he said.

The Green Careers Connection event featured booths sponsored by energy management programs offered by GCC and Mount Wachusett Community College, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, Victory Energy Solutions and others.

Kathleen Kapuras, Green Careers Coach at Franklin-Hampshire Employment and Training Board, said 44 people have found jobs in the field as a result of federally funded training in the program’s two years, primarily doing energy audits and weatherization and training other workers.

“Even though building construction is down,” Kapuras said, “because of the (state) Green Communities Act we have a lot of incentives for people to put additions onto their houses that have renewable technologies, or to weatherize their houses. That’s what’s really driving a lot of the market around here.”

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