Green Builders: 7 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Contractor

Yellow hard hats from Silvia Brazzoduro via Unsplash (cropped from original)

Imagine that you want to build a new home, or renovate your current home, but you want to make sure this is done in the most environmentally friendly way possible. It’s important to you that the home is energy efficient—perhaps you want it to be a net-zero home, or you just want its impact on the environment to be minimal.

If you’re wondering how to pick the right architect(s) and contractor(s) that will help you realize your vision, read on to discover more!

An Interview is Always a Must

Keep in mind that you don’t have to work with the first person you meet. In fact, it’s better to meet with a number of contractors and interview them to see if they’re right for the job.

Figure out what values are most important to you, along with the key features that you’d like to implement in your home, and prepare questions related to these. For example, if solar energy is an important part of your plan, make sure you ask each contractor about their experience with solar panel installation.

Many contractors can claim to be “green” without needing certifications to prove it. If you ask them questions and like their answers, consider asking them for references from folks whom they’ve completed “green” projects for. Or, at the very least, they should have a portfolio of their projects that they’ll be able to walk you through in order to demonstrate their abilities.

Below, you can read about seven additional factors that, aside from references, should be considered as you move through the interview and selection process.

Licenses and Insurance

It’s important for any contractor to be licensed and to have insurance for their business. Whether you find a contractor via an online search or through a friend’s recommendation, it’s extremely important to make sure they’re licensed and insured, to prevent any potential losses or liabilities on your part.

Choosing someone local means that they’ll have the appropriate local licenses. Even more importantly, they’ll be familiar with the municipal building codes and the infrastructure of the area. This will work to their advantage once they start designing and building your home.

LEED Standards

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a strict set of building standards, governed by the United States Green Building Council, that’s widely recognized internationally.

LEED certifications at differing levels of sustainability (such as Silver, Gold and Platinum) are available for buildings. An experienced green home builder will be familiar with LEED standards, especially if they’re working in North America. If they haven’t heard of LEED, or are unwilling to work with you to meet these standards, move on to the next one!

EEBA

The Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) is another regulatory body for sustainable building practices that your contractor should be familiar with. If they’re a member with a “Master Builder” title, this indicates that they have a thorough knowledge of sustainable building practices.

The Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a well-recognized regulatory body that’s committed to … well … protecting the environment! They have tons of resources that relate to green living in general, but specifically for green building, they have the ICC 700, which is a document that outlines the National Green Building Standard in the United States.

A green contractor should be familiar with the criteria required to meet this standard if they’re truly experienced and committed. The ICC 700 covers energy efficiency, resource preservation, household environment quality standards and even land development and homeowner education.

Sustainable Materials

Ask your contractor about sustainable materials, particularly if you have some idea of the types of materials you’d like to use. Do they use alternative insulation or paints that contain a low level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)? What about recycled building materials such as lumber or copper? Your contractor will be able to find plenty of sources for recycled materials in virtually any area, especially if they’re well-connected and experienced.

Waste Management Strategies

Find a contractor who has experience with managing waste from a construction site. We know that construction inherently creates a lot of waste, but a green contractor will be experienced with responsibly recycling and disposing of materials as necessary. A contractor who’s able to recycle materials from the construction site is certainly an ideal choice.

ReStore by Habitat for Humanity is an excellent spot to recycle building materials that can be used in Habitat homes or sold in certain ReStores in exchange for funds to support Habitat for Humanity. Home Depot and other hardware stores also have recycling programs for unused paints and lumber.

Finally, municipal waste management departments often have safe disposal methods that your contractor should know about and take advantage of, instead of simply hiring a catch-all dumpster to send to the landfill!

Local Green Trade Groups

Planet Earth First sign from Gem & Lauris RK via Unsplash

Depending on where you live, you’ll likely be able to find associations and groups of green home builders under various names. In the United States, the National Association of Home Builders and Build it Green are well-known groups that can indicate a contractor’s commitment to green building. The former offers a Certified Green Professional designation to recognize contractors and other industry professionals who meet certain criteria and are committed to environmentally friendly principles.

Built Green Canada is an excellent Canadian alternative, and Energy Star is another well-known program in North America that offers distinctions to contractors that indicate their commitment to energy efficient homes.

Good Communication Is Crucial

Last but certainly not least, you should make sure that you and your potential contractor communicate well and get along well together. After all, construction and design are no walk in the park, and there are bound to be setbacks! Making sure you can communicate and manage these snafus effectively with your design and construction team is of the utmost importance.

It’s best to agree on a fleshed-out design upfront, instead of just agreeing to options verbally. That way, both parties will also agree on a visual depiction of what the renovation or new home should ultimately look like—thereby avoiding any future disagreements or disappointments.

For more on this topic, visit Assembling A Green Home Design Team That’ll Get The Job Done»

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