Cover Story » Vol. 40

The greening of America ~ house by house

By Paul Collins

Even Kermit, the most celebrated member of the Muppets troupe, testifies to the fact that in this world, it isn’t always easy being green. However, increasingly, green is precisely what homebuyers and homeowners are seeking to become.

A sobering reality is that while modern society offers us many wonderful benefits that include more leisure time and a steadily expanding lifespan, decades of dramatic and sweeping global climate change has also created a 21st century world that appears to have a gloomy future.

The inescapable conclusion is that ours is a world that sees depleting sources of traditional energy slowly and steadily choking and polluting Mother Earth. Even the homes that we live in contribute to the environmental problems we’re facing. In the wake of these worsening global climate conditions, many consumers are looking for homes that are designed and constructed with a keen eye to maximizing energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity. Now, more than ever, green homes link sustainable materials and practices to better human and environmental health.

Passive Home

In addition to creating a healthier living environment, green homes have also proven, in the long run, to be significantly less expensive to maintain then traditional dwellings. There are also enticing financial incentives for homeowners to green, including government credits and tax rebates. Cost savings, financial incentives and a desire to help the environment: It’s all leading to the evolution of “passive houses.”

A passive house is a construction concept of a dwelling that is truly energy efficient, comfortable and ecological; a low-energy building that allows for heating- and cooling-related energy savings of up to 90 percent. This is indeed the idyllic home for most environmentally conscious people, and it seems to be the home of the future. But how to get from here to there?

Beaton KaneToday, there is a new breed of builders, and they have their fingers on the pulse of the green trend. Matt Beaton, founder and co-owner of Shrewsbury-based Beaton Kane Construction, is a recognized expert in building sustainable projects that come with green benefits. Beaton’s company specializes in weatherization, energy-efficient projects and incorporating the latest innovations, theory, products and techniques in building.

“We have two parts to our business ~ traditional residential construction and remodeling and new construction, and we focus on incorporating as many sustainable and energy-efficient elements as possible as dictated by the desires of the customer,” Beaton said.

Beaton Kane has been in business for a decade and focuses on green homes, which Beaton said, is the wave of the future. “Our company was started with the idea of incorporating as many sustainable elements into our jobs as possible from Day One, well before it became trendy to be green. I feel that there is a great financial savings when incorporating energy-efficient practices into a project and less of an impact on the environment.”

Green HomesAs is the case with practically everything in life, money plays a pivotal role in the consumer’s overall decision-making process. Consumers must balance the capital outlay with the desire to become more environmentally responsible. It is often a case of the the green measures and upgrades that can reduce utility bills most significantly being the most expensive. Solar water heating systems can run in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $4,000, and solar panels have the potential to cost a staggering $15,000. However, when pressed into service in tandem, solar water heating systems and solar panels can drop electricity bill to almost nothing.

One key ingredient in the green recipe is an energy audit, which can help consumers pinpoint problematic areas and offer ways to best to address them. Beaton, who is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP) and certified Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) Rater, said cost is an important factor in the consumer’s overall planning process when going green.

“Money,” Beaton said. “Can I save money? How much will it cost to be green? While most people would love to be a steward of the environment, at the end of the day, if it costs too much or changes the scope of a project, most people would not want to make the sacrifice for the sake of being green.”

Asked about what he thinks it will take to make green building the norm, Beaton said, “While I am not advocating for this, a higher cost of energy will speed up the return on investment and make energy efficiency and green building more popular.”

Green HomesBeaton’s own home, which he built himself, was the first passive house in Massachusetts. “I built the first passive house in Massachusetts, while there are tens of thousands of them in Europe, where the cost of energy is far greater than what it is in the U.S. The need to conserve energy in Europe ~ to not waste money on energy that we don’t need is the greatest single factor in progress in energy efficiency. Our economy’s greatest strength is cheap energy, but cheap energy is also the biggest hurdle in encouraging more people to invest in energy efficiency. The only other way is through government mandate, which I am typically not in favor of.”

However, measures such as federal tax credits have been implemented in recent years, and they are helping to influence the collective mindset and decision-making of homebuyers. Additionally, energy-efficient mortgages are available to assist homeowners pay for the often costly green upgrades that they desire.

Asked what he sees as being the most hopeful sign that has emerged from the green trend, Beaton said, “A growing consciousness of the financial benefits of improving energy efficiency, the impact our building has on the planet and an understanding of the detrimental health effects that traditional construction and materials have on the human body.”

So, as a society, we now ponder the various shades of green that can help us help ourselves and our planet. Hopefully, we will have the wisdom to realize that when all is said and done, we really can’t afford not to do something.

For more information on green building, visit beatonkaneconstruction.com or call (508) 925-4880.

Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough.

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