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10 Ways to Manage Clients When
Remodeling Green

The 2007 NAHB National Green Building Awards showcase innovation, quality, and a true commitment to green.

Jim Hackler

  by David Johnston;  Kim Master

Green Remodeling describes how the inherently resource-efficient industry of remodeling can become even more environmentally conscious, and it does so in a way that is both accessible and comprehensive. This book has a lot to offer to a homeowner contemplating a renovation, and to professional remodelers who want an introduction to green approaches.

Retail price: $29.95
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Green remodeling is a growing industry and some customers are understandably confused when you say you re green. Most people think a green remodeler is someone who gets paid in cash, says green remodeler Bill Asdal. So when you start offering green remodeling services, you often have a real education job on your hands. We ve interviewed some of the top green remodelers in the nation and boiled down their advice to 10 tips for managing client expectations and education.

Well-tested heating strategies like radiant floor heating linked to high-efficiency water heaters are increasingly common in green remodeling projects. With the superb performance of these systems, clients are able to go green and noticeably improve the comfort of their homes.


Customer expectations are often driven by emotion, and sometimes by a technology that they have read about. Discover their priorities. Don t just assume that they want to throw solar panels on the roof because they are going green. Asdal, a New Jersey based green remodeler, has developed an interactive tool to help clients assign value to items, such as initial cost, lifecycle cost, and social responsibility, to name a few. He uses this tool to determine what is important to them in the remodeling process. Homeowners may discover that the $1,000 insulation is actually more important to them than the flashy $5,000 rooftop solar photovoltaic system visible from the neighbor s porch.


Many remodeling clients have heard about green building, but aren t exactly sure what it is. Jerome Quinn, president of Sawhorse Inc., an Atlanta-based design/build firm, outlines a few items that can get the process rolling and help introduce clients to green building techniques. Contractors should think of a house as a whole unit, a building-envelope system, and steer clients toward practical solutions. Caulking may be more practical, affordable, and have better payback than a costly high-SEER air conditioner. Provide honest information and don t push individual systems.


Clients questions won t always follow logical paths. Someone may question the importance of insulation, then follow up with detailed technical questions about ground-source geothermal heat pumps. So remodelers have to be flexible, answer all the questions, and communicate all the options to homeowners from the start. Some customers call because they know about green remodeling already, adds Quinn. Others call and we mention green remodeling, and their interest spikes up when we mention the energy savings and air quality. Some clients will see a popular green product and want it immediately. But talk them through the costbenefit analysis to determine how and when they can recover their investments. For those clients with little or no knowledge about green products and technology, remodeling can be overwhelming, so it is important to keep the work in perspective. For any problem or challenge, remember that you are not talking to a building-science expert. Bring it down to scale so people understand it, says Quinn.


Any remodeling job is costly, and green remodeling can be more so. Many clients will look at the up-front cost of green and wonder if it s worth it. Howard Katzman of Southface Energy Institute suggests candid open conversations on costs and payback: Always look at their building costs versus the resulting monthly cost to operate the home, says Katzman. Energy-efficient homes almost always cost less to live in. That said, green remodeling doesn t always have to be more costly. Quinn says, We are known for talking people out of options and upgrades. An expensive heating system may not be necessary when sealing, caulking, and insulation could have an overall net benefit for the homeowner. The experts interviewed said that many homeowners see green remodeling as a good investment. A home that can demonstrate lower energy bills pollutes less and may be worth more. A home listed as an EarthCraft-certified house, for example, will have even more credibility and achieve a premium price in the market.


Green builders tend to be conscientious, detail-oriented builders. Their knowledge combined with their attention to the finer points of sealing a building envelope can produce a higher-quality home, whether they use green products and materials or not. It is also generally true that green products (e.g., siding, paint, mechanicals, windows) are designed for long service lives and lower maintenance. That s part of what makes them green. Going green costs you more, says Katzman, but if you can improve the thermal envelope, the homeowner will save money on heating and cooling costs and save money down the road on utility bills and maintenance costs. Plus, consider this added benefit: occupants of green homes are less prone to sickness because of better indoor air quality.


Indoor air quality has become one of the driving forces behind green remodeling, says Blake Brewster of Brewster Builders, a Georgia-based green builder. A family s health is always an emotional issue, and clients are willing to pay more to avoid items that offgas. Green remodeling work that includes sealing ducts, improving air transfer, and using low-VOC paints and finishes can provide peace of mind and help clients suppress or eliminate mold and asthma problems.


Clients who want to remodel green often don t know what problems should be addressed first. One way to address this early on is to run blower door and duct tests, among others, to determine where the homeowner can potentially reduce heat loss, save water, and save on energy costs. Some green remodeling programs, like EarthCraft, send an inspector out to do testing and write up recommendations. But the $1,000 cost can be significant. You have to gauge the client s level of commitment to the green approach, says Katzman, and determining their appetite for for-fee tests is a good start. As a result of a thorough inspection, customers get a report and worksheet that track points for energy efficiency, indoor air quality, durability, water conservation, and waste reduction.


Like most contractors, Sylvain C of Absolute Remodeling, based in Yorktown Heights, New York, pushes the ideas of creating a tight envelope and, if possible, turning the attic and crawlspace into conditioned space. These are easy concepts for clients to grasp, though implementing them is not always easy or cheap. Get clients to think of their house as a system and not just a grouping of rooms, adds Quinn. People may want to replace windows, when they should fix insulation first. Provide clients with a menu of items, show how they interrelate, and point out which ones make the most financial sense now. The longer the homeowner intends to live in the house, the more green remodeling makes sense, says Quinn.


To Quinn it is important to explain your whole-house approach to green remodeling. I prefer to use a consultative approach rather than to be viewed as an individual window replacement company, says Quinn. For C his own home is a showcase of green building. If the home you are remodeling were your own home, what would you do? Suggest those choices to the client. He uses products such as American Clay s Earth Plaster, engineered lumber, and he has even recycled leftover wood flooring for furniture. Clients can t help but be impressed when personal convictions, advanced products, and creative recycling result in a beautiful high-end remodeling job.


Blower door and other tests can help assure that the building envelope is tight and that the ductwork was properly sealed. But as Blake Brewster notes, the real test is when the customer notices that the home is more comfortable, the floors are warmer in winter, and the temperature doesn t spike and dip. Hopefully, the client will realize that their choices were not only good in a global sense, but that they created a more comfortable home for themselves in the process.





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