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The Benefits of Owning a Green Home: An Interview with Mark Quigley of Environmental Builders, Inc.

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

In 1988, I completed my degree in conservation and resource Studies at UC Berkeley. In 1993, based on the environmental ethics and energy-efficient lessons I learned, Environmental Builders, Inc. was founded. We are a small firm primarily engaged in green remodeling for the residential and light commercial markets. We offer a very high degree of craftsmanship for those who prefer a quality product that is aesthetically pleasing, long lasting, energy efficient, and functional as well. We work with a design team who's services include concept drawings, full construction blueprints, Title 24 energy calculations, and structural engineering consultations which allow us to build from foundation to finish.

What are some key questions for a future "green" homeowner to ask before the design process begins?

I would like to address this question at a most elementary level. During the Great Recession which lingers on, there is widespread illegal activity in our industry by unlicensed pseudo-contractors. When you hire such a person, the consumer has no legal recourse whatsoever should something go wrong. For your own sake, please hire a properly licensed contractor. All licensed California contractors are required to carry 5-figure license bonds to protect consumers in the event there is a problem or dispute.

Environmental Builders, Inc. in addition to our license bond, carries a one million dollar general liability insurance policy ($1,000,000.00) to offer very real and substantial protections for our clients. In short, I would counsel clients to deal only with licensed contractors, get at least three bids, interview the contractors and require references, and then follow up and interview the references. Plan on budgeting for proper drawings, building permits, work inspections. When all is said and done, you'll be glad you handled your construction project in a completely legal and professional manner.

How popular are sustainable and energy-efficient homes? What are some of the top benefits for homeowners?

Energy-efficient homes, depending on your city, state, political bent and education level, can enjoy wild whole-hearted support all the way down to being viewed as a serious threat to one's fossil fuel stock portfolio. I could write a book on this question! The benefits to consumers who build sustainable and energy-efficient homes are varied and numerous. What immediately comes to mind includes the structures are more quiet, comfortable and cheaper to heat/cool. Also, using recovered, recycled, reused and repurposed building materials can provide you with a one-of-a-kind custom look. Ethical, even spiritual angles would include reducing one's footprint on the earth and doing one's part to lessen the menace known as global warming or climate change.

What are the most commonly used sustainable features and technologies in Northern California homes?

I must commend the California Building Code and associated Title 24 energy audit requirements for slowly adopting increased energy efficiency standards for all buildings both residential and commercial, for new construction as well as remodels. Homes today are better than they have ever been with the adoptions of these new energy-efficient standards. The new standards improve the windows, wall/attic insulation, air leakage/infiltration, lighting, appliance efficiency, heating/air conditioning efficiencies, modern thermostats, home automation, and the list goes on.

What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to designing and building environmentally conscious homes?

Our firm has great expertise in this area and typically we strive and achieve drama-free builds. Great communication is key. But I would say our greatest challenge is concern over additional costs. We live in a very mobile society, although the rate at which we move has been declining since the mid-1990s. Customers are fixated on the payback time where they can recoup their energy efficiency investments. With a mobile society, many people are reluctant to make any long-term commitments. When investments are made in energy conservation, we all benefit with more comfortable homes that are cheaper to maintain and society benefits from cleaner air - for instance, due to a reduced demand for energy production by burning fossil fuels.

How do the costs of building and maintaining an eco-friendly home compare with those of a typical home?

As the building code has begun to listen to green-building pioneers such as myself, many of the upgrades of past decades are now code required. As energy-efficient technologies become mainstreamed into our built environments, the economies of scale take over to drive production costs down. In short, what was once expensive fringe energy-efficient technology or techniques has now become adopted and common place. As we move forward in time, the gap between affording an energy-efficient home versus the typical home of yesteryear continues to narrow. As for maintenance costs, the energy-efficient home is better built, making it much cheaper and more comfortable than older housing stock.

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