How GREEN Does Your Builder Need To Be?

Greenspiration Homeowner, Trish Holder, Reflects On The Qualities That Matter Most In A Builder
May 16, 2011 12:00 PM ET

Greenspiration Blog

By Trish Holder

Not every town in America has dozens of experienced green builders to choose from.  Here in Greensboro, NC, there are just a few; I met most of them after we’d already begun construction on our LEED registered Greenspiration Home.

My builder was Signature Homes by D. Cohan, a husband and wife custom home team, and one of only five builders authorized to build our particular subdivision, none of whom were experienced in building anything close to a LEED level home. Signature Homes got the glory (television, articles, etc.) for being the Greenspiration Home builder, even though this was the first green project they had ever tackled.

Meanwhile, flying under the radar, there were a few other green builders in the area, quietly plugging away at their own green initiatives.  Did I do these other builders a disservice by not choosing them—even though none were associated with this particular development?  Did I do myself a disservice by choosing a builder based on criteria other than green building experience?  This is a tricky question but one that I think I need to address.

The fact is many seeking to build a home in the near future will not have a lot of green building expertise to choose from.  That choice may be further limited by the development where you choose to build, something we were not willing to compromise on.  Regardless of how green you aspire to be, I hope your choice of builders includes someone you can trust and happily partner with in the process ahead.  In this respect, my husband and I were very lucky to have Don and Megan Cohan as the build team for the Greenspiration Home.

I’ve met a lot of builders over the last few years.  Some of them are great and some are so arrogant I couldn’t get through a cup of coffee with them much less seven months of one of the most stressful experiences a person will ever endure.  (Trust me, if you don’t love your builder at the beginning of the project, you probably won’t be speaking at the end.)  Don and Megan made a huge, personal impression on my husband and me from the first time we met, not only as a builder with extreme attention to detail, but as two people I really liked and admired.  I hold them in that same regard today.

So here’s the verdict: Mutual trust, respect and overall compatibility trump green building experience if you find you can’t have it all.

In a Perfect World…
Could a more experienced green builder have helped us avoid some of the mistakes that were made—ones that ended up costing us money and/or frustration in the long run?  Probably, but even at that he (or she) would had to have been super aggressive with subs and vigilant about every aspect of the job.  In our unique circumstance, that perfect green builder would have had to be:

  • Willing to get in the face of any guy on a backhoe and tell him he’s fired if he continues to impact the soil around the trees we’ve selected to keep.

  • Knowledgeable enough to know that our original geothermal heat pump was oversized and be willing to go to bat with a stubborn contractor who would sooner walk off the job than install a size smaller.

  • Able to eyeball the drainage pattern of our yard and the placement of the storm drain and know that both left us vulnerable to significant erosion.

I didn’t have access to a builder who would have managed any of this any better than Signature Homes.  I might have found a builder who would have discouraged me from attempting some of the strategies we chose. Believe me, there are plenty of builders out there who are willing to discourage homeowners from trying anything that they themselves are unfamiliar with.  I overhear their conversations all the time.  (“Dual flush toilets?  Why would you do that?  There’s no such thing as a water shortage!”)  I’m paraphrasing, but this is what a builder recently said to me.

In the end, it all worked out and all these problems have been resolved.  Our home is our pride and joy, probably in part because we had to work so hard to get it right.

Here’s the thing.  There are many builders.  Some are good builders.  A few of those good builders are also green builders.  Fewer still are the good green builders that have the interpersonal skills to satisfy the average homeowner who is about to make the investment of a lifetime.  This experience elevated Signature Homes to the latter status — a great thing for all their future clients.

(If only we’d met after they’d already built a home exactly like mine!)


Greenspiration Home LLC is an online resource dedicated to helping homeowners build, renovate, and decorate green.  Whether your aspirations lean toward deep green and granola or practical and energy efficient, Greenspiration Home is loaded with homeowner-based content that will save you time, money and frustration.