It’s good to be first. In a real estate market that is struggling to get back on its feet, it’s easy to focus on the struggles and hefty competition and much harder to get recognized for doing something positive and out of the ordinary. But that is just what Bob Thornton of SilverWoods has managed to do.
This week, he received national recognition, as one of his homes in the new community received the nation’s first-ever National Green Building Program gold certification from the National Home Builder’s Association, though sales in SilverWoods were good even before one of his homes was the talk of the nation.
“In a supposedly lackluster market, we’ve sold seven houses over the last nine months, or one every six weeks, without any type of certification,” noted Thornton.
Designed to compete with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, NAHB certification can be either bronze, silver or the highest level — gold. And Thornton went for the gold, taking just a few extra steps for the top certification.
“The certification wasn’t something I was competing for,” Thornton emphasized. “It was the correct thing to do. Because we were already doing it, we could expand without extra exhorbitant costs. And it’s difficult to quantify [the benefits of sustainable building].”
Just this week, Thornton has talked with the Associated Press, NPR and the Wall Street Journal about this achievement, and he said it has been “overwhelming.”
Thornton is one of the founders of the Delaware Home Builders Association Green Building Council, also new this year. He said it was important to him to be involved because green building is something that is here to stay.
“Any builder that doesn’t go down that path is, economically, going to be left out,” he said. “Green is demanded by the customers, and we knew that’s where the industry was going.”
“Three to five years ago, people only did it because it was the right thing to do. Now, it is a necessity because of economic demand,” he continued.
One of the most important aspects of a green house, according to Thornton — and one of the seven areas measured for certification — is indoor environmental quality.
“One of my personal favorites is indoor air quality and ventilation,” he said. “If your ventilation system is not installed properly, or if it got wet coming off the truck, in a new house you could have 10 years of not knowing what’s wrong. And my customers are active adults. They are transitioning from a second home to a retirement home, and the quality of life can go down if things aren’t installed properly.”
The goal of the NAHB’s new certification and the Delaware Green Building Council is, according to Thornton, to achieve a “non-diverse certification.”
“It would be nice if everyone adopts the same standards,” he said.
The certification — especially of gold, the highest level — is important to Thornton and to like- minded builders because of the weight something like that holds.
“It lends more credibility to a builder/developer entity — especially for all future homes in the development,” he said. “We are going to have every home green-built and -certified. We are striving for the SuperGreen initiative, through the state, that will encourage builders to go above and beyond the standards.”
Another exciting part of building sustainably, for Thornton, is the fact that his houses are “future-proofed.” Instead of owners having to go back and upgrade their infrastructure in the future, at extra cost and energy, the homes all have business-grade wiring and are pre-wired for any future photovoltaic panels or small wind-power devices — both hot-button issues in the green industry but, for many, just too cost-prohibitive at present.
“Those [prices] are coming down. And when it gets the point [of mass-affordability] you would just set the panels and plug it in,” he said.
Going above and beyond seems to be Thorton’s specialty. He even more than met the NAHB’s gold standard. The home in SilverWoods was scored on seven categories and surpassed the 385 points needed for a gold certification by almost 100 points, earning a score of 480. The seven areas measured for certification are lot design, preparation and development; resource efficiency; energy efficiency; water efficiency; indoor environmental quality; operation, maintenance and home-owner education; and global impact.
Being the first homebuilder/developer in the nation to achieve the gold standard is something of which Thornton is proud — especially because it is not something that can ever be duplicated.
“You could come in today and build 500 homes that all get certified, but I still get to say I was first,” he said, laughing. “It sounds like elementary school, but that’s nothing anybody can ever take away,” he said proudly.