The concept of green building is not new.
Thousands of years ago, the Anasazi Indian tribe of the Southwest built whole villages where homes received solar heat in the winter to cut down on wood usage.
Yet the contemporary green building movement didn't surface until the oil price increases and environmental movement of the 1970s, which led to the need for more energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
During the '90s, green building gained popularity and today builders are increasingly offering an array of green features and options in their new homes.
Tomorrow green building could be the norm.
So what's happening on the green scene now? Well it depends on with whom you speak.
One thing builders agree on is that homebuyers see good air quality and potential energy savings as most important to them and their families.
In a recent survey by William Ryan Homes, people said they would pay more money for these two aspects of green building, but wouldn't pay more money for a home just because it was green, said Debbie Beaver, vice president of marketing for William Ryan Homes.
"Although they love the idea of getting materials from local sources less than five miles away, it's a feel good fuzzy thing that doesn't affect their buying decisions," Beaver said.
Suburban builders offer several green features and options in their new homes, but have their own approach to green building.
William Ryan Homes made a commitment that during the downturn when they experience reduced costs, they will pass the effect of that on to their customers.
"We would rather build a better home and give people more included features with a lot of that relating to energy-efficient green materials," Beaver said.
"As we reduce costs by paying less for drywall and drywall labor, less for framing, and with everyone making less -- plumbers and electricians -- we take that money and make our homes better."
Ryland Homes has launched a new Houseworks Program that offers green features appropriate for each market and climate. "It has been a very successful program, and we've added to it to better serve customers' needs and to make our homes more efficient," said John Carroll, division president of Ryland Chicago.
At Rock Creek Homes, clients often talk to the builder about what is important to them, said Pete LeSueur, co-owner of the company. "But we have to be cautious about what it costs to incorporate their ideas into the home.
"A lot of people confuse high efficiency with green. You can save money by going with a tankless water heater, but it's more of an efficiency move than a green move," LeSueur said. "There is a fine line between the two."
Builders want to create a comfortable and safe environment in their homes, and many select green features that improve air quality. For example, some builders offer alternatives to carpeting such as recycled wood, cork or bamboo flooring. Hard surface floors do not hold dust, molds and allergens, and are very durable.
For better air quality, William Ryan Homes features fresh air intakes on their furnaces rather than recirculating stale air in the home; they use fresh air and direct vent water heaters that use fresh air from the outside; and every appliance is vented outside, including microwaves and hood fans. They also have a vacuum ridge vent that helps to better circulate air in the attic.
Ryland Homes features low-VOC (volatile organic compound) interior paint and Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus approved carpet selections for better indoor air quality. Low-E glass windows help filter harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays.
Builders also focus their attention on energy savings for homebuyers, an aspect of green building that's at the top of buyers' wish lists.
William Ryan Homes offers many standard money-saving green features including a 90 percent high efficiency furnace with programmable digital thermostat and energy efficient power-vent 50-gallon water heater. They also feature bath fans with timers that will automatically go off as set.
For insulation, they use R-38 ceiling insulation, R-18 wall insulation, insulating blanket around the basement walls, Dow Weathermate house wrap and insulated steel entry door.
Through its Houseworks Program, Ryland Homes also offers or includes high efficiency minimum 13-SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) air conditioning systems with environmentally sound refrigerants that won't deplete the ozone layer.
Also for heating and cooling efficiency, all its homes include dual-pane low-E glass windows, which also extend the life of flooring and furnishings. This means the home uses less energy and costs less to heat, cool and power.
Both builders use 13 SEER air conditioning, and all three builders use Energy Star appliances and other more common inclusions such as compact florescent lighting.
Rock Creek Homes offers several standard cost-saving benefits to the structure of their homes. The major things they do are to use LP Smart Side engineered wood product instead of cedar. There is a finish and product warranty while cedar offers none, said LeSueur. They also use blown-in cellulose insulation where the material itself is recycled and offers a better R-value.
"We are always into high efficiency, and if it could be green at the same time, that's even better," LeSueur said. "We use Energy Star appliances and high efficiency windows. But again, how efficient it is doesn't necessarily make it green."
Builders are also concerned with water efficiency and conservation, and they may offer dishwashers that use less water and have no-heat drying. Low flow toilets and showerheads also reduce water usage.
All Ryland homes feature Moen lavatory faucets that meet the EPA's criteria for water efficiency and performance.
The EPA estimates that homes using WaterSense-labeled plumbing fixtures can save as much as 10,000 gallons of water a year -- resulting in a greater savings on water bills for their owners and conservation of a global resource.
Preserving natural elements such as wetlands, riparian buffers, mature trees, steep slopes, floodplains and woodlands presents another green opportunity for builders.
Henning Estates by Rock Creek Homes is the first conservation community of its kind in McHenry County. Surrounded by protected prairie land, the builder focuses on conserving its natural open space where homeowners will enjoy natural beauty, wildlife, scenic views and privacy.