Green Spaces today is set to launch green building guidelines for Chattanooga residences that could reduce energy costs by 40 percent, according to Jeff Cannon, co-director of Green Spaces.
"This is unique to Chattanooga in that this is our climate and we're looking at our own houses," Cannon said. "It's something we're a little bit behind the curve on among progressive cities."
The local certification program, called Better Built, has taken 18 months and $200,000 to develop in conjunction with home builders, environmentalists and the Lyndhurst Foundation.
Chattanooga officials have thrown their support behind the standard, which will be announced at 10 a.m. at Green Spaces today, according to, Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield.
"Green Spaces has provided support for a lot of construction projects around town to achieve LEED certification, and they continue to do that on the residential level with this designation," Beeland said.
While Better Built homes initially boost building costs as much as 5 percent to 7 percent above the costs of conventional houses, the energy bill savings outweighs those costs over time, said builder Bobby Joe Adamson, owner of Adamson Developers.
"It cuts down on your electrical bill, and you can put that money toward the mortgage instead of the electrical company," he said.
In effect, the process entails sealing the home as tightly as possible, ensuring that there's no air leakage through the attic and through the heating or air conditioning system.
Houses receive a rating based on how well sealed they are, and homeowners can compare homes based on that information.
Adamson said he has built 10 to 15 Better Built houses already, and the greener building techniques "clean the air up in the home, which we've noticed helps people with allergies."
Decades ago, homes were built with loose tolerances because they were heated by fireplaces or coal stoves generating particulate matter that needed a place to go, Cannon said.
With the region electrified and few homeowners relying on coal or wood for heating, there's no longer any need to let air escape.
"They would say, you've got to be careful, you shouldn't build a house too tight, and that was true for my grandmother's house," he said. "Now, for the last 15 years, the research shows the tighter the home the better."
As with any new standard, builders have to be trained so as to avoid pitfalls that go along with new construction methods.
"If you don't know what you're doing, you can get moisture in your basement or have a big humidity swing in your crawlspace," he said.
Contractors won't be able to use the Better Built designation unless they attend training courses, and homeowners are encouraged to come as well to learn how to operate their home efficiently, Cannon said.
Better Built, as opposed to LEED or EarthCraft certification, is strictly a Chattanooga-area venture developed with homeowners in mind.
LEED certification, for its part, has been a big hit in the commercial sector with many large developments using greener building materials and environmentally sustainable methods in hotels and office buildings in the city.
However, the additional expense involved in adopting LEED certification for dwellings hasn't been popular with buyers, Cannon said.
Fees for certification always go to out-of-town bodies. In other words, each green-certified house meant $1,800 to $2,100 was leaving the city.
"On the residential side, really outside of incentivized projects, we've yet to have any absorption on LEED for homes," he said. "We want to focus all that money back into the house."
Each certified home will come with a plaque and a manual, he said.
The goal is for local homebuilder groups to take over administration of the standard.
Eventually, "this will be mandated nationally down the road where you won't be able to sell a home without providing a buyer this information," he said, "just like you can't buy a car without a sticker telling you how many miles per gallon you're going to get."
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6315.