Green renovation: Homeowners skip small projects, but move ahead with big remodels thanks to incentives

Through the Chicago Green Homes program, the city suggests environmentally friendly ways for locals to make home improvements. (City of Chicago site)

BY KATE SHELLNUTT – MEDILL NEWS SERVICE

Green building experts say 2009 has brought ups and downs to the industry—a new administration in the White House offers more favorable environmental policies and renewed interest in “going green,” while the recession continues to keep many homeowners from paying thousands for eco-friendly improvement projects.

“People right now are very concerned about cost-consciousness,” said Chris Campbell, business developer for GreenWerks, a company of green general contractors based in the Loop.

He said in years past, clients would spend extra money, like their federal tax returns, on remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, but today, they’re saving it instead.

“Many small projects have pretty much stopped,” Campbell said, but homeowners getting large-scale green remodels typically continue with the project because they’ve planned and saved for it.

The green building market in the U.S. is currently between about $40 billion and $50 billion, and despite the economic downturn, it’s expected to double or triple in the next four years, according to research by McGraw-Hill Construction.

The recession also encourages builders, both homeowners and architects, to be more thoughtful about their projects and how they’re spending money.

In this way, a down economy spurs quality, according to Rik Master, one of the founding members of the Chicago Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“People have a little more time to dig into the attributes of their projects and be a little more investigative,” said Master, who now works as an architectural systems manager for Chicago-based USG Corp., an environmentally friendly manufacturer of building supplies such as ceiling tiles.

Homeowners can find guides for green renovation through the City of Chicago’s Green Home Program. Additionally, the city’s Green Permit Program allows certain green building projects to receive special permits in a quick 15 to 30 days. The City’s Department of Building may also waive up to $25,000 in fees for projects that “meet the most stringent sustainability guidelines.”

Master says these kinds of government efforts really make a difference.

“They’re great programs. They incentivize green development. The reality is when it affects my pocketbook, everyone listens,” he said. “I applaud Mayor Daley. I never thought I would say that”

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