For 39 years, EEBA has been helping industry professionals accomplish their sustainable goals.
Green Home Builder: For the readers who might not know, describe what EEBA is and what its functions are.
Aaron Smith: EEBA is the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance, and it’s really a place for builders and their partners to come together and learn, share, collaborate toward high-performance homes. We say this word, “high-performance homes,” but what does that really mean? It’s pushing toward zero energy, zero carbon, healthier, more resilient homes.
GHB: What are some unique offerings that EEBA provides in regards to spreading knowledge and green, more energy-efficient homebuilding?
AS: The most unique is that we’ve seen a huge demand for healthier homes education since COVID began. Typically, EEBA has been building science. What we’ve done with healthier homes training is we brought medical science and some doctors together with building scientists, and we’re teaching our members how to build a healthier home, how to talk to consumers about that and how to be sensitive to asthma, allergies or pandemic-related wishes that people have with their homes. That’s been the biggest new offering that we’ve got now. That’s called Healthier Homes Awareness for Building Professionals — it’s a new designation that you can earn from EEBA.
GHB: You recently published an article titled, “The Homebuilder Protects the Health of the Nation.” Talk about how homebuilders can impact the state of our nation.
AS: I started off many years ago in the plumbing industry. I was always impressed, a lot of the plumbers that I went to visit had these posters that are from around the 30s, that said, “The plumber protects the health of the nation.” I said, “That’s such a great mission.” The more we talked about it, and the homebuilder and all of our subs need to think thoughtfully about what we do to protect the health of occupants. It could be in materials selection that goes in the house. It could be on the HVAC contractor side, that we’re thoughtful about proper ventilation, proper filtration in the house and aiding comfort. It could be on the insulator side, like how we think about the building envelope, how we think about air tightness of the homes really aids in the health of these high-performance homes.
I think that the builder and all of our trades have this in front of us where all of us need to look at protecting the health of the homeowner. And for the homeowners, we’re seeing that’s the demand they want. I think they perceive that new homes are healthier, but it’s incumbent upon us to make sure they are healthier.
A lot of us builders pride ourselves on craftsmanship and maybe that was, “Hey, my walls are perfectly straight and the miter joints I put in the building are perfect.” My grandpa used to tell me, “Somebody might look at that for 100 years. Do you really want to leave it like that?” He was right. But I think it’s taking that same craftsmanship message and applying it to what we know about building sciences, medical science and bringing it all together and executing the best hubs that we can for the homeowner.
GHB: Amid current supply constraints, what would you say to builders who are on the fence of transitioning a green product?
AS: My intuition is to answer on the total cost of ownership, right? We’re building something that people are going to live in for 50 or 100 years. We’re investing into it, and you can look at studies where it’s no different to do some things, and maybe it’s a 3% difference to do others. But the really high-performance builders across North America, they’re selling total cost of ownership. They’re saying, “Okay, your PITI on that house down the street is $2,200 a month. But with utilities, it’s $2,600 a month. The house we’re doing is $2,300 a month, because I’ve used the best new technology available.”
I think a little bit of it is selling total cost of ownership, and what we’re hearing from EEBA surveys — we’ve got a great survey tool for surveying our builders’ homeowners — and what they’re telling us is they’re willing to pay for a little bit more for a healthier home. So some of those features like adding air filtration — it’s a couple hundred bucks worth of upgrades. I can’t imagine that’s not a differentiator in the total cost of ownership.
There’s more and more rebates everyday. The current administration has opened up rebates for putting some of these cutting edge products in. I tell people to take another look.
For example, if you didn’t believe in solar before, I get it. But you’ve got to look at solar again and it is so cheap to deploy on your home. I did my solar, and people ask, “What’s the payback?” I tell them “day one.” It didn’t cost me anything. Last month, I had a -8 power bill — that’s hard to beat. And by the way, that’s April in Minnesota. We’re not even to the good months yet.
So I guess for the builder, take another look when it comes to going green. You can make a lot of these things cancel. It might be that you’re looking for a rebate, it might be you’re looking for the 45L tax credit for building a better quality home. It might be you’re selling total cost of ownership. I always tell guys, if you’ve ever looked at Tesla, they sell it two ways. They say, “Hey, here’s your lease payment, and here’s your total cost of ownership. You don’t have an oil change, you don’t have any fuel bills.” And the buyer figures out that the realized payment is far less than the other one.
GHB: As we close in on the end of the pandemic, what green homebuilding trends have you seen gain traction?
AS: Electrification and decarbonization is something that is starting to pick up steam. We’re seeing it in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. We’re seeing some mandates starting to come in, where you’ve got to look at gas. You’re not going to have a gas meter, you’re not going to have propane.
So the three biggest trends are healthier homes, electrification of the home and no burning of carbon within it. We talked earlier about the health of the home, right? When you think about electrification and decarbonization, that also provides a healthier home, but it also provides better health for your neighborhood, better health for your community and better health for society. More and more people want to be off-grid capable and more resilient in their home.
GHB: Talk about the relation between EEBA and Team Zero.
AS: It’s a great partnership. EEBA has been a B2B non-profit where you’re helping the builder, but we look at it as you’ve got to educate everybody in the builder ecosystem. It’s got to be the model home salesperson, it’s got to be the appraiser, the site supervisor, it’s the project managers — we’ve got to educate all of them to execute a net-zero home.
Team Zero is more positioned to educate the consumer, so I would call it the pull-through strategy. The pull-through strategy is powerful because the consumer is the ultimate buyer. If they turn around and go to their architect or builder and say, “Hey guess what, you’re doing a net-zero home.” And we’re seeing more of that where there’s builders that never thought about it in the past, and my take is that many millennials are now coming into the housing market and they’re starting to demand this.
Builders are coming to EEBA and saying, “I need to learn how to build a net-zero home, teach me.” And that’s what we’re here for — to help people wherever they’re at. We don’t judge them. We just want to get everybody in and make sure that the ideas that work for builders pencil, and that there’s a highway to get there. Other builders will help you do it. That’s where that learning, sharing and collaborating comes in.
GHB: Explain to us a little bit about the Builder Benchmark Group.
AS: The Builder Benchmark Group is open to anyone. It’s like our Top 20. We’ve got about 20 builders in there all across North America. During the pandemic, we meet once a month on Zoom. It’s not just sharing building science, but we’re trying to get to the triple bottom line for builders — people, planet, profit. We could be sharing HR or operational practices. It could be sharing building science ideas. It could be sharing selling or internet marketing or social media strategies.
It’s really taking a holistic look at how do we help builders be better and how do we create a forum where they can share best practices, coming together once a month. And then creating that community where they’re all tied in and pick up the phone to call another builder that’s non-competing in another market and say things like, “Hey what are you doing with the lumber thing? What are you doing with your sales strategy now?” We have one builder who called me and said that EEBA Builder Benchmark Group had saved him $1 million to $2 million over the past year just by sharing best practices.
GHB: The High-Performance Home Summit in Denver is coming in September. For those who’ve never been, what can be expected from the event?
AS: We’ve partnered with the Zero Energy Ready Home Housing Innovation Awards. We’ve partnered with Indoor airPLUS and the EPA — they have their housing awards. We’ve partnered with Solar Decathlon, they have their housing awards.
We’re going to have the top high-performance builders in the country there, and give them a chance to talk. We’ve got 31 manufacturers coming that are going to have new products. There’s so much innovation happening right now, it’s really exciting. We really try to curate things around high-performance homes. You’ll hear from the Department of Energy and the EPA. You’re going to hear from great building scientists.
It will be a hybrid event, so people can attend online, or they can come in person — whatever they’re comfortable doing. But we’ve been keeping our ears to the ground. Denver is opening to 100% capacity, no social distance. A mask if you’re not vaccinated and no mask if you are.
We should be good to go, it should be the first high-performance building summit that’s open up again after COVID.
GHB: For those not part of EEBA, how does one become a member?
AS: Just go to www.eeba.org and we have individual memberships for builders for $250. If you’re a veteran or a student, it’s $75. If you join as a member, you save more than that on the summit discount, so if you’re going to go to the summit, join as a member and you’re going to get the offset of $250. We’re a small non-profit and it helps us continue to do our mission and create great education. As a member, you get access to 170 hours of builder education and it’s AIA, it’s BPI, it’s RESNET — we’ve got all of the continuing education units. A lot of those are free for members.
And if you want, you can even earn EEBA designations — sending your team through High-Performance Building Professional or Zero Energy Building Professional, or even Site Supervisor Training. Some teams send their model homes salespeople and their real estate agents through Selling High-Performance Homes. We just had a builder send 22 of their folks through the new Healthier Homes Awareness for Building Professionals because they really want their whole team to know how they can impact healthier homes.
GHB: Is there anything we didn’t go over that you’d like to touch on?
AS: EEBA has been around for 39 years, and I started as CEO last January, right before the pandemic. I think the biggest change for EEBA was they were this great organization, kind of niche, and they did a lot of in-person training. But they didn’t do so much on the website, social media or digital training. And I’m from Minnesota, I’ve been involved in sustainability for 20 years, I was a builder and I never heard of EEBA.
And people always say, “You only have builders from North America.” Since we pivoted to digital and offering our training online, we’ve got builders across 70 countries across the world now. We went from 300 users on our website to 20,000 on our website. I felt like we were trapped in 1994. We’re here in 2021 now and ready to serve people wherever they’re at.
We also have an EEBA scholarship program and what we want to do there is workforce development for trades. We’re short 500,000 people just in residential construction. EEBA does offer scholarships to students, to veterans in transition, to underrepresented people in the building industry. If there are deserving organizations, we want to provide the max as to the training, the designations, the summit, but ultimately jobs in the industry.