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The GHB Interview: Troy Johns, Chairman of the Board, NGBS

NGBS Chairman discusses how the future of homebuilding is green.

Green Home Builder: Tell us about your work with the NGBS Green Advisory Group.Troy Johns: I’ve been the Chairman of the Board for NGBS AG for nearly 10 years. When I came on board, I had a builders perspective and it was needed. The NGBS brand back in those days was very loose and under the Home Innovation guardianship. It was a little confusing, so we rebranded it first thing. 

Next, we went to work on how to make NGBS and assets for builders. This is where specialty badges came from and a streamlined path for mega builders. It has been a long road, but we have brought NGBS from “who’s that” to the dominating force it is today.

GHB: Walk us through your company, Urban NW’s, beneficial plan to cut energy consumption in the home by 50%.

“Green means quality for the homeowner and the environment and people want it.” -Troy Johns, Chairman of the Board, NGBS.

TJ: Our plan 15 years ago was to cut energy consumption in our homes by 50% of code.  We did that and even started building Net Zero Ready homes. This really is our focus now as a company.  Not every home is the same, some houses are surrounded by trees while others are oriented wrong as to the lot. But all envelopes can be tight and fresh air can be circulated no matter what. We believe this should be available to every price point.

GHB: How do you get more homebuilders in the industry to start building more sustainably?

TJ: How to bring builders on board? This is the battle we have been fighting from day one.  Builders are caught up in their ways. It was their dad’s way and now it’s theirs. I think the number one way is through incentives, not mandates. For instance, a home that gets an NGBS certification gets a 5% bonus on lot coverage. This costs the city nothing and is a huge money maker for the builder. There are lots of ways to go about incentivizing without mandates.

GHB: As sustainability is seemingly becoming standard in homebuilding, what is the most popular trend that the industry should expect next year?

TJ: The most popular trends are technology. The millennials want it and there’s plenty of it. This next generation wants to preheat the oven while they are watching wipeout on tv. No doubt this is the next big thing. In a close second, wellness. Quality air, moisture management (mold) air scrubbers.  Covid has made everyone a germaphobe.

GHB: Where do you see the future of green homebuilding?

TJ: I see nationals adopting one or two programs and within a decade all homes will be certified green. The next downturn will be a pivot point for the green market. Right now, there is no need to build green for most builders. But when we are selling against each other and nothing is selling, we as builders large and small will have to build value. Green means quality for the homeowner and the environment and people want it.  At this time, people are just lucky to get a home so green is on the back burner. Any builder who ignores this future will likely slowly turn to dust.

GHB: Can you talk about the importance of having a third party green certification?

TJ: A third party verification is the only thing that makes green “real”. If you’re buying a home from a builder that certifies their own homes and “promises” a customer that they care and did everything right, you are heading for a disaster. Not throwing builders under the bus, but I’ve seen some horrible building practices in the last two decades.  

Once the walls close up with sheetrock, there is no telling what your builder did or didn’t do.  While code inspectors do require the home is built to code, remember, if you simply buy a code built home, you’ve purchased the worst house that can be legally built. A third party verifier puts his eyes on everything that makes up a home before it is sheetrocked. Once it is done being built, they go back and test the home for performance.  If it’s not third party certified,  it’s not green.

GHB: What advice can you offer builders who may be considering “going green”?

TJ: The best advice I can give someone is to build relationships with venders that share your concern for how a home is built.  Fighting subs and trying to get them to change their thinking is a huge uphill battle.  If you look, you will find them.  

It’s not only partnering subs, it’s partnering with responsible minded banks, mortgage lenders, realtors, appraisers etc.  If a client is going to buy a home from us they will get access to Green Mortgages, tax credits and so on.  all these people thinking alike will take 50% of the work out of going green.

GHB: Do you see a future where building sustainably or green is less expensive than it is now?

TJ: Building green definitely cost more in the beginning.  It’s the learning curve that costs, not the practices themselves. When we first started building homes we spent roughly 5 to 7 k more per home. Our subs all charged us more and we had no incentives. Now, the subs have learned how to build and charge the same to do their jobs as they do other regular builders.  

There are less materials needed to build a sustainable home, 10% less lumber and lighter truss packs. This combined with the federal tax credit and the incentives from our local municipalities (I had to advocate for these) makes our homes actually cost the same as our competitors building to code.  So bottom line, once you get organized you can build a green home for the same cost as code built. The first year is where the work is at.

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