Article No: 219

2007-09-24 13:43:23
Enviably GREEN
By: Lyssa Myska Allen

Royal Professional Builders has won an award for the most energy efficient home in either Palm Beach county or St. Lucie county for the last fifteen years in a row. Anna Niehaus, Director of Sales & Marketing at Royal Professional Builders, says, “Honestly, a lot of what we do on our homes would give us the points to qualify for the LEED ... we didn’t have to do a whole lot more.”

While the LEED Rating System is the nationally recognized certification program for green buildings, it focuses on green business construction. The LEED for Homes program is almost through with the pilot phase, with the official rating system launching this fall. Royal Professional Builders was selected by the U.S. Green Building Council to take part in the pilot because of its long-standing history as an energy-efficient builder.

The Green Emerald model built by Royal Professional Builders included many features that are standard on Royal Professional Builders houses. Tantamount to the home’s strength and energy efficiency are the solid concrete walls. Royal Professional Builders uses the Royal Wall system of hurricane-resistant wall panels constructed with steel-reinforced concrete and integrated insulation. Niehaus reiterates, “We’ve been using them for years and years. We’ve always said they’re very energy efficient and sustainable, especially in the humid climate in Florida. That is just the best way of building a house.”

Not only do the walls themselves help reduce energy use, but the fact that they are pre-cast in a factory reduces construction traffic to the jobsite—cutting down on more energy use. Even on the jobsite, Royal Professional Builders is careful to minimize their environmental impact by transporting waste to a sorting facility, where about 75% of the constructions materials will be pulled out and recycled. “In our office we recycle,” Niehaus says, “We really feel like we want to do what’s right.”

Other standard features on Royal Professional Builders homes include EnergyStar applicances, water-saving fixtures, ceiling insulation, and brick pavers on driveways instead of poured concrete. Brick pavers are water permeable, increasing the amount of runoff that returns to the site.

There were some features that were specific to the LEED-certified home, like a fresh air supply system. Adding a fresh air system to the home “was important because the house is tight, which helps for the energy efficiency, but then to make sure it is actually healthy, we added a fresh air system,” Niehaus says. Adding that system also meant they could downsize the air conditioning system, increasing efficiency even further.
One of the biggest challenges Royal Professional Builders faced was xeriscaping. “We had to pick a landscape design to be self-sufficient, which is a challenge when Florida is going through one of the worst droughts we’ve ever had,” Niehaus says. But not having to add an irrigation system was cost effective and will save money in the long run. Other environmentally conscious features unique to this house included a lighting package consisting of all fluorescent lighting. Additionally, the site itself offered energy advantages—and LEED points—given its proximity to a community park and the house’s eastward-facing locale.
They selected the location carefully, in part to help offset the cost of adding certain upgrades. “We try to make the houses as efficient as possible, but also in a certain price range so that we’re still competitive. We do what’s important,” says Niehaus. The LEED-certified home was a bit of “give and take; we are saving, because we didn’t put in an irrigation system, but then we add cost for the fresh air system.” Overall, Niehaus estimates that they spent less than $5,000 above the cost of an average home on the Green Emerald project.

Royal Professional Builders is proud of their involvement with the pilot program of LEED for Homes, and excited to be the first LEED for Homes certified in the state. But for the company, it wasn’t as much an experiment as it was a chance to showcase what they’ve been doing for a long time. Niehaus reiterates, “We think it’s important to build a quality home. With quality it should be energy efficient, water-saving, and something that is good not only for the customer but also for the environment.” CH