10 Things to Look for in a Green Contractor

What qualifications should a green builder have? See pictures of building a house.
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Green seems to be all the rage these days, from businesses adopting new environmentally friendly strategies to the green-tinted peacock logo while you're watching a sitcom on NBC. But at its heart, the green movement is an important and vital way to help save and sustain the environment. Nowhere is this more important than with new buildings and renovations, as there's no substitute for starting things off right.

Still, how do you go about getting a "green" building built? How will you know if you're making the right choices? The first step is to find a green contractor -- a person who will help guide you through the ins and outs of the green construction business, someone you can trust with your vision. If you're looking to get into your first real green construction adventure, then read on for some important qualities (and certifications) to look for in your contractor.

Look for the License

The first thing you should check, as you would with any contractor, is that your contractor has the proper licenses and insurance. A license will let you know that your contractor has experience in his or her field, has been checked out with the licensing board, and is bonded. With that knowledge, you can rest easy knowing that you're working with someone who has been in the business for some years and is capable. You can ask the contractor personally for the appropriate credentials, but if you need to feel doubly sure, check with your state's licensing board. After you've checked on the license, you can also make sure that he's insured. Having this insurance means that if anything were to go wrong during the building process, you would have some recourse to recoup the money that you've put into the project.

Someone Open to a Variety of Green Options
Are solar panels an option? Your contractor should know.
Are solar panels an option? Your contractor should know.
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The gold standard in green construction is the LEED certification. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is one which ensures that your building fits very strict standards in terms of sustainability and energy conservation. Your green contractor should know, at the very least, the ins and outs of the LEED system, and he should be able to fit his construction to the standards set forth by the LEED commission [source: U.S Green Building Council]. If following the LEED program seems either impossible or impractical, then your contractor should be able to provide you with some viable and comparable options to make sure that you're getting the best in sustainable building.

Past Clients

Since "green building" is such a buzz phrase, it's important to make sure that your contractor is truly committed to the ideas and practices of sustainable construction. Unfortunately, there are those out there who will tout a "green" style of construction -- but won't follow through. That's why it's important to make sure that your contractor is devoted. A good way to check on this is through past clients or examples of work. A glowing review from a pleased customer or a walk through the physical evidence of a job well done will help settle your mind.

A Good Communicator
You and your contractor should be able to talk at length about what matters in an energy-efficient home.
You and your contractor should be able to talk at length about what matters in an energy-efficient home.
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Construction of any sort can be a pretty major feat. Whether you are building a house or a high-rise, there are going to be a lot of steps (and people) involved in the process. In addition, as the client, you should be getting exactly what you've asked for from your contractor. With all of those pieces fitting together, knowing that your contactor is an excellent communicator is key to the process. Being able to tell him exactly what you want is vital to your happiness with the final product. Your contractor should also be able to tell you the things about your vision that might be more difficult or downright impossible. If the lines of communication are open and clear, then the final product will be something that you and your contractor can look at with pride.

A Master Builder

The Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) is an organization that provides information and regulation over sustainable modes of construction [source: EEBA]. With that mission in mind, a contractor who has attained the Master Builder designation from the EEBA is one that understands the importance of a truly green construction process. That title means that your contractor will be determined to help you achieve the most sustainable building possible, all while sticking to the rules and regulations that have been put in place. In addition, your contractor will be on the forefront of any new technologies that have been introduced and will be able to bring that knowledge to your dream building.

A Certified Remodeler
Check to see if your contractor is certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
Check to see if your contractor is certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
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Even if you aren't having something built from the ground up, you can still use a green contractor in your renovation or remodeling work. It's just as important to make sure that your contractor is suitable for that sort of work. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is a group that provides education and certification for contractors who will be dealing mostly with remodeling. If your contractor is designated a Certified Remodeler, then you can rest easy knowing that he has the skills and knowledge needed to rework your home into a sustainable and green living space.

No Greenwashing

One of the keys to having a green building built is to make sure that you know what goes into a sustainable and environmentally friendly structure. Knowing what low-VOC paints are, or the difference between non-ozone depleting insulation and passive solar design, will help tremendously when looking for a contractor. Doing your homework on the ins and outs of green construction will ensure that your contractor is telling you the truth, and that he's up-to-date on the technology involved in a green building.

A Reducer
The less your contractor uses in the construction process, the more you should save.
The less your contractor uses in the construction process, the more you should save.
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The major issue that stands in the way of green contractors is the sheer amount of materials that must go into the construction of a building. By being able to reduce the amount of materials from the start, your contractor is already going a long way toward helping preserve the environment. Doing so limits the amount of trash that ends up in the world's landfills, thus reducing the size of the footprint that any expansion leaves. In addition, using fewer supplies means that less will have to be made and bought. That saves on the front end in respect to the environmental cost of producing materials, and it also means that you'll end up saving some money, both of which are huge positives [source: EPA].

A Reuser

A byproduct of any construction job, be it building from scratch or remolding, is that you'll have left over materials. A good contractor will know an environmentally friendly way to get rid of those left over materials without simply throwing them out. Getting a contractor who'll find a way to reuse those extra supplies will mean that he's truly committed to the green construction mission. One great way to reuse materials is to find an organization like the Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. The ReStore sells used or surplus materials that have come from previous construction jobs. A program such as the ReStore ensures that those excess materials are going to be put back into some sort of serviceable use instead of taking up space in a landfill [source: Habitat for Humanity].

A Recycler
Does you contractor recycle building materials?
Does you contractor recycle building materials?
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After a construction job is done, you''ll find that there will be a lot of excess materials that might not be in a functional state to be reused. It's important, then, to find a contractor with the knowledge and desire to recycle those materials. A lot of what goes into the construction process, such as concrete, steel and wood, can be recycled at various centers throughout the country [source: EPA]. Your contractor should know of programs that can help with the recycling of those excess supplies so that your building site is the greenest it can possibly be.

For lots more information on building in a sustainable way, see the links on the next page.


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  • Austin Energy. "Choosing a Green Building Professional." March 11, 2012. http://www.austinenergy.com/energy%20efficiency/Programs/Green%20Building/Resources/Fact%20Sheets/choosingGreenProfessional.pdf
  • Contractors State License Board. "Basic Facts About Contracting in California." 2012. March 11, 2012. http://www.cslb.ca.gov/GeneralInformation/About/BasicFactsAboutCslb.asp
  • The Energy and Envoromental Building Alliance. 2011. March 11, 2012. http://www.eeba.org/
  • Environmental Protection Agency. March 2012. March 11, 2012. http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/imr/cdm/index.htm
  • Enviromental Protection Agency. "Recycle." March, 2012. March 11, 2012.
  • Habitat for Humanity. "ReStore resale outlets." 2012. March 11, 2012. http://www.habitat.org/restores/default.aspx
  • National Association of The Remodeling Industry. 2012. March 11, 2012. http://www.nari.org/
  • U.S Green Buidling Council. "What LEED is." 2011. March 11, 2012. http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1988