A green-building standard that's swept commercial and resort construction in Las Vegas is reaching the housing sector, and locals will get a first glimpse of the new eco-friendly homes this weekend.
The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is ubiquitous in public buildings and casinos across the Las Vegas Valley, touching projects such as downtown's Union Park, MGM Mirage's CityCenter and the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. Now, Pulte Homes is building two single-family houses under the new LEED for Homes program. The houses are inside The Club at Madeira Canyon in Henderson.
The U.S. Green Building Council has been developing LEED for Homes for about two years and officially unveiled the program at a Chicago trade show in November. Nationally, just 412 new houses had obtained LEED certification as of Friday. Pulte is the first tract-home builder in the valley to construct under LEED for Homes.
For Pulte, the two houses have provided a test drive of building to LEED criteria, helping the company understand how it would have to modify its construction processes and materials to meet the guidelines, said Sasha Jackowich, a Pulte spokeswoman. The goal: to learn how to make LEED construction easier.
The pilot program could come in handy as Pulte prepares to build the 300-acre Reverence, a green village at the northern edge of Summerlin. Reverence is scheduled to break ground in 2009.
Before building to LEED specifications, Pulte had already incorporated some LEED-like elements into its construction. For example, all of Pulte's new homes feature Energy Star appliances, Low-E windows that buffer against outdoor temperatures, leak-resistant duct work and air-conditioning with above-average efficiency ratios.
Those existing measures meant the transition to LEED hasn't required a major investment for Pulte. It's costing 1 percent to 2 percent more to build each LEED home than it would cost to construct a traditional Pulte house; the homes are listed at about $5,000 more than standard base pricing. The $785,000 Valencia, which prospective buyers can view starting this weekend, is 4,492 square feet with four bedrooms and 41/2 bathrooms. The $685,000 Cecina is still under construction, and will have four bedrooms and 41/2 bathrooms in 3,365 square feet of space.
"We went in thinking that we know how to build a great house, but we wanted to see what it took to build a LEED home," Jackowich said. "When we found out we had to do very little to get to that level, it validated everything we do in the way we construct our homes."
Now, it's up to consumers to validate the LEED for Homes concept.
Pulte officials will vet home-buyer feedback on the two houses to determine whether LEED standards are viable in the marketplace. Beyond recycled insulation and tighter air ducts, the homes include dual-flush toilets, which have two settings based on whether the commode's contents are solid or liquid, "smart" yard irrigation that detects soil moisture and shuts down during rain and wind and low-flow faucets and shower heads. The latter were memorably sent up in an episode of "Seinfeld," during which the show's characters hit the black market seeking regular-flow replacements for newly installed efficiency heads.
Before visions of Kramer with flattened hair flit through consumers' minds, Jackowich would like to point out an important fact: LEED-certified homes cost about 50 percent less to operate than a similar-sized home that lacks green details. Thanks to lower utility bills, homeowners will recoup the higher up-front costs of buying and building green after one year to three years, she said.
That's a calculus consumers are increasingly willing to make, experts say.
A spring survey from local research firm Marketing Solutions found that 90 percent of local new-home buyers understood that an eco-conscious house costs more, but that initial investment would yield lower operating costs inside the home.
"Awareness of energy consumption in new homes has risen steadily over the last decade to a point where you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who does not have energy efficiency as a concern when they're buying a new home," said Steve Bottfeld, an analyst with Marketing Solutions.
Bottfeld said he believes consumer response to the LEED homes will be "good," though he added that feedback would be "overwhelming" if conditions in the housing market were better.
Steve Rypka, a founder of the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and owner of Henderson consulting firm GreenDream Enterprises, said he expects other builders to follow Pulte's lead. The area has a high concentration of new homes built under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. About two-thirds of new homes are built to Energy Star benchmarks on appliances, lighting and windows, and meeting Energy Star's requirements makes for an "easier upgrade path" to LEED, Rypka said. Increasing customer demand will also push reluctant builders to embrace the higher standard, he said.
Jackowich said it's too early to determine how many more LEED homes Pulte will build locally. But the builder's executives wanted to understand LEED for Homes well in advance of developing Reverence, so they could pinpoint how to apply green elements to its homes there. Buyers hungry for additional homes designed with the environment in mind can visit Pulte's Timber Creek neighborhood in northwest Las Vegas. The 78-home community is the first certified green through a city of Las Vegas program, and it's also approved through the Southern Nevada Water Authority as a water-smart project.
For Pulte officials, the green efforts combine a marketing edge and corporate responsibility. It's a tough housing market, and consumers are looking for distinctions between builders. Energy efficiency is proving a popular marker, Jackowich said.
"It makes business sense, but it's also the right thing to do," she said. "It benefits the consumer, and that's what we run on -- what satisfies and helps the consumer. It's not enough to be Energy Star-certified anymore. That's a baseline. We need to break new ground and take things to the next level as technology continues to improve."
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com or (702) 380-4512.