It looks as though the green movement is here to stay, but some remodelers appear to be in denial. The one comment I hear over and over again is that green is too expensive, that customers are interested until they hear how much it's going to cost.
The problem I have with this is that not much of it has any basis in fact. Actually, that's not fair: Some elements of sustainable construction do cost more — but those are the exception, not the rule. It's more accurate to say that the concerns about cost are really concerns about being held accountable to a new set of standards, especially when we've taken those standards for granted.
ACCOUNTABILITY Take energy efficiency, which is at the foundation of sustainable building performance. Most energy loss occurs through air leaks or insulation voids and, in the case of air conditioning, poorly sealed ductwork. Ensuring that a house is well sealed takes marginally more care and therefore more time, but it's simple stuff and it should already be part of our standard practice.
Does it cost more to test the ductwork for leaks, conduct an infrared scan to uncover voids, and undertake a blower-door test to discover leaks? Certainly it does, but the pay-back is fairly immediate and, if we weren't too busy making excuses about the initial cost of the work, we could easily convince the homeowner of the long-term cost benefit of both the work and the tests.
What we're really worried about is that we will be held accountable to the new standards. We're worried that the work we've been doing all this time — and touting as the highest quality available —won't measure up the first time someone fails to take our word for it and actually pays for the testing.
OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE Blaming hypothetical higher costs is a habitual mindset that remodelers fall into when they find themselves being pushed outside their comfort zone.
Ask 10 remodelers which is cheaper, building a new frame for a salvaged door or buying a new pre-hung door, and nine of them will go with the pre-hung. That would be OK if any of them had actually done the math, but they haven't. Instead, they've made a quick calculation of the headache factor and concluded that dealing with the salvaged door is too far outside their comfort zone.
What really worries them is being held accountable for actually remembering to salvage the door, and for storing and protecting it during construction, and for getting it to hang right in the new opening. The actual cost difference is negligible, but salvaging the door takes focus and attention to detail. (It also involves risk. Some remodelers may be unable to recall the last time anyone on their crew built a door frame from scratch, and may be unsure whether that skill is part of any of their employees' repertoire.)
A CYCLE OF INEFFICIENCY This same mindset affects our ability to delegate. Ask the same 10 remodelers about choosing to do something themselves or asking someone else to do it, and you'll likely discover that nine are absolutely certain that it's easier or cheaper or faster to do the task at hand themselves than to take the time to explain to someone else what needs to be done.
Again, nobody does the math. But it's fairly obvious that many of the tasks in question are routine and recur on every job, so failing to train someone else to do them perpetuates an inefficient system. It saddles us with work we shouldn't be doing —work that, in many cases, others can do better — and it does nothing to help our employees improve their skills or advance their careers.
Too often, the answer to the question “Why” is “Because we've always done it that way.” These days, the way we've always done it doesn't cut it.
Sal Alfano, Editorial Director