Green Building Group Has Big Plans for Southern Oregon

Fred Gant was standing in the buffet line at the Jackson County Expo, grinning from ear to ear. It was a few minutes before an expert on eco-friendly building was going to address a dinner meeting of the Jackson, Josephine and Umpqua Valley Home Builders Associations.

“This is the best day of my life,” said Gant, who wasn’t talking about the salad and lasagna he was heaping on his plate.

Earlier that day, Gant had finished the paperwork with Shady Cove developer Mike Malepsy, who is building Southern Oregon’s first all-green subdivision, a 45-house project on Rogue River Drive. The same afternoon, Gant learned that Medford builder Eric Artner is planning a 153-home, all-green village in Talent. The same day, he met Mark Wickman of Vision Homes, who has done more green building than any other builder in the region.

“It’s really happening,” said Gant, referring to the quickening pace of green-friendly development in Southern Oregon.

Gant is the new point person in Southern Oregon for Earth Advantage, a non-profit group out of Portland that is making waves in the green-building industry. Nearly 15 percent of the new homes being built in the Portland and Bend markets are green homes certified by Earth Advantage, and the group is now turning its attention to Southern Oregon.

“Within four years, we would like to be 10 to 12 percent of the building market in Southern Oregon,” says Sean Penrith, executive director of Earth Advantage in Portland. “As the programs mature, we think we could be at 15 percent.”

Earth Advantage was started in 2000 by Portland General Electric as a program to implement energy conservation measures. Over time the program evolved and broadened, encompassing not just energy conservation, but establishing green building standards and acting as a clearinghouse of information for builders interested in green construction.
In May 2005, Earth Advantage spun out of PGE and became a full-fledged, stand-alone organization. The group consults with builders and developers who want to go green, and acts as a third-party verifier for green-built homes, which allows builders and homeowners to receive tax credits and other incentives for eco-friendly projects.

Gant is the group’s first full-time employee in Southern Oregon. He currently works out of his house, but the group has big plans. Within a few years they expect to have a staff of consultants, verifiers and others on the ground in the Rogue Valley, says Gant, a former custom homebuilder who specialized in solar retro-fits.

Three upcoming developments give the group confidence that green-built homes will continue to gain traction.

The Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service is planning to add a green check-off box to its forms this year, which will allow buyers and Realtors to easily identify houses with green features. The Portland and Bend multiple listing services added the green feature earlier this year and “it really accelerated the market curve” for green homes, Penrith says.

Earth Advantage also expects to launch two new programs this year, a climate-friendly mortgage package and climate-friendly home-owners insurance, which will give people solid financial reasons to build green.

Penrith says research shows that people who seek green homes, and the green-built houses themselves, are better insurance risks. The group is compiling sales data, turnover rates, performance statistics and other information gleaned from the 6,000 Earth Advantage homes built in Oregon to convince mortgage companies to offer preferential rates for green-built homes.

“It’s a massive undertaking, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but we’re sitting on a gold mine of data,” Penrith says. “Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be able to offer preferential mortgages and insurance to everyone who moves into an Earth Advantage home,” he says.

Neither Penrith nor Gant seem discouraged by the slow-down in home sales.
“I feel there is reason for hope,” Gant says. “It could even be a springboard that the market is down, if builders and developers see they can raise their profile and differentiate themselves.”

“I’m a strong believer that when the markets are down, it provides opportunity,” Penrith says. “We are seeing a massive wave of interest.”

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