Local Builder Goes Green in a Big Way

Handcraft Homes, LLC is building one of the first homes in
Central Virginia under the USGBC’s LEED for Homes program

Goochland, Virginia
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Local builder Handcraft Homes, LLC (www.HandcraftHomes.net) is building one of the very first homes in the Greater Richmond area under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program (click here to see LEED project list). This program, first released in December of 2007, is arguably the most stringent certification program in the country for building a home under green guidelines. Handcraft Homes stands to be one of the first homes in Virginia to be certified under this program in the “single-family” category.

While there are many green certification programs continually popping up trying to ride the “green wave”, LEED for Homes remains the most rigorous and well developed program to date. The first LEED program was developed in 1998 and was geared toward commercial buildings. Since then more than 14,000 projects have been developed under LEED in all 50 states and in 30 countries.

When Handcraft Homes was founded in 2002 by brothers Wayne and Richard Grebe, a commitment to quality was foremost in their minds. This is reflected by the company’s slogan, quality, value, attention to detail. “This was the main reason we entered into the building business”, said Wayne Grebe, President and CEO of Handcraft Homes. “We looked around at the homes being built and said, ‘We can do better.’ And because Handcraft Homes has always been committed to quality, stepping into the green arena was a natural progression. Many aspects of green building are just common sense to a quality-minded builder.”

The home is being built in Powhatan for Greg and Allison Dunaway on a piece of family property (click here for a detailed project description). When asked why the Dunaways were interested in building a green home, Allison Dunaway answered, “It's important to me to set an example for our daughter, that we should all do our part to minimize our impact on the environment. I also wanted to have her grow up in a healthy house.” Greg Dunaway agreed and added, “I wanted to build a home with low life-cycle costs, especially when considering the unstable and rising costs of energy. It’s a win-win situation, good for my family's day-to-day budget and good for the environment.”

It’s not hard to see why Allison Dunaway was especially interested in building a green home. Mrs. Dunaway works as a Regional Enforcement Manager for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. She received her B.A. in Environmental Science from University of Virginia and master’s degree from Virginia Tech in Environmental Science & Engineering. “I wanted to practice what I preach, so to speak”, said Mrs. Dunaway.

When asked why they chose Handcraft Homes as their builder, Greg Dunaway answered, “Handcraft Homes was the first builder we spoke with that was genuinely interested in green building.” Allison Dunaway added, “We chose Rich and Wayne because they were genuinely excited about the project and its possibilities, as well as committed to staying within our budget.”

Greg Dunaway is a Master Electrician with 10 years of electrical experience. He took on the task of all the electrical work on their new home. This was a challenge for Mr. Dunaway because the home was designed and constructed using SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) for the walls and roofs. SIPs are essentially a foam core sandwiched between two sheets of OSB (oriented strand board, which is similar in use to plywood). SIPs have channels pre-bored through them, vertically and horizontally to provide chases for electrical wiring. “This was my first time working with SIPs”, said Greg Dunaway. “Since I was doing the work on nights and weekends, there was no time for a learning curve.” Greg Dunaway is the Director of Business Operations, PPD for Virginia Commonwealth University. He is also currently an MBA student at VCU and holds a B.S.B.A. from there as well.

A typical SIP will deliver an r-value of 13 to 14, as compared to a stick-built 2x4 wall insulated with fiberglass at an r-value of 9 to 10. That’s about a 40% increase in the energy retaining properties of a typical wall. This can translate to significant energy savings in heating and cooling. However, the benefits are probably even greater because SIPs virtually eliminate the main enemy of energy efficiency, and that’s drafts.

Laroche Construction performed all of the framing on the Dunaway’s house. When asked what he thinks about SIPs after his first experience with them, Mike Laroche said, “All in all they were relatively easy to work with. With few exceptions everything went together like it should.” Laroche went on to say, referring to the process of gluing and caulking SIPs together during their assembly”, “One thing though, it’s difficult not to get that caulking all over everything!”

When asked how Handcraft Homes differs from other builders he’s worked with, Laroche said, “Handcraft Homes is a very detail oriented builder. They demand quality work from all their subs, and as a result deliver a quality home to all their customers. They don’t just cut their subs loose on a house. They are with us every step of the way.”

The house was designed by Watershed Architects of Richmond, Virginia of which Patrick Farley is the principal. Structural Insulated Panels figure prominently in many of their designs. When asked what are the greatest obstacles to green building becoming more fully utilized he said, “…demand for housing driven by awareness of the full spectrum of benefits, affordable alternatives to conventional applications (along with real understanding of first-cost versus life-cycle cost), and availability of professionals with the know-how and education.”

As founding principal of Watershed Architects, Mr. Farley has advocated ecologically-sound design for over 20 years. He earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Virginia and was the first LEED accredited architect in central Virginia. He was also a founder & Vice Chairman of the James River Green Building Council (JRGBC).

Handcraft Homes is certainly doing their part to try and remove at least some of those obstacles. Wayne and Richard Grebe both have completed training with Earth Craft House of Virginia, a local company providing green education, training and certifications. A member of the U.S. and James River Green Building Councils, Handcraft Homes is continually reassessing their methods and materials.

When asked why he thinks green building is important, Richard Grebe, the V.P. and Operations Manager of Handcraft Homes, said, “I believe green building practices are essential to the betterment of the standards of health, of individuals and the environment, not to mention the long-term financial benefits of homeowners. I would like to someday say, ‘I helped thousands of builders and home buyers build a home with a better planet stewardship in mind.”

Many point to the difficulties involved in affording or constructing a green home. On that issue Richard Grebe went on to say, “The most problematic aspect of green building is having sub-contractor familiarity with products, and the product’s best form of assembly and integration within the context of the architect’s design. We have very competent and quality-oriented subs, and getting each person on the team completely dedicated to the proper installation of building components is an educational and cooperative process. For this reason, good communication is paramount in green building.”

On that same point Greg Dunaway had to say this, “By far, the most challenging aspect in building a green home was staying within our budget. However, I think we have shown that you can build healthy and green and not have an astronomical budget. We tried to incorporate systems that will allow us to further improve the efficiency of our home in the future, as budget and pricing permits. The roof system is set up to allow for ‘vegetated roofing’ and the electrical is set up to allow for photovoltaic or wind generation once prices and technology become feasible.”

Wayne Grebe had this to say about the challenges of building green, “While green building may require a bit more effort and usually costs a bit more to the homeowner, the advantages and benefits far outweigh any difficulty. We face a much broader and bigger challenge in our global environment. But that environment is not a thing, it is us. We need to stop looking at our world as being separate from us. You cannot describe a human being without referring to the context in which it lives. We all need to start living like the planet is our own body, which it fact it is.”

The Dunaways have graciously agreed to open their home to the public for viewing and questions on Saturday and Sunday, June 27 and 28, from 10 am to 4 pm.

Wayne Grebe
Handcraft Homes, LLC
(804) 405-7609
(804) 556-3336 (fax)