Boston, Nov. 20 -- As if the healthy attendance level at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo this week wasn’t enough to show that green building remains one of the few bright spots of the construction sector, participants also heard why 2008’s housing slump has a silver lining.

“The good news about the current housing market is that more and more builders are having to go back to basics, and they are taking the time to build better houses,” said green building consultant Jerry Yudelson in a panel presentation today. More than 26,000 building professionals converged in Boston for the annual U.S. Green Building Council-sponsored event.

Architect and green building expert Peter Pfeiffer, FAIA, principal of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects, challenged participants to think about constructing a better house from the ground up, starting with the design process. “Ninety percent of the opportunity to make a home green is in the first 10% of the design process,” he said. “If you can talk sense into your client at the beginning of the process, that has a tremendous impact on that building.”

In advocating this design-focused approach to sustainable home building, Pfeiffer touched on some of his favorite products, technologies, and tips:

  • Spec two HVAC zones to save money on heating and cooling.

  • Use overhangs to shade windows. Shading can outperform even low-E double-pane windows in terms of lowering cooling bills, he said. “Not having that solar heat gain is better than high-technology glass.”

  • Design homes and select products with water conservation in mind. Saving water costs one-third of what treating water does, Pfeiffer pointed out.

  • Builders in arid parts of the country should explore xeriscaping--landscaping without the use of supplemental irrigation--one of the most effective ways to conserve water, according to Pfeiffer. “Get serious about drought-tolerant landscaping.”

  • Urge clients to consider detached garages to preserve indoor air quality.

  • To determine solar variables, use a sun angle calculator. The Pilkington Sun Angle Calculator provides a simple method for locating the position of the sun relative to a particular latitude and time. “Get one and know how to use it,” the architect said.

  • Spec roofs that are white or light-colored. Pfeiffer added that he likes roofing products made of Galvalume. Galvalume is  a 55% aluminum-zinc coated sheet steel product that offers corrosion resistance and high heat reflectivity, the manufacturer claims.

  • Look into radiant barriers for roofs, such as LP Tech Shield, which can cut monthly energy bills by up to 17%. “It builds a shading umbrella over a home,” he said. “It might lower the temperature of the attic by 30 degrees.”

  • Employ broad overhangs to quickly shed water from the home, reducing the likelihood of dampness and mold growth.

  • Install flashing in an overlapping shingle style to keep rainwater from penetrating the building envelope.

  • Use spray-foam insulation such as Demilec Sealection 500. “It stops air flow and really is a smart vapor barrier.”

  • Choose a safe pest control system like the Termimesh system, an environmentally friendly termite barrier made of stainless steel mesh.

Pfeiffer urged attendees to emphasize the eco-friendly elements of their homes to customers, even though they may seem obvious. “It’s up to us as building professionals to point [these things] out.”