Solar Champion Stories

Emerald Builders Create Net-Zero Homes for One and All

Emerald Builders is a green building construction company specializing in energy efficient and net-zero homes and remodels. This May, ReVision Energy and Emerald Builders are presenting " Getting Near to Net-Zero " to inform the public about net-zero homes and renewable energy. Recently, we spoke with Reggie Lebel, President, and John Deans, Marketing Director, about their company and mission.

Similar to ReVision Energy, Emerald Builders is a triple bottom-line company, focusing on people and the planet as well as profit. "We really want to maximize the benefit to the people we build for and the communities we're involved with and the planet we live on." Reggie, who grew up in the building trade, experienced the industry's shortcomings firsthand. "I saw way too much waste in energy and materials, so decided to start my own company based on the idea that we could build high quality homes with better materials, and power them with solar energy."

He started Emerald Builders in 2006. The green building movement hadn't taken off yet and it was an uphill battle to prove the value of higher quality materials. "When we started we were working really hard to convince people to just choose better insulation materials and focus on air sealing."

"We were up against so much skepticism in terms of what people thought was possible," John adds, "They thought if it was a green building it couldn't be beautiful [or] as high quality. We just sort of ignored all that and said we're going to do it anyway."

Their persistence has paid off immensely. Green building and net-zero are now wildly popular topics among architects and builders, and the general population has become more familiar with the idea as well. Retrofitting older homes to be close to net-zero is a huge aspect of Emerald Builders' business. Their Bowdoinham office is an old rural post office which they're in the middle of retrofitting to be almost completely net-zero. Starting with an energy audit, Emerald Builders creates a comprehensive "deep energy retrofit" plan to increase the house's overall efficiency using the cornerstones of net-zero building: air tightness, insulation values, heating/cooling systems, and solar energy. According to John, the ability to retrofit "sort of shatters that misconception that green buildings can't be everything that buildings of the past were."

Photo courtesy Dave Mention of Dave Mention Photography .

John and Reggie are all about shattering misconceptions. Besides introducing consumers to high quality materials, they are also revolutionizing the way people think about green design. Commonly thought of as only for the ultra-modern architectural type, net-zero is actually achievable in any style of home, and Emerald Builders has worked on practically all of them: cape, colonial, federal, even a ranch. Reggie explains, "A lot of people think you might not be able to get a net-zero home with the design that you want. It doesn't have to be an ultra-modern house to be net-zero. A lot of it has to do with how the home is put together, and to make sure that the design elements are incorporated from the very beginning, but from there we can do any kind of trim detail and roof pitch and just about any type of design that a customer would want."

Reggie adds that the financial savings are a huge factor in people considering net-zero. "We've got tons of historical data now to prove that these houses can only cost people a few hundred dollars per year to heat. That is no longer a rumor; there's cold hard facts in every one of these houses that the energy efficiency is worth it. People aren't paying much money to heat and cool their houses."

Which brings us to another common misconception - the price tag of green building. Reggie says that a lot of people feel that net-zero is unattainable in price, but he praises Habitat for Humanity for combating this idea. Habitat for Humanity builds net-zero (and oftentimes net energy-producing) homes for low-income communities, creating very low electric bills for families who need that money for food and clothing. "Habitat for Humanity has been...a great example of the fact that this is not just for an elite person. This is a system that's here for everybody and it's being proven that it's here for everybody."

Emerald Builders Home Winter

Photo courtesy Emerald Builders.

But it's not only about heating bills - people have become much more environmentally conscious in the past decade. John thinks that people are feeling the impacts of climate change firsthand and looking for solutions. "One of the things we're seeing from climate change is...more unpredictable weather patterns - more natural disasters, more blackouts and brownouts. The homes that we're building, coupled with solar and evolving battery technology, are going to be so much more impervious. Our communities will have greater stability with these we're hoping to be on the leading edge of that effort."

They've been on the leading edge since day one, but Reggie is quick to credit the consumer, and points to the number of green architects and contractors as the industry's success stories. "Before, there was a handful of people just trying to get something going, anything going, any measure of goodness in a building. And now...there are so many people in our industry who are dedicated to this and everyone's staying busy, including ReVision! We've watched ReVision through the years grow from a somewhat smaller company to quite a large company. That shows us that people care."

Photo courtesy Naomi Beal of NCOB Photo:

Emerald Builders Net Zero Home With Solar