Sustainable building practices, such as those used during the construction of the 2009 New American Home (TNAH), can cut heating and cooling costs drastically, or in this case, completely. The TNAH house is a zero-energy structure.
Kris Oesterling/Blue Heron Sustainable building practices, such as those used during the construction of the 2009 New American Home (TNAH), can cut heating and cooling costs drastically, or in this case, completely. The TNAH house is a zero-energy structure.

Looking for a way to grow your business? Sustainable construction may become the next profitable niche. According to Marty Bhatia, founder of OM Homes, Chicago, concrete contractors who can combine expertise with green building awareness are the most valuable partners.

If a building fails to perform efficiently, it isn't likely to be rated as green under LEED or any other rating system. “Owners and designers are much more likely to hire a subcontractor who can help avoid this potential pitfall,” says Bhatia. He offers the following advice on becoming a valuable player in this expanding market.

Know how your work affects the overall project

Because green building is an undefined field, contractors must know everything that encompasses their area of responsibility. “You will become infinitely more valuable if you read the building plans and understand how your work will impact other trades—and how they will affect you,” says Bhatia.

Contractors should sit at the design table and recommend products to help the building perform at its best. A contractor should know what can help or hurt a building's overall energy performance. Concrete contractors should know about the thermal mass of concrete. How will a particular product or building method affect energy efficiency?

Stormwater management is increasingly important in green projects. Concrete contractors should know how different types of concrete, specifically pervious, can be installed as permeable pavement.

Be mindful of your materials

Even on standard projects, a green-savvy contractor can make a difference. “Pay close attention to the makeup of materials you choose,” says Bhatia. The goal is to eliminate as many toxins as possible from the materials used on the job without degrading quality or the building's operation.

Contractors should know the materials' origins (choosing local whenever possible), the amount of recycled content, and how jobsite waste can be reused or recycled. “We often will award work to a contractor with a higher bid who is willing to palletize old material or reuse it onsite, because his efforts save us the cost of dumpsters and disposal hauling,” says Bhatia.

He urges contractors to document how they choose their materials. Beware of manufacturers' claims that a product will make you a green contractor. His advice: “Require documented proof of performance before you commit to using it, and let your GC or owner know about your efforts.”

Remain open to new relationships

Working on green projects may mean a contractor can't always stick with his tried-and-true partners. It can be difficult to find proactive suppliers who want to educate themselves about green building. “You might have to find new suppliers or partners willing to make the extra effort,” says Bhatia. Explain the value of preventive maintenance.

When developing sustainable projects, owners know that accurate life cycle analysis is key to bidding. Bhatia urges contractors to contribute to the process—and the project's sustainability—by providing valuable information on how to maintain the work. “Your effort establishes you as the go-to person for maintenance, and promotes the service aspect of your business,” he explains.

Know your market's greenness

Not every project will pay a premium for green products and building techniques. On many standard condo development projects, owners will seldom pay extra for recycled materials. However, by offering a greener material that doesn't lower quality or aesthetics, a concrete contractor establishes his company as an innovator. “Developers may still find value in your services as their businesses become greener,” says Bhatia. “When they move on to projects with clients who value high-end, environmentally friendly products, you have already prequalified your position.”

For more resources on building greener, contact Marty Bhatia at 312-850-9911 or marty@omhomesonline.com.