• Being Smart About Solar

    Before going solar…. consider these points

    Schools

    So…. you’re thinking of going solar. Congratulations! It’s a big step, and a worthy one.

    By embracing solar power, you help reduce the load on our local energy grid, which cuts down on air polluting emissions and helps us avoid or delay the need to build another power plant. You also offset—perhaps even eliminate—your electricity bill. In short, going solar is good for the planet, good for the community and good for you.

    Your local public electric and gas utility, CPS Energy, has approved an additional $30 million of the community’s dollars for solar rebates. Additionally, Federal government will be offering a 30% Investment Tax Credit until 2020. Being educated so you can choose the best solar option for you means that we can utilize the rebates so that more people can access solar and its myriad benefits. CPS Energy has just implemented some important measures to help protect the safety of customers in the market for solar. However, like any major investment, it’s a important to be well informed about what your options are and what you are purchasing.

    In the spirit of good stewardship, Build San Antonio Green has assembled the following considerations to help you become well-informed about solar. If you want to learn more about how solar technology works, visit the “Solar 101” section of our website, buildsagreen.org.

    1. What size system is right for me?

    Deciding what size system depends on what you would like to accomplish. If you are really into solar and want to do your part to help reduce demand for the community, you may want to have the most solar you can get. If you are looking to reduce your utility bill to save some money, then that is likely not your best option.

    For most people, an ideal solar array would produce just enough power to wipe out their electricity bill on an annual basis. Doing so can still benefit the community by not using valuable power from the grid (and delaying or avoiding the need to build more power plants), and by helping you personally to save money. Look at your electricity bill – how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) did you consume last year? That is the maximum amount of electricity your system should produce to be most efficient.

    When you consume your own solar power to zero out your bill, your local utility pays you approximately $0.098/kWh.* But when you produce excess power and sell it back to the utility, the rate drops to $0.0169/kWh. The most efficient scenario is to buy a solar array that produces just enough power to eliminate your electricity bill.

    In short, bigger is not necessarily better. Keep in mind that a bigger system always entails more upfront costs. So optimize the system size based on your goals, consumption, and budget.

    If your goal is to save some money, then it’s also a good idea to investigate getting an energy audit for your home. You can find a local energy rater who will help you determine how energy efficient your home is. The more efficient your home before you add solar, the smaller system you will need to zero out your bill. It may be more cost effective to take some measures to make your home more efficient and then add a smaller system, decreasing your upfront costs. CPS Energy even offers various rebates for energy efficiency upgrades. Check out www.cpsenergy.com to see if you qualify.

    Residential

    1.  How do I know if I have the ideal conditions for solar?

    Most smart phones have an integrated compass. Use yours to find the orientation of your rooftop. You can compare what you find with your installer and even ask your installer what the difference in production would be if you had a south-facing roof. East-west facing systems produce 12-15% less energy than south facing ones. If your installer provides a production estimate and return on investment calculation, make sure the estimate for the system is modeled according to your roof orientation and not the ideal south facing ones.

    1. Six hours of sun per day, every day is the industry standard for maximum Return on Investment (ROI.)

    Is your roof so situated that it receives six hours of sun per day, every day, every season? The peak solar window is 10am to 4pm every day all year. Does your roof have six hours of uninterrupted sun?

    If not, your production will be lower and the payback longer. Also, make sure to be aware of any shading issues your roofs might have, whether it is shading from any surrounding trees, or shading from a chimney. A quick look at satellite imagery of your home would be a good place to start. Installers have equipment that is capable of assessing shading patterns at any proposed roof site. Work with your installer so you do not place panels on any shaded areas. It would be a disservice to have a large system, but have half of it covered in shade. And it would mean that you will not meet your maximum production and ROI.

    LearnSolar

     

    1. Are high efficient (HE) panels better?

    It may seem logical to have the most highly efficient (HE) solar panels. But again, this depends on your goals. The HE panels cost more.Compare the cost increase to the production increase. Are the panels worth the extra cost? If your goal is to produce as much energy as possible and cost is not a factor, then the HE panels could be right for you. But if you are considering the upfront costs and long term ROI, then they may not offer the best long-term investment.

    As a side note, keep in mind that if you are going after the CPS rebate, all equipment chosen must be new and listed on the California Energy Commission list of approved modules and inverters, which can be found on the CPS Energy website. When you buy a new car with a V8, you can pop the hood to see the engine. How do you pop the hood on a solar project? Ask for the bill of material and check the serial numbers. Make sure you receive the equipment you were promised.

    1. How do I know if I’m getting the best price for my system?

    The solar industry, like many others, has some less-than-reputable businesses. In order to make an informed decision about which installer is right for you, do some research. Rather than going with the first installer you call or find, get several quotes from a few installers. CPS Energy keeps a list of approved installers which you can find on their website. Make sure the installers you are considering are listed.

    1. Get details on the warranties, including one for your roof.

    Installing a solar system will require that holes be drilled in your roof. It’s a good idea to ask your installer if they will guarantee that your roof, built to last 20 – 30 years, won’t be harmed or leak as a result of the installation.

    If you are planning on accessing the CPS Energy Rebate, CPS Energy has certain requirements for warranties. They require that all installed PV systems carry a five-year warranty from the installer. Solar modules must carry a 20-year warranty from the manufacturer, and inverters (the piece of necessary gear in any solar system that converts direct current from the sun to useable alternating current that can be absorbed into the grid and your home) must carry at least a five-year manufacturer’s warranty without battery back-up.

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    Know your guarantees and warranties before signing any contracts, and factor them into the ROI of your system.

    The decision to go solar is exciting, and worthy, but it’s also a big financial decision. Being well-informed about your options and working with your installer to make the right choices for your situation and goals is the best way to get the most from your investment. We know you are super excited to get that solar system, but make sure you manage your expectations. Ask your installer about their process and an estimate of when your system should be online.

    *All prices estimates as of March 1, 2016.

    Contributors to this article include: Monika Maeckle, Jacob Eyer, and Kate Rodriguez 

    Solar Links

    Interested in Learning about Solar Options and Getting 3 Free Quotes? Visit our program site: BringSolarHome.com

    About How Solar Works

    CPS Energy Solar Info

    CPS Energy Rebate Info 

  • Builders Energy Rater

    San Antonio & Austin

    P: 210-657-4237

    F: 210-490-3603

    8135 Bracken Creek

    San Antonio, TX 78266

    info@buildersenergyrater.com

    www.buildersenergyrater.com

  • Going Green Easy Summer Projects

    Welcome to the BSAG Influencers Blog Series! This is a new series of articles from friends and colleagues from our community discussing topics relating to sustainability and green building in San Antonio. We hope that this series will help provide some perspective and insight into what’s happening on the Green Front right here at home. The articles are meant as conversational in nature and therefore do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of Build San Antonio Green or it’s staff.
    With that said, Please enjoy this very informative article by one of our good friends at Green Home Realty, Drew McCurdy!
    It’s that time of year again! It’s starting to heat up, the kids are out of school, and you are spending more time in and around your home. If you are a current homeowner or are considering purchasing a home soon, you know how important it is to implement GREEN options. But with all the demands on the budget, you likely are asking how you can afford to be GREEN, where to start investing to realize value, and how to get started. Relax! As a Realtor with GREEN Home Realty who is certified GREEN by the National Association of Realtors, I get these questions frequently from my clients and would like to share how you can easily be more GREEN.   When looking at where to start first, there are a few main areas to consider: saving electricity, conserving water, and reducing waste. One of the largest energy consumers is your central air conditioner and heater. If you are purchasing a new home, make sure you pay attention to the SEER Rating, which stands for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. According to Energy.gov, this rating essentially provides the relative amount of energy required to provide a specified amount of cooling for your home. Additionally, for newer homes built after January 26, 2006, this rating must be at minimum 13 or higher. If you are in a home with a system rated lower than 13, it may not be cost-effective to replace the system just yet unless it’s failing. In either case, it’s what controls your air conditioner that can play a huge role…your thermostat!
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    Originally, many thermostats were manual. If you left it on, you may have cooled (or heated) too much. If you left it too low, then it would require more energy to get your home to a reasonable temperature. Then came programmable thermostats, which offered slightly better control.
    The challenge with programmable thermostats is that if they don’t have a flexible schedule adjustment, you could still be limited by one programmed schedule and still be wasting energy. Today, there are many more options including self-adjusting/learning thermostats. These thermostats learn your behavior and adjust accordingly. Many can be connected securely to your network for additional control away from home and through your mobile device. Consider a popular model like the Nest Thermostat. This thermostat retails for $249 and can be easily picked up locally at your Home Depot or Lowe’s. Scared of wiring? Don’t fret! Installation couldn’t be easier…even for a novice. Having personally installed myself, instructions are step-by-step. For most installations, it takes less than 15 minutes! There is even an online interactive guide to help you confirm compatibility with your system and walk you through the install process. Customer support is fantastic, should you need it. Using your thermostat is as easy as using your iPhone or Android phone. Not to mention, it looks beautiful in any home and will pay for itself in months!  
    RainBarrel
    Another big challenge in Texas is living with the heat and seemingly constant water restrictions! During the spring and summer months specifically, it can be increasingly difficult to maintain a beautiful landscape – even with drought resistant plants – when homeowners are restricted to specific days and times to water. Like most people, those schedules don’t always fit so something has to give and it usually is your landscape. Approach this differently to get your desired results. Consider a rain barrel to capture the rainfall off your roof.   As explained by epa.gov, a rain barrel is a type of system that will collect and store excess water as a reserve that would otherwise be lost as runoff. Based off epa.gov’s calculations, in as little as one rainfall you could easily fill an average-sized rain barrel of 55 gallons. This could provide enough water during the peak watering months April – October and as much as 1300 gallons of water, depending upon rainfall! Who wouldn’t want free, unrestricted water?
      Rain barrels vary in size, setup, color, and function. Basic setups, which are fine for most, start as little as $39 and sometimes less. More extravagant systems can be expanded on as budget allows. This provides flexibility to expand your savings as your landscape develops over time. I have personally purchased a few rain barrels locally from Dave The Barrel Man in San Antonio. At $69, I was able to get a 55-gallong barrel with built-in water spigot and removable screened lid – important to ensure insects cannot get to water. Service was fast and friendly and picking them up was easier than going to the grocery store. They are lightweight and I had them setup in minutes upon arriving home. And for those of you wondering if you can water from them directly…yes! Gravity allows water to flow through the spigot. Connect a simple water hose and your neighbors will be jealous as your landscape beautifies your home…not to mention you can wash your car without restriction!   Did you know that according to epa.gov for every 1/8 of an inch gap under a 36-inch door lets in as much air as a 2.4-inch hole in a wall? Now imagine those gaps and cracks around your home.
    Maybe your front door, back door, or garage door has been overlooked for a while? Perhaps around your windows or fireplace you have some gaps you’ve ignored? You don’t think about it, but those add up! Under $20, there are several options available including silicon caulk that comes in a variety of colors that will seal, flex with temperature changes, and complement your home. Door sweeps can be easily installed to begin providing enhanced sealing between your outside doors and the floor. Spray foam can insulate large crevices indoors and out. And light switch and socket plate insulators may be beneficial. All can be found at local hardware stores.
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    Thought about going solar but not ready to go all out yet? Start with something simple! For about $200, you can purchase solar attic fans to replace those squeaky turbines that are probably rusted, broken, and only spin when there is actually consistent wind. Solar attic fans provide cool air circulation in your attic using the sunlight. Imagine that, use what causes your attic to heat up to actually cool it down, save energy, and for free after your initial installation. There are many places to purchase the fans including Costco, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. There are several varieties to choose from to suit your taste. To know how many you need, you can check out a suite of calculators online that allow you to plug in your attic square footage, such as the calculator at solar-attic-fan-info.com. You can install yourself if you are comfortable making a small hole in your roof or, for a nominal fee, a licensed installer can do it for you if you’d rather not get on a ladder.
    AttackFan
    Once installed, you will notice a dramatic difference in the temperature of your attic as hot air is being expelled consistently. This in turn reduces the strain on your A/C and thus your bill as it keeps the cooled air cooler as it travels through the ducts into your home. This one potentially can have a multiple times savings impact! Add an attic tent for more!
      Several other projects exist at varying levels that include rebates which you can take advantage of by visiting cpsenergysavers.com. Currently, A/C, attic insulation, solar, and natural gas rebates exist to name a few. Visit saws.org/conservation to view a variety of indoor/outdoor rebates that exist for more projects at varying levels. Outdoor rebates currently include patioscape, landscape, irrigation design, and swimming pool filters. Indoor rebates currently include free water-efficient fixtures. It’s definitely worth checking out these rebates, especially if you are planning to do some of these projects anyways and are on a budget.   More and more, buyers are looking to purchase energy efficient homes and sellers are looking to implement GREEN enhancements for greater resale value. It’s a known fact in the real estate industry that homes with GREEN technology sell faster and closer to the list price. It’s a win-win for everyone! So if you’re looking to start some summer projects and didn’t quite know where to start, consider this information and make a list to prioritize what would be most beneficial for your specific needs and budget. Start enjoying your improvements and saving while you’re in your home and having it more marketable should you ever decide to sell or rent your home in the future. And if your looking for a home, know that these projects can be factored into an offer to make your home more efficient and enjoyable once you move in. Being GREEN doesn’t have to be about spending money, it’s about educating yourself to understand the many options you have in reducing waste and conserving. And while you’re enjoying your “green savings,” let everyone else be “green with envy.”

    Drew
     Drew McCurdy, REALTOR, GREEN, CNE of Green Home Realty, LLC

    www.greenhomerealtysa.com

    If you are interested in participating in the blog series please contact Jacob Eyer the Event & Outreach Coordinator at Jeyer@buildsagreen.org
  • District-Scale Sustainability

    Welcome to the BSAG Influencers Blog Series! This is a new series of articles from friends and colleagues from our community discussing topics relating to sustainability and green building in San Antonio. We hope that this series will help provide some perspective and insight into what’s happening on the Green Front right here at home. The articles are meant as conversational in nature and therefore do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of Build San Antonio Green or it’s staff.
    With that said, Please enjoy our very first article in this series by Heather Holdridge!

    I have worked with energy and sustainability issues for building projects for the past eight years and have been intrigued by the interconnection between these individual buildings and other elements of the built environment (neighboring buildings, utilities, people, transportation, etc.).  The highest potential for energy and water savings occurs at this interconnection, yet building professionals typically do not get the opportunity to work on projects beyond the individual building scale.  When Architecture 2030 launched “2030 Districts” a few years ago, I took notice, as it seemed like a great model for San Antonio to apply in a unique way.

    Over the past few months, a group of local architects, activists, and properties owners have formed a San Antonio 2030 District Exploratory Committee.  San Antonio will be the first 2030 District to have a boundary that is linear; The boundary will follow the San Antonio River through downtown, stretching from Brackenridge Park in the north to Roosevelt Avenue in the south, and will cover most of downtown between I-10 and I-35.  Within these borders are many of the large downtown offices and hotels, the development at Pearl, UTSA’s downtown campus, and over 5 million square feet of city-owned properties. The San Antonio 2030 District will also be the first 2030 District to incorporate land use goals into its targets, and the first to allow residential properties to participate.

    The first 2030 District was formed in Seattle in 2011, when a group of architects was inspired by tapping into the incredible potential to decrease energy consumption of existing buildings.  133 buildings totally 28 million square feet have joined, which accounts for 37% of the square footage within the district boundary.  So far, the Seattle 2030 District has reduced its energy consumption by 21%, its water usage by 7%, and its transportation carbon emissions by 22%.

    A 2030 District is a defined area in a city where member building owners are committed to the goal of reducing consumption of energy, water, and transportation emissions by 50% by year 2030.  2030 District members are encouraged to share their utility bills as well as proven strategies for improved building performance.  As building owners begin to see improvement in their energy performance and a decrease in their utility bills, more buildings in the District will be encouraged to join.

    SA-2030-District-map

    The motivation behind sharing utility data is that people tend to have a fatalistic view of paying bills.  That is, many of us receive a bill and pay it without giving much thought to the numbers.  Once District members share consumption data, individual buildings can compare their own energy use against similar buildings in the immediate area and many will implement strategies to realize potential savings.  At the same time, buildings that use less energy can disclose their best practices.  Without this ability to compare, buildings might consume 2 or 3 times more than similar, nearby buildings and never know about the potential savings.

    This district-scale approach to sustainability requires collaboration, leveraged financing, and shared resources through unique public/private partnerships.  Property owners and managers can come together with local governments, businesses, and community stakeholders to create a business model for urban sustainability.  Together, they can develop and implement creative strategies, best practices, and verification methods for measuring progress towards a common performance goal.

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    Thirteen building owners and property managers (Alamo Architects, Alternivest, AREA Real Estate, Cleary Zimmermann Engineers, MWM and Associates, OCO Architects, Overland Partners, USAA Real Estate Company and Peloton Commercial Real Estate for One Riverwalk Place, San Antonio Housing Authority, San Antonio River Authority, Zurich International Properties, Lake|Flato Architects, and The Brooklynite) have signed on so far, and San Antonio could become the sixth official 2030 District in the nation once we formalize an agreement for 501c3 partnership. 

    For the San Antonio 2030 District, property owners/managers will not be required to achieve the goals of the District by legislative mandates, or as individuals.  Rather, adopters will achieve the San Antonio 2030 District goals as a collective group of property owners, property managers, and developers because full participation in the District brings collaboration, shared resources, and financing options that will make high-performance buildings the most profitable building type in San Antonio.  There are no fees for San Antonio 2030 District membership at this time.

    Adopters support the goals of the San Antonio 2030 District, which are to meet the following performance goals on a district-wide scale:

    Existing buildings and infrastructure operations:

    • Energy use: A minimum 10% reduction below the national average by 2015, with incremental targets, reaching a 50% reduction by 2030
    • Water use: A minimum 10% reduction below the national average by 2015, with incremental targets, reaching a 50% reduction by 2030
    • CO2­e of auto and freight: A minimum 10% reduction below the current District average by 2015 with incremental targets, reaching a 50% reduction by 2030
    • Land Use: A minimum of 10% retrofits to include low-impact development best management practices by 2015, with an incremental target of reaching 50% of retrofits by 2030

    New buildings, major renovations, and new infrastructure:

    • Energy use: An immediate 60% reduction below the national average, with incremental targets, reaching carbon neutral by 2030
    • Water use: An immediate 50% reduction below the current national average
    • CO2e of auto and freight: An immediate 50% reduction below the current District average
    • Land use: A minimum of 10% of plats to include low-impact development best management practices by 2015, with an incremental target of reaching 50% of plats by 2030

    The San Antonio 2030 District also supports sustainable land use and management practices and low impact development to protect water and air quality throughout the District boundary.

     

    Adopter Benefits:

    The San Antonio 2030 District is in the process of developing tools which will be available to property owners, property managers, or developers who become adopters:

    • Operational cost savings: The primary direct benefit of making progress toward the District goals
    • ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager: Assistance with account setup and initial upload of utility data, and ongoing Portfolio Manager training as required
    • Initial benchmarking: Confidential analysis on building performance data in relation to District goals as well as similar building types within the District and nationwide
    • Preliminary assessment: Breakdown of cost and resulting savings of efficiency strategies to meet District goals
    • Access to and guidance for financing opportunities: Information on utility incentives, tax incentives, available financing options (such as ESCo, PACE, performance contracting, etc. as well as traditional mechanisms), and connection to professional partners in the energy retrofit finance sector
    • Founding adopters: The first ten adopters in the San Antonio 2030 District will be highlighted as founding adopters on the San Antonio 2030 District website and may use this designation for marketing purposes
    • Forum discussions: Informal and formal gatherings will be organized to provide adopters the opportunity to share information and best practices

     

    Adopter Contributions:

    In exchange for adopter benefits, adopters are asked to participate in the development of the District in the following ways:

    • Sharing of performance data: Confidential sharing of building energy use, water use, and transportation management plan data with the SA2030D Advisory Committee.  Aggregate data about the District will be made publicly available but no individual building will be identified.
    • Participation in Portfolio Manager: Use of ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to track monthly energy use for each building
    • Lessons learned and case studies: Share insights in best practices, lessons learned, and case studies with the SA2030D Advisory Committee to help raise the level of performance across the District
    • Support for the San Antonio 2030 District Board of Directors (optional): Participation in District decision-making, evaluation of District membership criteria for property owners and stakeholders, mentorship for small/sole proprietor property owner and managers

     

    If you own or manage a property in or near the San Antonio 2030 District, please contact our group so we can talk about signing up for the initiative.  This is a landmark opportunity for San Antonio to take the national stage for its leadership in sustainability, as our approach will demonstrate the city’s unique culture of collaboration.

    HHoldridgeHeather Gayle Holdridge, LEED AP BD+C, EIT, Associate AIA is the Sustainability Manager at Lake|Flato Architects, a San Antonio-based design firm focused on timeless sustainable architecture that is rooted to its place.  You can follow the firm’s blog at www.lakeflatodogrun.com.  Heather is also a member of Build San Antonio Green’s Technical Advisory Group. 

    If you are interested in participating in the blog series please contact Jacob Eyer the Event & Outreach Coordinator at Jeyer@buildsagreen.org
  • AIA 2030 District Launch Party

    January 9th saw the kickoff party for San Antonio’s AIA 2030 District, and BSAG was there!  More than 100 attendees mingled at the AIA’s new Center for Architecture on S. Flores.

    San Antonio has joined the short list of US Cities that have a 2030 District.  In a 2030 District, property owners and managers in the district agreeing to participate track the energy and water use in their buildings and share the data with the 2030 Committee as well as other members  to develop strategies and best practices to reduce energy and water consumption.  The San Antonio District extends from Brackenridge Park and follows the San Antonio River south to Roosevelt Avenue, with I10 and I35 serving as the western and eastern borders.

    SA-2030-District-map

    The Rivard Report featured a great piece from Lake|Flatos’ Heather Holdridge earlier in the week, explaining the concept and implementation of the District

    Heading into the Kickoff Party last night, four properties had already agreed to participate:Lake|Flato ArchitectsZurich International Properties (Build San Antonio Green’s landlord!),The Brooklynite, and the San Antonio River Authority.  David Adelman, founder and principal ofArea Real Estate, became the fifth owner to make the commitment last night.  As a result, the District now has the minimum number of committed participants to be considered official.

    While the major focus of the 2030 District is on commercial projects, which represent a significant opportunity for energy and water use reduction, there is also a sizable portion of San Antonio’s district that includes residential buildings as well.  The 2030 Exploratory Committee is looking at the other Districts around the country to determine what the residential component of the District will look like, especially in terms of data collection and sharing.

    We are excited about the great opportunities presented with the 2030 District, and are glad to play a role in San Antonio’s efforts.  While our specfic role remains to be defined (it is a very new program!) we will be involved as the project moves forward and will be sure to keep you updated with exciting developments.

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  • We Won… AGAIN!

    At last, we can share the news!  We knew for a while, but were unable to say anything until now!

    The 2014 NAHBGreen Awards were presented in Las Vegas last night.  Build San Antonio Green received the Advocate of the Year honor for the second year in a row!

    Even more exciting was the sizeable San Antonio at the awards again  – featured in almost every category last night.

    Imagine Homes received the award for “Project of the Year – Single Family” for , setting a personal record for six years in a row. CVF Homes with an Honorable Mention for “Project of the Year” for their Level 3 Solar Home in Lavaca.

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    Anita Ledbetter accepts the award for Advocate of the Year

    CVF Homes

    CVF Homes Level 3 Solar Home, Honorable Mention for Project of the Year

    Awards

    Just part of the San Antonio delegation. L-R: Juan Fernandez, CVF Homes; Anita Ledbetter, BSAG; John Friesenhahn, Imagine Homes; JR Martinez, the evening’s MC; Jim Bastoni, Imagine Homes

    Cibolo Canyons, San Antonio’s premier green development, in which all homes are certified green by BSAG, received an Honorable Mention for Green Land Development category, and the Cevallos Lofts earned an Honorable Mention for the NRP Group in the Multifamily category.

    Of course, BSAG is extremely proud to receive Advocate of the Year for the second year in a row.  It’s quite an honor to be recognized by NAHBGreen for our advocacy and outreach – but we’re even more excited that so many projects built and certified to our standards  earn the  recognition of the whole homebuilding industry.  With competition from across the United States, it speaks volumes about the efficacy of our program and the work of our builders that they have been recognized at such a high level.    San Antonio is rapidly accelerating toward becoming one of the greenest, most sustainable cities in the country, and it’s exciting that Build San Antonio Green and our participating builders are right in the the heart of the movement.