Scott Flynn is the owner of Flynner Homes, a Boise company that builds custom, energy-efficient homes in the Treasure Valley. Flynner Building Company certifies all of its homes under the National Green Building Standard, an industry research group. Flynn builds five to 10 houses per year with a staff of three.
Flynn lives in the first certified green home his company built, and he said it’s about 30 percent more efficient than code. Nowadays, he said, the standard green house is somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent more efficient than a house built only to code.
Idaho Business Review spent some time talking to Flynn about the economy and the costs and benefits of green residential construction. His comments are edited for space and clarity.
How did you get into the niche of green building?
I have a degree in chemical engineering, so I understand energy within structures. I coupled that with the fact, at the time, that my industry was not known as being very credible. There was a lot of junk being built between 2006 and 2008, and I wanted to restore that credibility.
I started my company in 2004. Before that, I had been hands-on in construction since about 1991. I got a degree in chemical engineering in 2001 and spent three or four years in the professional field as an engineer, but I always had my hand in some sort of construction project. My passion is architecture and construction. Fortunately I was able to get in for about a year and a half and experience some good times before it turned. Back in 2004, when I was just getting started, I was building between 10 and 15 houses per year at the most.
What happened to your company when the economy went downhill?
I kept working. The three banks I was working with all had the same story; about 95 percent of the builders were wiped out in that downturn.
I had been designing the houses when I was building spec homes. Not now. They’re too custom and I don’t have the time, so I work with architects and designers and engineers.
We keep the same subcontractor base. … We’re not a low-bid builder. For each house, we don’t go shopping for a new framer or sider or finish carpenter. They’re pretty loyal to us, and we also work with them.
If the economy becomes healthier, will you start building on spec again?
Yes. But it would be different than what we were doing between 2004 and 2008. I would do more things in the North End. Because of the location and the type of houses we build – high-performance, energy-efficient and healthy – that’s where we are finding most of our clientele. I would put a house on the market that would have these high-performance standards, knowing that the buyers in this area are more likely to buy that type of house.
Why build a certified green house? Aren’t they more expensive?
Building high-performance and healthy costs so little for such tremendous benefits that you would be silly to go build anything different.
We choose energy-efficient houses because it because it protects the health of our client’s family, community and wallet, and the environment. Some people do it because it’s an environmental thing, or just to save money, or they have kids with asthma, and they want better indoor air quality.
Do people save money on green construction?
For my clients in the waterfront district, power and gas was $774 for the whole year on a 2,300-square-foot house, about 60 percent more efficient than a house that’s built to code. And that cost them about 1 percent of the entire contract price. We use a performance test called a HERS score, Home Energy Rating (System) score, the highest standard of home performance on the market. It’s the only one recognized by the EPA, and with this performance testing, we know how our houses perform relative to if that house was built to code.
We offer a product that is very energy-efficient, and also with healthy indoor air quality.
Do people come to you specifically asking for a green home?
There are some who come to us specifically for that, but most still just want these aspects built into their beautiful house. They still see a house as craftsmanship, with the floor plans, the eye candy amenities, but they also want to know it’s going to be healthy and energy-efficient. Energy efficiency equates to a higher comfort level also. There’s less thermal gradients – no drafting – and that’s become more and more important to people also.
What’s happening next year?
As the economy continues to deteriorate, I think that this type of message is going to resonate more and more, because it has a lot to do with self-sufficiency also, and I think people want to become more and more self-sufficient.
You think the market’s deteriorating?
The stock market high is an illusion. You can’t have the federal government printing trillions and trillions of dollars and not think there’s going to be significant consequences.
The prices of materials are going to be much higher. Housing prices in general are going to go up, because you’re going to start to see more and more inflation. Our suppliers told me to assume that this is the new bottom – these highest prices are the new lows. That’s a quote right from my lumber rep.
How does a green house make you more self-sufficient?
You need less to perform the same daily functions. If you grow your own food, you need less from the store. If you were 100 percent sustainable, you wouldn’t need Idaho Power.
The top-shelf house, a net zero energy home, generates as much energy through solar as it consumes, leaving the client with zero energy bills. I’ve built two, one in Boise and one in Nampa, and we just started another one in Boise.
How much more does it cost to build a net zero home? Does it pay off in terms of energy costs?
It costs 70 percent more, so it doesn’t pencil. There is no ROI yet.
Then why do people do it?
We like to say that energy-efficient homes, they have an ROI down to a point. There’s a level of energy efficiency that we can make it pencil, but if you want to become more efficient than that, you have to change your value system. It cannot be based on money. It also has to be based on almost zero environmental impact, self-sufficiency and tremendous comfort.