Going green in Guntown

One Guntown neighborhood is getting a little greener.
It’s not in terms of more trees or more John Deere tractors, but in the way of eco-friendly homes.
John Upthegrove, owner of Green Grove Builders, is responsible for the “greening” of Davis Place. He moved from Colorado to Guntown three years ago.
In Colorado, he built high-end clubhouses in Vail and Aspen. When he and his wife, Caroline, moved back to her hometown, they agreed that if they were going to build, they would do something that “was good for the planet.”
So, Upthegrove started Green Grove Builders and began construction on an energy-efficient home in Guntown. His wife, Caroline, became his real estate agent through Tupelo-based Bob Langner Realty. They’ve built three energy-efficient homes and sold one so far.
Green Grove Builders uses the phrase “energy-efficient” because the Upthegroves say many people here are unfamiliar with the term “green.” Same goes for “eco-friendly.”
But energy-efficient homes also are eco-friendly and green.
It’s a concept Shelley Schipke is working to promote in her role as executive director of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Northeast Mississippi.
“All builders use green materials and green methods of building,” she said. “They have since the beginning of time. They just never labeled it that way … A lot of builders are greener than they think.”
But she did say that in Northeast Mississippi, Upthegrove is at the forefront of the movement.
“He’s leading the charge and putting the pressure on the rest of them,” she said.
In addition to building eco-friendly homes, Upthegrove also conducts energy audits to advise homeowners how to make their homes more energy efficient.
Ken Barnett of Tupelo is one of the builders who is rebranding his company as eco-friendly. He’s been building homes for 15 years and he said most of them have had some energy-efficient elements.
But lately, he’s seeing the trend grow and has been offering more energy-efficient options for his clients. He’s currently building his third high-end energy efficient home in Acadian Village. And he said he has plans to rename his business to something that will reflect the environmental aspects, like Hybrid Homebuilders.
Nationally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 5,000 builders have built more 850,000 homes that qualify for its Energy Star program. The EPA introduced the program in 1992 as a voluntary, market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through increased energy efficiency.
Energy Star-qualified homes have to be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes.
The EPA says 12 percent of new housing starts nationally in 2007 were Energy Star-qualified.

Catching on slowly
In Northeast Mississippi, Schipke said the green movement is a little slower to catch on because builders misunderstand it and think that they will have to entirely revamp how they build. It’s not always the case, she said.
But, builders “have to pay attention because buyers want to be green and you have to be able to at least have an intelligent conversation about it,” Schipke said.
Tina O’Quinn, president of the Northeast Mississippi Board of Realtors, said she has noticed more buyers asking about energy-efficient homes. Most of the questions, she said, come from first-time homebuyers who are about 25 to 35 years old.
Home-improvement television shows have been a big boon for interest in eco-friendly and energy-efficient homes, added Barnett.
O’Quinn said Northeast Mississippi homebuyers want energy-efficient homes to help save money in addition to helping protect the environment.
“Everyone is looking for ways to budget what money they do have, especially with the economy we’re in,” O’Quinn said. “Everyone’s concerned about their bottom dollar.”
Upthegrove said one of his newly constructed homes in Guntown can cut utility costs up to 50 percent because of improvements such as Energy Star appliances and materials, insulated exterior and interior walls, specially situated overhangs and porches, and energy-efficient windows and doors.
“This is a normal house with basically a lot of upgrades compared to your normal run-of-the-mill construction,” he said. “Up front, they’re not paying any more than what the guy down the street is asking for his.”
O’Quinn, who is an agent with Coldwell Banker Tommy Morgan Realtors, said her clients commonly ask for past utility bills when they are looking at existing homes. She’s also had clients decline to buy a house if it isn’t energy efficient.
And with newly constructed homes, she said her clients want to “know all the particulars” about a home, including any energy-efficient upgrades such as windows, doors, appliances and insulation.
O’Quinn said she’s found the homebuyers she’s dealt with also are willing to pay more for energy-efficient products that will save them money.
But Upthegrove said the energy-efficient initiatives he adds don’t usually cost more for the homebuyer. Yet, they take longer to install and make his profit margin smaller.
However, there are initiatives, such as solar power, that do carry a steep upfront cost. He said the cost usually pays for itself over several years. He said he’s currently working with one woman to outfit her home with solar energy so she will be “almost 100 percent off the grid.”
Upthegrove sees a day in the next 10 years when energy-efficient homes will be more accepted in the area. The concept already is “much more prominent” in other areas, he said. Some of the issue, he thinks, is breaking down stereotypes associated with environmentally friendly people.
“You can be clean cut and wear a suit and still be eco-friendly,” he said with a grin.

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/Daily Journal