Robert Lord Builders, St. Charles, Ill.
Type of business: custom builder
Years in business: 7
Employees: 4
2006 volume: $5 million
2006 starts: 8

CH_07_07JulyAug1_107_CH-1In green building, as in most things, going first takes guts. Robert Lord has guts. Driven by a vision of a more energy-efficient future for custom building—and for his company—Lord put his money where his mouth is, building an 11,000-square-foot spec house that is as green as he could make it. And not in the straw-bale precincts of Northern California, mind you, but in straight-laced suburban central Illinois.

Lord made his reputation with houses built to a “110 percent” standard. But, he says, “We decided to keep evolving.” And for his “ultimate green home,” he pulled out all the stops. “The whole house is closed-cell foam insulated,” says Lord, who estimates a significant savings in energy consumption from that move alone. The housewrap is a new reflective-coated Tyvek that further reduces heat transfer. A geothermal heat pump handles heating and cooling. Lord specified a forced-air system, “because of the filtering capabilities, up to—if they want it—surgical level.” Computerized lighting controls reduce electrical loads. “The only thing we're missing on this house is the solar,” Lord says, due to neighborhood covenants that prohibit solar panels.

Lord preserved mature trees on the site by using geothermal wells instead of less-expensive trenches. An aerobic digester and raised sand filter reduce the impact of the septic system. Rather than send six 30-yard dumpsters full of waste to the local landfill, “We got a company to recycle 75 percent of our material.” Every step met with the inertia of an industry set in its ways. “I've known about closed-cell for about 10 years,” Lord says. But to find a contractor to spray this house, “I had to go to Wisconsin.” To get the geothermal system he wanted, he sent his well-drilling subcontractor for specialized training and certification. After searching high and low, he found an outfit that would mill the trees he had to remove, 100-year-old hickories and white oaks, for trim and furniture.

Already an Energy Star partner, Lord says his next step will be LEED certification. From now on, in his custom homes as well as his spec projects, “green will be the show.” The timing is perfect, Lord says. “The market went soft last year; that's going to make builders change. The good thing is, now we're in save-the-world mode.”