If there are bright spots amidst the recent gloomy energy forecasts the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and McGraw-Hill Construction may have found it.

Their recent joint release "Residential Green Building SmartMarket Report" reveals an encouraging increase in the movement toward green building - an increase that indicates that, even by conservative estimates, green building will reach its "tipping point" next year. The numbers are impressive; there was a 20 percent increase in the number of home builders producing green, environmentally responsible homes in 2005 and that number should grow by another 30 percent this year.

The study is the second that NAHB and McGraw-Hill have conducted; the first was primarily concerned with commercial construction, but this one focused on residential building. A representative sample of the 75,000 plus builders composing today's homebuilding industry. Harvey M. Bernstein, Vice President, Industry Analytics & Alliances, McGraw-Hill said that the most notable finding was "the faster rates (at which) home builders are adopting green practices compared to their counterparts in commercial construction."

Describing the results as "groundbreaking" Bernstein said that they confirm the findings of a previous study that green building is moving mainstream - that it is a growing trend.

In 2005, 31 percent of builders reported that they were more than moderately involved with green building and some 90% of the home building community reported participation in green building activities (although these were not defined in the summary report.) Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. construction market (commercial and residential) is green which translates to about a $7.2 billion market share. The study projects that by 2010, between 5 and 10 percent of new constructions starts (residential and commercial) will be green projects. This will translate to between $19 and $38 billion for the residential construction marketplace. This figure does not include green retrofitting through residential remodeling - an area that presents huge marketing opportunities for builders and product manufacturers.

The study found that there were several things motivating builders to adopt green building products and techniques; the desire to "do the right thing" which was cited by 92 percent of respondents, and lowering lifecycle costs which was named by 87 percent. Builders named increasing energy costs, consumer demand, and the better performance of green products as triggers that were propelling the movement. On the other hand, builders felt that there were obstacles to increased residential green building including the perception that initial costs were high and, therefore, consumers were not necessarily ready to make the investment and the lack of consumer education about green building.

Builders indicated that, in their view, energy efficient techniques topped the list of important green methods (82 percent.) Indoor air quality was cited by 66 percent of respondents as an important practice and water conversation ranked third at 66 percent.

Ninety five percent of builders reported that they use environmentally preferable building materials; the most frequently used product is oriented strand board in place of plywood, mentioned by 80 percent of respondents.

Ninety percent percent of builders surveyed reported that they are working with open space preservation techniques, most typically utilizing techniques to minimize the disruption of existing vegetation.

Nearly all survey respondents are implementing some form of energy efficient technology in building homes. The predominant product at present is Low-Emissivity windows, used by 82 percent of the builders.

The study authors issued a list of recommendations to builders to increase their successful penetration into the emerging green marketplace. Builders are advised to become familiar with the use of green building practices over the next two years. As it is expected that homebuyers are going to increasingly demand green homes, builders should be able to speak intelligently to them about the advantages of building green, not just from a cost standpoint but also by stressing increased performance and health benefits. At the same time, builders who are invested in green building should work with real estate agents, appraisers and mortgage lenders to further promote green homes and with policy makers to establish common-sense ways to build sustainable communities.

It is also suggested that builders seek out and participate in the formation of voluntary green programs to make them workable and successful.

The report also suggests that manufacturers who are entering the market and thus competing against established brands quickly establish the credibility of their products as green and market them accordingly.