Harder Custom Builders specializes in building green homes that cater
to the demand for luxury and amenities in the custom market.
Robin and Kyle Harder enjoy the enclosed front courtyard of the Albuquerque home they built to exacting green standards.
An arched alcove with contrasting color accents the dining area. Low- and no-VOC paints and finishes were used throughout the tightly insulated home, which blends inconspicuously into its upscale neighborhood.
The interior courtyard leads to the front door, where warm natural clay walls and an oversized niche for art create a warm welcome.
This article first appeared in Spring 2008 Su Casa
Custom home builders Kyle and Robin Harder have the very best reasons for building green. They have two young children who eventually will be asking tough questions concerning the environmental legacy their parents have left behind.
While the Harder family has been recycling aluminum cans, plastic milk jugs, and cardboard since the kids were toddlers, the parents wanted to demonstrate environmental stewardship beyond the built-in recycling bins in the kitchen pantry of their own home.
“We take it seriously,” says Robin of the path Harder Custom Builders has helped blaze in Albuquerque’s green custom home market.
Custom is the operative word here, and therein lies the challenge. Most custom home buyers like amenities—lots of them, beginning with size. And oftentimes, clients aren’t especially enamored of houses that look out of place in conventional neighborhoods. They may be receptive to the concept of green but draw the line at visible solar panels on the rooftop or gray water gardens in the backyard.
As custom builders, the Harders struggle with each new home to find the middle ground between philosophical ideals and making a living. “A mental wrestling match” is what Robin calls it. Clients, of course, are the ultimate decision makers, logically weighing budgets against the payback times of photovoltaic systems, low-E windows, or blown-in foam insulation.
“Seven years seems to be the critical payback time,” Robin says.
Kyle, who as a teenager got his start in a family-owned construction business, has operated his own custom-building company since 1980. He took the bull by the horns with the construction of a spec home in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights that incorporates many of his favorite “green” things. The 3,000-square-foot California Mission home, widely viewed in the Homes of Enchantment Parade last year, has a range of both new and time-proven building techniques and technology, from Icynene foam insulated ceilings to the mechanical ventilation system that brings fresh air into this exceptionally tight home. The three-bedroom residence, which wraps around an interior courtyard, is awaiting certification for meeting the highest Gold standards of the Build Green New Mexico program developed by the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico.
“I know this house will save the buyer money, and I know it’s comfortable and quiet,” says a confident Kyle, who has been building ever-greener homes for the past decade. “I want people to come in to see how it performs and yet looks at home in this conventional neighborhood.”
The single-story home, with views of both the Sandia Mountains and the city lights, was designed by Cabber & Hepker.
Kyle and Robin are quick to point out that the key to any well-built green home is careful attention to the construction details, which makes it energy efficient and minimizes waste.
“We’re not exactly reinventing the wheel here,” says Kyle. “Eighty percent of this home is built the way we’ve been doing things for the past 10 years.”
Standard features with Harder Custom Builders include an engineered, high-efficiency HVAC, duct work that runs through conditioned spaces, 2 x 6 construction with cellulose (and recycled) wet spray insulation of R-22 in the exterior walls, Tyvek house wrap over wood sheathing as a water and air barrier, a 75-gallon water heater with a recirculating loop on a timer, and a rainwater catchment system. Keeping step with advancing green-building technology, newer features include Weather Shield low-E vinyl windows and wood doors with upgraded Zo-e-shield glass. Icynene expanding foam insulation equates to R-38 and insulates the ceiling.
Still, it’s the little things that can make a big difference. “Tighter, tighter,” is this builder’s mantra.
“We’ve already stopped the big leaks,” Robin says. “Now, it’s about stopping that last little bit of air from escaping. Fine-tuning is a time-consuming thing.”
Recessed light cans with florescent bulbs are made airtight. Foam sealant is installed at perimeter openings, doors, and windows. Double-domed skylights receive an extra plastic barrier. During the framing phase, pocket corners and headers are positioned flush to the exterior to eliminate cold spots. Energy Star fixtures are installed. Thermal barriers go up behind the tubs and fireplaces. Low-flow toilets conserve water. And finally, per the certification requirements of the Build Green New Mexico program, the home is independently tested for air leaks.
So where in this green home are the rooftop photovoltaic panels, the solar hot water heater, and the nifty backward running meter that measures electricity sold back to the utility company? Nowhere.
“Every customer has to decide where to spend those dollars,” says Kyle, the realist and the businessman, particularly when it comes to a spec house. And number one, value for value in his estimation, is insulation. It’s also a key ingredient that is exceptionally difficult to add after the fact.
“We look at reasonable payback,” explains Robin. “We look at it as if they were our dollars. We’re not going to spend a client’s money any differently than we’d spend our own.”
Sales appeal, of course, goes beyond energy-efficient construction and feel-good mechanical systems. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a spec house has the added challenge of appealing to the masses who may be more swayed by the custom kitchen cabinets than the recycled microlam beams. For many buyers, the green elements are simply the frosting on the cake. As the Harders see it, part of their mission is education, and one goal is to convince potential home buyers that an exceptionally tight home that meets stringent green home-building standards outlined by Build Green New Mexico can be affordable and visually acceptable in a conventional urban neighborhood.
“We’ve found that green homes work best when the homeowner is informed,” Kyle says. “We show new homeowners how to care for, operate, and maintain their homes. We help them connect to community resources like recycling facilities and public transportation.”
This green home was indelibly influenced by the long narrow infill lot on which it is sited. Passive solar gain, protective overhangs, and a runoff system that captures rainwater were among the first design elements.
“Homes should work with the land, not against it,” Kyle says.
The home is designed around an interior courtyard, a feature that serves as a secure and private entryway while providing abundant natural lighting to the great room and bedrooms. An outdoor fireplace turns the courtyard into an outdoor living area facing east. A backyard covered patio looks to the west.
With its open floor plan and spacious rooms, the three-bedroom Harder home adheres to most guidelines for universal design. The house has no steps or raised thresholds. Hallways are wide, doors sport levered handles, and light switches and outlets are conveniently positioned. The bathroom walls are reinforced to allow the installation of grab bars. Even the master suite closet has turnaround room for a wheelchair.
The amenities are a given—the broad granite-topped kitchen island, walk-in pantry, three-car garage, porcelain tile floors, custom alder cabinetry, concrete-surround fireplace, striking beams, built-in recycling bins, and closets loaded with storage.
The Harders are just as passionate, however, about the things that typical visitors don’t necessarily notice—the operable windows, the plaster and paints with a low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) content, and the mechanical ventilation system to ensure indoor air quality.
There’s little reason, according to Robin and Kyle, that a highly efficient green home can’t be as affordable and easily maintained as the conventionally built home next door, even as the energy savings mount year after year.
“I don’t push everyone to go green,” Kyle concedes. “The best way to do that was to build the model. It’s easier to show people this is what we can do.”
And without qualms, he can pass along his enthusiasm for his chosen profession to his children.
Freelance writer Jane Mahoney resides in a fixer-upper in Albuquerque’s South Valley and frequently writes about home builders and real estate issues for the Albuquerque Journal.
Unless otherwise noted, businesses below are in Albuquerque, the area code is 505, and the prefix for websites is www.
Builder: Kyle and Robin Harder, Harder Custom Builders, 828-0456, firstname.lastname@example.org, build harder.com. Designer: Cabber & Hepker, 323-1848. Interior designer: Sandy Schargel Interiors, 823-2339, schargelinteriors.com. Appliances: KitchenAid refrigerator, dishwasher, and double ovens, kitchenaid.com; Dacor gas cooktop, dacor.com; and Sharp microwave, sharpusa.com, from Page’s Appliances, 888-3355, pagesapplian ces.com. Artwork: LIVING ROOM (above fireplace) La-Z-Boy Furniture, 883-1800, lazyboy.com. DINING AREA Albuquerque Lighting, 345-2727, albuquerquelighting.com. Cabinetry: Horizon Custom Cabinets, 265-1285. Ceiling: beams, Lumber Inc., 823-2700, lumberinc.com; stained by Otero Painting, 252-6101; crown molding, Wood Moulding Specialties, 897-2997, woodmoulding specialities.com. Closet system: MASTER BEDROOM Not Just Closets, 281-9435, njclosets.com. Concrete: Hopkins Concrete, 489-3255. Countertops: granite, Thunderbird Tile & Stone. Doors: interior doors, Pacific Mutual Door & Window, 823-2505, pamudo.com; front door, Santa Fe Door Store, 345-3160, santafedoor.com. Electrical: Bill’s Electric, 480-6444. Exterior stone & fireplace surround: Builders Materials, 247-4294, builders materials.com. Fireplaces: Western Building Supply, 823-2500, westernbuildingsupply.com. Flooring: tile floors, Architectural Surfaces, 889-0124, asitileand stone.com; carpet, Ray’s Flooring, 217-1102, raysflooring.com. Framing: Signature Custom Framing, 550-0848. Furnishings: COURTYARD American Home, 883-2211, americanhome.com. LIVING ROOM furniture, accessories, and side lamps, La-Z-Boy Furniture, 883-1800, lazyboy.com. DINING AREA table and side chairs, Cort Furniture Rentals, 345-3411, cort.com; end chairs owned by builder. Garage doors: Doorstar at Home, 797-3667, amarr.com. Hardware: KITCHEN Van Dyke’s Restorers, Woonsocket, SD, 800/558-1234, vandykes.com. BATHS & UTILITY ROOM Lowe’s, 797-4666, lowes.com. Heating & cooling: No Limit Heating and Air Conditioning, 344-4540. Independent certification: Building Energy
Solutions, Placitas, NM, 269-2969, buildingenergy solutions.com. Insulation: Miller’s Insulation & Fireproofing, 924-2214, millersinsulation.com. Ironwork: fabricator, High Desert Iron Works, 271-2311; powder-coated finish, Southwest Powder Coating, 345-4842. Landscaping: The Hilltop Landscape Architects & Contractors, 898-9690, hilltoplandscap ing.com. Lighting: Albuquerque Lighting, 345-2727, albuquerquelighting.com. Lumber: Lumber Inc., 823-2700, lumberinc.com. Paint: ICI Paints, 883-7339, icipaints.com; installed by Otero Painting, 252-6101. Plaster: Variance Acrylic Finishes, 823-6404, variancefinishes.com; installed by Daniel Perez, 319-4312. Plumbing: Sunshine Plumbing & Heating, 296-3188, sunshineplumb.com. Plumbing fixtures & hardware: Doc Savage Supply, 884-2656, docsavagesupply.com. Pottery: COURTYARD Jackalope, 349-0955, jackalope.com. Roofing: Accurate Roofing, 507-1344. Roof trusses: Stock Building Supply, 823-2200, stockbuildingsupply. com. Security & sound system: All American Security Systems, 858-3182. Sheetrock & drywall: Amestoy Dri-Wall, 822-0044. Shower door: MASTER BATH Wholesale Mirror & Glass, 345-6246, wholesalemirrorandglass.com. Spa tub: Sodeco Modern Water Systems, 883-5061, sodeco water.com. Stucco: Sto stucco; Chaparral Materials, 843-6677, chaparralmaterials.com; installed by CM Lath & Plaster, 836-1450. Tile: bathroom and kitchen backsplash, Arizona Tile, 883-6076, arizona tile. com; installed by Swan Tile, 934-4378. Vacuum system: Albuquerque Sound & Vac, 883-6136, albuquerquesoundandvac.com. Water catchment: ABC Seamless, 268-6433, abcseamless-nm.com. Windows: Weather Shield Visions 3000 low-E windows with Zo-e-shield, weathershield.com; supplied by Western Building Supply, 823-2500,