Supertight building envelopes, smart siting and strong insulation are hallmarks of Robert Soens’ houses. He founded Pinnacle Custom Builders in 1996 in Decatur, Georgia, to promote his green ethos. We talked with Soens, who is part of our Trade Program, about how he stays mindful of the environment and his clients’ bottom line.
What does green building mean to you? It is about using materials and methods that are respectful to the environment, creating a structure that is durable for the long term and that promotes the comfort and health of those who live there.
How has green building worked out for you? I’ve always had a love for the environment and want to build a more sustainable city. Being involved in green building helped carry me through years that were rough on other building professionals. It was a good decision because it fits my core values, but it was also a good business decision.
Is it expensive to go green? Even on a really tight budget, basic things can make a big difference, like making sure the insulation is done well — caulking and sealing the building envelope so a minimal amount of air moves through the walls. And properly installing and engineering heating systems to work as efficiently as possible. A lot of things don’t actually cost more; it’s just a matter of telling your subcontractors what to get.
Any favorite exterior products? Humidity is a major component here in the Southeast, so you have to pick materials that work well with water — like cement-board products and rain screens with UV-protected underlayments. For the modern look that’s popular here, we’re trying a Japanese-inspired product where they bake cedar and cypress so that the resins inside the wood crystallize and seal it to weather and insects.
What about interior materials? We’re doing more tung-oil finishes on hardwood floors. For insulation, I’ve been using a fiberglass spider insulation; it has a better R-value, which measures the level of heat resistance in insulation, and can help with air sealing. And low-VOC paints and adhesives, which release less chemicals into the air.
What is the benefit to your clients? Green buildings bring the cost of utilities down. It’s an immediate payback for my clients, and they have a healthier, more comfortable home. It’s a win every way you look at it.