Green building - homes designed to reduce the overall impact of development on human health and the natural environment - was big news and highly fashionable a year ago. Since then, the national economy has changed, and the home market with it.

Depending on how much the builder is doing to reduce the house's impact on utilities, ground covering and healthful amenities, green building can cost the same as traditional housing or more - 10 to 20 percent more. Is anyone willing to spend that kind of money in this housing market, in this economy? The resounding answer is yes.

"I would say more so," said Aaron Adelstein, director of the Green Built Program of the Master Builders Association of Snohomish and King Counties. "The market is competing for people who are looking for the highest possible value for the money."

That value, Adelstein said, is in building green. "We are seeing less people buying as an investment," he said. Instead, they are looking for a place to call home, a place that will be environmentally friendly and maintain its value in the future. "They're picky."

BETTER SELLERS

That's not to say that things are rosy in the housing market; they're not. Green building is suffering from the housing downturn almost as much as the rest of the housing market, but not quite.

According to Ben Kaufman, broker of GreenWorks Realty, green-built homes - though only 21 percent of the homes built since 2007 - have taken an average of 52 days to sell, compared to 58 days for traditional homes. They also tend to cost 3 percent more, even though they tend to be smaller overall. According to Kaufman, the average price of traditional homes built since 2007 has been $191 per square foot, while the green built homes average $264 per square foot.

GreenWorks Realty, 7406 Greenwood Ave. N., is the first regional company to specialize in green and community-focused housing. Every agent works toward "green certification" designation (Built Green Professional, LEED AP, EcoBroker) within his or her first year.

In a study of 1,470 certified homes in Washington and Oregon counties built between 2005 and 2009 and sold between 2007 and April 2009, green-built homes sell 18 days faster in the Portland metro area in 2007-08 and 24 percent faster in the Seattle market, Kaufman said. Ninety-eight percent of the builders contributing to the study said third-party sustainable certification adds to the value of the product.

Five of the 15 top green factors important to buyers are energy-related. After energy comes building with non-toxic chemicals and improved indoor-air quality. The top five are reduced electricity use, use of materials that do not contain potentially hazardous chemicals, savings over time through reduced energy bills, water- and energy-efficient appliances and improved indoor-air quality.

"There was some concern in the green-built community about how it would weather the [economic] storm," Adelstein said. It turned out to be better than expected. Green builders are struggling, like everyone else, but they are finding the market a little better than traditionally built homes. "Green houses are performing better than non-certified homes."

NO NEW DEVELOPMENTS

Kaufman said that green-built homes range from "light green" to "dark green," which he said range from three to five stars.

"They don't have to be more expensive," he said. He said a three-star home would mostly use strategies that cost little more than a traditional home and do not have additional up-front costs for the builders.

"As you run up the ladder, a four-star house may be 2 to 7 percent more, and a five-star could mean a 10- to 20-percent increase in building costs."

Kaufman said green housing developments that began some time ago are continuing to completion, but the current economy has limited or stopped new developments. Now most of the work is single houses, such as in-fill in Seattle neighborhoods, and retrofitting traditional homes to become more green.Green building is a national trend, according to Kaufman: "But Seattle is still a leader in it," he said.