By Julie Bonnin

Era Ford met EcoBroker Stephanie Edwards-Musa at a class on green building offered at Rice University in Houston.

Now the two of them are on a home tour in the Heights, a historic neighborhood near downtown, and just a few steps inside the door Ford is all but pumping her fist in the air, exultant over the clean, compact design and all the green details.

“Yesss!” she says, upon learning that the utility closet is located near the kitchen, with heating and air conditioning vented directly to the outside, rather than through attic air ducts.

“There is as much as a 34 percent heat gain if the air conditioning has to go through the attic and take on the heat load,” says builder Matt Ford (no relation to Era), who accompanies Ford, her husband Jay, and Edwards-Musa on the town home tour.

Homebuilders are seeing that green building is the wave of the future, especially as new construction sales stall and they look for ways to appeal to buyers. Realtors, too, are seeking specialized training and certification to differentiate themselves in a new, greener world.

Edwards-Musa attended a series of classes offered by the Colorado-based EcoBroker International, but there are other certification programs for real estate agents across the country.

Certified EcoAgents, for instance, have had at least 36 hours of classroom and hands-on training in outdoor and indoor green-related real estate course work. Green Real Estate Education in Florida is another certification program.

“ ‘Green’ is different to everybody,” says Edwards-Musa. About half of her clients are driven by their desire to lessen their impact on the environment, while the other half are most interested in saving money through energy efficiency and/or living in a home with enhanced indoor air quality.

While Edwards-Musa is quick to point out that the added cost of many energy-savings design techniques and products is recouped in utility bill savings, her broad range of buyers can find options in just about every price category, she says. Those who can only afford a few features are opting for tightly insulated homes with Energy Star appliances, while others won’t settle for less than state-of-the–art technology with products supplied by as many local vendors as possible.

She welcomes buyers in both categories , she says. “Even if they can’t afford sexy solar panels, they are still doing what they can for the environment.”