CA Profile: Meet FGBC Certifying Agent Maria Hernandez

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 Maria Hernandez is President/CEO of HHDCgreen, a minority woman-owned general contracting firm based in Weston, FL and FGBC member. They specialize in all aspects of residential and commercial construction. From concept to final inspection. As a FGBC Certifying Agent she has the certification and experience to guide owners, architects, developers, and contractors in all aspects of Green Building.

How did you personally become an advocate for green building and FGBC?

My long journey to become a Green Building professional, FBGC Certifying Agent and FGBC Designated Professional started back in 2005 with a WAKEUP CALL for action:  A Natural disaster of great magnitude shifted the focus of my profession as Interior Designer and prepared me for the next chapter of my personal life and professional career. The great devastation left behind in New Orleans by the Category-5 Hurricane Katrina, brought me to my knees and I felt powerless in a moment of need. The shocking impact drove me to prepare and adapt myself for the future, to ensure that I could answer the call to help and contribute in some way to transform the built environment. It was this motivation in which I made three very important and career altering decisions:

1) Become a Disaster Inspector to be there and help the people in need while at the same time see firsthand the impact of Natural Disasters to understand the failure of the construction to withstand the impact.

2) Become a General Contractor to be able to build and to implement better techniques and practices for more resilient construction.

3) Find better building solutions to avoid catastrophe in the wake of a natural disaster.

By 2008, I accomplished all my initial goals. I found the answer for better building solutions when I got certified in Green Building and understood all its benefits.

 My moment of awakening was in 2012, when I was deployed to NJ in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I can’t express with words my personal experience when witnessing all the destruction left behind, but as a professional in the construction industry, that was the moment I realized, we must build stronger, beyond building codes, taking the people and nature into the equation in order to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events.

Since then, I have become an advocate and professional in Green Building. I believe that is the only way to build a sustainable future.  Green Building is the answer to so many problems we are facing today, from offering better solutions to mitigate extreme Natural events, lowering Carbon emissions to fight Climate Change, preserve and protect our Natural resources to create healthier environments in the era of COVID and to empower our Economy.

 I am optimistic for the future of the built environment in Florida, knowing that we have FGBC Green building standards, to ensure we are addressing Florida’s risks and vulnerabilities.

How did you adjust to meet the challenges of the COVID-19? 

The most challenging moment was during the lockdown order. We had to hold and postpone our construction projects. Timelines shifted, labor safety was critical, materials and supplies were in shortage – it was a difficult time to process all of the shifting landscape and required adaptation. Thanks to technology, we adjusted and balanced our work by emphasizing virtual consulting. While adapting our practices to work in a more Sustainable way working remotely, we were able to expand our reach from local impact to a more global clientele reducing our carbon footprint.

Once we were able to go back to the field, we followed the safety guidelines and protocols. Today, we continue facing challenges and consequences of COVID-19 with the supply chain, delays, price increase and shortage of labor just to name a few. There are too many challenges happening at the same time, but the most important thing is to continue re-inventing and re-adjusting ourselves and not allow fear to take control. At the end these challenges will convert into great opportunities.

From a certifying agent’s view, why should a client consider building green?

It’s a great question – and when taking into consideration all the social, economic and environmental benefits that Green homes offer, building green should be the default standard as the benefits far outweigh standard construction. It is time we usher in the future of construction to meet the challenges and demands of our modern world, anything short of building green is substandard and inferior construction.

The Social benefit is priceless when we understand the impact of green homes on people’s health, safety, comfort, and productivity. Green homes offer better indoor air quality improving occupants’ health. Now more than ever, this is a paramount in our build environment. Safer and resilient implementations beyond building codes offer protection to natural disasters, a solution that must be taken into consideration to lower or eliminate the risk we are facing with climate change.

From the economical point of view, green homes reduce operating, maintenance, insurance, health and risk costs. All while also adding more value to the property. Costs go down, value goes up, that analysis alone makes this transition easy to see the value.

The environmental benefit of building Green is, for me, the most important one. If we destroy our planet, we don’t have a future. The very future of humanity depends on balance with the environment. One of the biggest problems we are facing today is a Climate Crisis and its cascading impact, produced largely by greenhouse emissions. We have an urgent need to preserve the future and as stewards of this planet for future generations it is our responsibility to build Green and to retrofit all existing homes and buildings into highly efficient or zero energy buildings. These actions will serve to reduce the amount of CO2 emission released into the atmosphere. Building Green also protects our natural resources, reduces pollution and improves the quality of air and water. Building Green is a promise of a future to generations to come.

In your work what are major green features or requirements that make a project qualify to be “Florida Green”?

For a project to be “Florida Green” several requirements must comply with energy efficiency, water conservation, Lot Choice, Site, Health, Material, Disaster Mitigation and General categories. I know it sounds like a lot at first, but they all are woven together in a holistic strategy and implementation. To me though, when you consider all the vulnerabilities that are present in the State of Florida, the most significant requirement is Disaster Mitigation.

FGBC emphasis on Florida is specific to climate, it’s hazard vulnerability and risk like hurricanes, floods, se- level rise, king tide, storm surge, fire, drought, lighting and yes, even termites. Implementing green features that mitigate these hazards are very important to support and protect people’s health, resilience, and long-term value of housing in Florida.

What does the FGBC rating process involve?

The FGBC certification process includes two parts:

  • The first one is the registration of the project with FGBC. At this point a project Evaluator is assigned to the project to clarify questions, evaluate and review the project’s final application for compliance with the standard. As a Designated Professional and Certifying Agent I will serve as point of contact with FGBC and all members of the project team. With collaboration from the project designing team, I’ll analyze and determine which credits will be achieved in each category. During the construction process a detailed communication plan is presented to the contractor to collect, review and organize all the submittals and documents that support each claimed credit.
  • The second part of the process is the Final Application. Once the project is completed, I submit the completed bespoke checklist with all the supporting documents to FGBC for review and final certification of the project.

What financial benefits does energy efficiency provide?

The implementation of energy efficiency strategies in a green project is an investment that will pay off by savings in utility bills, but also by improving occupant’s comfort, enhancing indoor air quality and ensuring safety and resiliency. In doing so, provides mitigation for potential health costs that the occupant may have otherwise incurred. It is important to understand the benefits are both in real-time with utility savings but also long-term with mitigation benefits. The differential cost of building an energy efficient home vs a standard home will offer an immediate return on the investment, thanks to the utility bill and maintenance expense reduction associated with the improvement. This will be translated from day one into a “Cash flow positive investment.”

A home certified by FGBC standard, will add property resale value because it will ensure that the home has been designed, built, tested and inspected to perform at a high standard, functioning more efficiently than homes built to older codes. As consequence, we will see an increase market demand in energy efficient and green projects.

Embracing energy efficiency will reduce the negative impact on the environment while driving our efforts to reach the carbon-neutral, clean energy economy.

Since everyone has their own definition of green, what, in your opinion, is the correct definition of green?

From my own point of view, Green Building is the perfect balance of the three pillars of Sustainability: Social, Economic, and Environmental. I refer to these pillars as the Three P’s People, Planet, and Profit. By implementing practices and strategies based on building sciences we build healthy, resilient, vibrant communities with economic development, job creation, profitability and a sustainable environment that reduces pollution, protects our biodiversity, natural resources and offers improved water and air quality for our generation and generations to come. Green is the future.

What role do you see for the green buildings industry in facing challenges with respect to local economy and natural resources?

Green buildings play a very important role in lowering carbon emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change in our communities. Specifically in the State of Florida, where I live, we will see the most immediate impact by implementation. According to a climate study, Florida is expected to face $76 billion in climate change damage, mostly from sea level rise in 2040. We already have seen the economic impact of climate change throughout the rise of water in Florida, affecting structures, agriculture, crops, ecosystems and electrical power – and costing lives. To reduce or eliminate this risk, Florida’s existing buildings must be retrofitted to lower energy consumption and new construction must have to follow Green Building criteria to guarantee a sustainable future to Floridians.

What are the most effective ways to enhance awareness of the value in green construction?

The most effective way is through communication and workshop education at the community level. Talk to your friends and family. Engaging with the communities will drive social transformation, promote advocacy to influence key stakeholders like the government and funding powers.

When we start convincing the hearts and minds at a local level, we will see building departments and governments rise to answer the call and help further communicate and promote the value and urgent need of transforming to green construction. But make no mistake, it starts with us. With you, with me, with our loved ones having conversations and sparking dialogue.

Why is it important for builders, contractors, and owners to have a choice when certifying green?

Every project is unique with its own goals, needs, budget and requirements.  Offering different options for green certification to builders, contractors, and owners allows one to determine which building rating system is applicable to the project and which certification level is possible to achieve. Wide range of building ratings and certifications systems ensure more projects are sustainable, reducing the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment.

What have been some of you other most challenging or interesting FGBC projects?

Candidly, every project is interesting and challenging in its own way, and yet each has the great potential of transforming communities and creating a global impact. That is the message I really want to make loud and clear to homeowners, builders and to government agencies. Green construction is like a fingerprint, in that we see unique opportunities and strategies available to answer all sorts of challenges we are facing today and the best way to build a sustainable future.

From making an impact on a single-family home, to helping change multi-family construction, to impacting working environments or a school, each is interesting, each is different, and each is challenging…and that is really exciting when we add up the benefits and goals we can accomplish on a larger scale.

Helping transform the old-standard construction that has been operating with minimum standards for safety, health, and general welfare is a persistent challenge. But Green Building has proven that going beyond those minimum standards will pave the road for a resilient and sustainable future, unleashing the Green Economy of 2050.

For more information visit https://hhdcgreen.com.