Drew Maran Construction
- Written by: E.C. Gregg
- Produced by: Michelle Lapin
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
When Drew Maran started his custom home construction business in 1985, green was a color painted on the inside of his client’s wall, not a building standard.
That didn’t stop his company, Drew Maran Construction, from becoming an early adopter of sustainable building practices eventually referred to as ‘green’ and taking steps like using non-toxic insulation, greywater recycling systems for irrigation and recycled building materials.
“Social and political activism has always been a part of my life and I found that integrating environmentalism into my work just made the most sense to me,” says Maran.
Based in Palo Alto, California, Drew Maran Construction became one of the earliest adopters of green building in the area a little less than a decade after starting.
Maran has been working in the construction industry since the mid-1970s. He started as a carpenter for commercial building projects and healthcare facilities in the Bay Area and eventually found his place building custom homes.
“I think I’ve touched almost all of the types of construction of buildings, but I landed in custom homes because it’s a more creative environment… we never do the same thing twice,” he says.
After founding Drew Maran Construction in 1985, and quickly being recognized for his custom homes throughout the Bay Area, Maran decided it was time to focus on using environmentally conscious building practices. That was around 1992.
Even though the concept of ‘green buildings’ and LEED certification for homes were still over a decade away, Maran had been concerned with climate change long before he started Drew Maran Construction. He was politically active in the Palo Alto community and felt that he could use his company as a way of educating his clients about ways their homes could positively impact the environment.
While some customers were interested in the idea, sometimes the company had to do what Maran calls “stealth green.”
“It was sort of a vague agreement that we would use one of our alternative systems that wouldn’t cost our clients anymore and they wouldn’t know the difference.”
For instance, when insulating a house, Maran’s company would use cellulose insulation, which was made of 85 percent recycled newspaper, instead of fiberglass.
Even though virtually everyone used fiberglass insulation at the time, Maran knew it had to go because he had “shoved enough fiberglass in enough places that ended up in my throat.”
So his company signed-on the only insulation company that installed the alternative, much healthier cellulose insulation and used it for all its projects.
Other sustainable practices it picked up included recycling the building material that was torn out of the house and reusing it in the new construction.
The environmental checklist
Maran says his clients started paying attention to these alternative building methods when they saved them money.
For instance, Maran prefers radiant heating to traditional forced hot air. While he says radiant heating is about 3 percent more expensive up front—it involves running plastic piping through the floor, which radiates heat when hot water is run through it—over about five years it will pay for itself in saved heating costs.
“Pretty soon that 3 percent seems negligible, especially when they considered the energy efficiency component,” Maran says.
And radiant heating is just one of many ways for customers to benefit. In order to explain just how many energy efficient options were available, Drew Maran Construction developed a ‘green checklist’ for each project.
The checklist would have between 50 to 60 items on it, and similar to what LEED would do for the industry almost a decade later, this checklist divided these items into categories like non-toxic insulation and radiant heating to show savings and other benefits.
Even as green building started gaining popularity in the early 2000s with the launch of the LEED building standard, Maran continued to bring his own checklist to every job because he found that his clients enjoyed his “specialized” approach.
“Often times people would rather see a list that really speaks to their home or their neighborhood or their specific climate than a LEED checklist that attempts to cover an entire continent.”
Maran is still thrilled that green building has become a standard of his industry, and, more importantly, that his clients are more interested in creating sustainable homes. In the early “stealth days,” he remembers clients asking him to hide solar panels because they were worried about the appearance of their home.
“We have projects now where people proudly place [solar panels] on the prominent roof…they consider it a badge of honor that they’ve built homes that are essentially developing their own energy,” he says.
Even as green building becomes standard in California building code, Maran says his company is still able to distinguish itself, not only as an early adopter, but for its willingness to reduce every project’s carbon footprint as much as possible. “It’s one thing to just comply with the building code, it’s another thing to try and stretch it” as far as possible, he says.
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