You are here

Remarkable Teacher Raises Bar for Building Students

January 7, 2010 - 2:58pm


For 13 years, Tony Grahame has inspired students to pursue careers building sustainable, energy-efficient houses or to find other niches in the green-building industry.

His Residential Building Technology program at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., gets students out of the classroom and constructing real homes in a nearby subdivision. On the jobsite, they learn the skills and knowledge essential to launch their careers as the next generation of energy-efficient builders. Tony’s expertise draws from technologies and strategies in residential efficiency and renewable energy developed through the Energy Department’s Building America program. In fact, the RBT program's first Builders Challenge home, dubbed “Purple Sage,” generates more power than it uses.

But Tony’s program is just as much about building careers as it is about building award-winning houses.

Not only do Tony’s students get hands-on design and building experience, but they also learn how to manage construction projects, from the evaluation of building materials to the selection of specific technologies. Some of the young people Tony has mentored have gone on to start their own companies.

Justin Erickson graduated from Tony’s program in 1997 and went on to receive a B.A. in construction management from Northern Arizona University. In 2003, he launched E3 Energy, a company that provides energy efficiency ratings to construction companies. This spurs healthy competition as builders race to build better, more energy-efficient homes.

“The idea of sustainable, green building is to affect the most number of people,” Justin says. By providing certifications for many building companies, Justin believes he has a much larger impact on overall building practices across the industry than he would if he had just started his own green construction company.

By encouraging the builders to one-up each other for better ratings, Justin says, even the conventional builders will have to start thinking green. “I think working with conventional construction companies in applying building science principles will help them to build healthy, safe, energy-efficient, sustainable structures,” he says. One of the certifications his company offers is the DOE Builders Challenge certificate.

Justin’s Flagstaff-based company also works to educate builders across five states about the incentives that are available to them help them build greener and still make sound profits.

Tony is happy to share his knowledge with others. “I’m not trying to hoard this material,” Tony says, “I want to make a difference.”


The Builders Challenge, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Program, is helping to change the face of home energy efficiency by recognizing industry leaders and promoting the technical pathways to net-zero energy for all Americans. Builders Challenge is a voluntary Building America initiative that provides technical, design, and marketing resources to help builders construct homes that are at least 30 percent more efficient than code and propel the market toward zero-energy home performance.

The Residential Building Technology program’s “Purple Sage” house was a cooperative effort with the Prescott Area Habitat for Humanity, which funded the project. RBT students constructed it as part of their coursework. PAHH plans to apply the home’s design principles, elements, and materials to future homes constructed for families in need, to better fulfill its commitment to building “simple, decent, and affordable” homes and conserving environmental resources.

Yavapai College will receive a BASF Builders Challenge award at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, in January 2010 for the Purple Sage Home. The BASF Builders Challenge Awards are given to recognize excellence in high performance homebuilding. Presented by BASF, a pioneering Builders Challenge partner, at the International Builders Show, the awards are in their second year.

Construction of a Builders Challenge-certified home validates the success of RBT’s program, elevates the program’s profile among green-building educational programs, and demonstrates to other colleges and universities the viability and value of offering robust green-building curricula. You can learn more about the Yavapai College’s RBT program by visiting