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Greg Washington: Building a legacy

Staff Writer | April 11, 2010 9:00 PM

It changed his life. "I thought that being a builder would be good because that guy got to show up in the air conditioned truck," he said with a laugh. "It appeared better than picking rocks."

It changed his life.

"I thought that being a builder would be good because that guy got to show up in the air conditioned truck," he said with a laugh. "It appeared better than picking rocks."

Today, Washington is the owner of Courtyard Construction, which he started in 2003.

The youthful looking 39-year-old has done well, including being the first National Association of Homebuilders Green Certified professional in the area. Courtyard was also the North Idaho Building Contractors Association's 2009 Company Member of the Year, and he's co-chairman of the NIBCA Green Team.

But like other contractors, life hasn't been easy lately.

"In this economy, I am the president and the janitor," Washington said.

Still, Washington keeps smiling, laughing and being particularly thankful for what he has in life - health, a home, a job, a marriage to wife Phebe is coming up on 17 years this August.

"She's my best friend," he said.

And there's four children - the youngest two, twins adopted in Ethiopia three years ago - that are simply a gift, he says, and he loves being involved in youth sports and coaching soccer.

The son of George and Ann Washington is the middle of three children raised in Missoula. A wrestler and football player, he's focused on triathlons and is training for a half Ironman.

"I don't know if I could ever get to an Ironman. God didn't make my body for that." he said with a laugh. "If I stay around that 200-pound mark I can be master's Clydesdales. I think I can compete with the old fat guys."

So how has business been these days?

Pretty rough. We're working harder and longer for less. But at the end of the day, we've got to do whatever we've got to do to feed the family.

You put a lot of effort into marketing. And we network like you wouldn't believe. We just talk to everybody we can.

Is it helping?

We don't say no to anything. You want a bathroom remodeled? You bet. You want new construction? You bet. We'll do whatever we've got to do right now. Fortunately, we're busy bidding stuff. We're getting quite a few calls to bid. Most of it seems to be remodel work, which is fine. I really enjoying working with the homeowners. I'm more a relationship guy that way.

Are you seeing a turnaround in construction?

I haven't felt it in my pocketbook yet. We had this winter, six to eight weeks where it was just dead. Nothing going on. And now we're getting quite a few calls on remodel work. We started off as a custom home builder and did some production stuff. I never thought I would be a remodeler. We're doing it. We're enjoying it.

Who influenced you in your work?

Back in the mid-90s when I was in sales I met Tom Johnson. It was interesting. People don't often treat sales people with kindness and respect. It's kind of a hard line of work. I enjoyed it. I was even good at it. But Tom Johnson was the first guy to really treat me - and I was young at that time - with respect and kindness. He seemed so sincere. I thought, 'That's the kind of guy I'd like to be.' I always think about that, how I want to be known. It doesn't matter much I made or how many developments I do. I would love to have that legacy of 'Greg's a good guy.' When my time comes to pass, I want people to come up to my kids and say, 'Hey, let me tell you something you didn't know about your dad.' That's important to me.

Can you explain what green building is all about?

We are an advocate for green building. I've had people say, 'Is that all you do is building green?' Of course not. Most of what I built, I just built to code, like everybody else, because that was the standard we're supposed to build to. Beyond that it's just fancy cabinets or upgrades in the flooring.

Green building is building science. I remember the first building science class I took. My wife actually took it with me. I leaned over to her and said, 'I am embarrassed by how much I'm learning.' I'm like most builders. We know how to build a house to code and that's the benchmark. When you understand the whole science about building, as a builder I should know why we do what we do and how to improve upon that. People pay me to do that. I'm supposed to be the expert. I was an expert just like everybody else at building to code. The building science behind it, not so much.

How did you get started on green building?

It started back with my daughter, she's in sixth-grade now, was in second grade and I was brushing my teeth and the water was running. I didn't think anything of it. She said, 'Daddy, my teacher said you need to turn off the water when you're brushing your teeth.' I said, 'You know honey, you're right. It's just wasting water.' I still think about that every time I brush my teeth.

My wife and I, we ended up adopting our two youngest out of Ethiopia, and we went to Ethiopia to get them three years ago. When we went to Ethiopia, we saw what it really means to have nothing. We came back changed. We have so much, personally and in our own country, we have no reason to complain because we have so much. So we decided we need to be better stewards of what we have.

So how is green building different than regular construction?

Green building is basically a healthier home, a more efficient home and those types of things.

We build normal homes. We just tweak it so it's healthier and more efficient and lower operating costs. Everybody talks about monthly mortgages, but nobody talks about how much it's going to cost to heat this house in the winter.

What's your dream home?

Our dream home would be a high performance home. It's not necessarily wind turbines and solar panels and an underground house. I want a normal looking house, but I want it healthy and performing super well.

Last question: Is your father named after THE George Washington?

My dad doesn't like giving his name. People usually make wisecracks. The truth is, I'm actually related to the first president of the United States. His half-brother Lawrence is my line. So George Washington is my seventh great-uncle. I stopped telling that, because when I was in grade school kids thought I was lying and they would tease me. So I just stopped telling people. I thought it was pretty good when I was a kid, but they teased me so I didn't make a big deal out of it. But my dad got so much kidding. I was the first in a lot of generations not to be named George because my dad, he did not care for the ribbings he would get.

Date of birthday: June 9, 1970

Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Montana, degree in business administration and marketing, graduated with honors.

Family: Wife, Phebe. Children, Kynzie, 11, Jaxson, 6, Maara, 3, and Mihret, 3.

Number of hours you work on average: I don't think it ever stops officially, being self-employed, but I'd say 40-45 hours.

Number of hours on average you sleep in a night: 7

Favorite movie: Anything that my wife will watch with me.

Favorite type of music: Country and Christian

Favorite book: The Bible

Favorite spectator sport: University of Montana football

Hobbies: Golf, snowboard, triathlons

Best advice you ever received: My parents always taught me that if you're honest, you don't have to worry about what you said, because the truth will always be the truth.

One person who most influenced your life: Without question, my best friend, my wife Phebe. We more or less grew up together. She is my accountability partner. I trust her judgment. She knows how to encourage me. She knows how to support me. Without her, I don't know honestly where I'd be.

Quality you admire most in a person: Humility. When I see somebody who's good at what they do, but they don't take credit for it, it's really a characteristic I admire.

Any one thing you consider your greatest accomplishment: My marriage and my children.

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