Karen Benner, CGP, LEED-AP, Homes of Clayton Avenue Consulting, works to change they way home building is done in Pittsburgh, PA. She is leading with a positive impact on not only design and remodeling homes but its relationship with the planet. We connected with her to find out about her journey in consulting, being GREEN and her collaboration in the construction industry.
What attracted you to your role/position?
Working for production home builders for over 15-years helped me see the immense value of pre-construction planning, especially collaboration between the office & field & trade partners. Clayton Avenue Consulting helps builders/contractors focus on this phase of the project, improving their bottom line through fewer change orders and delays. Better collaboration and feedback also gives us more opportunity to be innovative, which is a key component to solving major industry challenges like affordability, efficiency, labor shortages and resilience.
What are your goals for the next 24 months?
In 2021 I obtained my real estate license and am excited to bring my construction knowledge to other real estate professionals & consumers. My goal is to help folks see opportunities to buy an existing home that may not be "perfect" and realistically budget for renovations to help meet their needs and their timeframe. This may mean home performance upgrades to help lower their carbon footprint and energy bills, or to improve the comfort of a particular hot/cold room, or to renovate for aging-in-place. In the next 24-months I will expand my network to create a sustainability-focused group of real estate agents in Pittsburgh.
How will this company impact others?
Clayton Avenue Consulting impacts builders and contractors by improving their bottom line: through fewer change orders and delays; an improved customer experience and more referrals; and better trade partner relationships that will make them the "builder of choice" for a shrinking workforce in high demand. The impact for consumers is to be more educated and make a better-informed decision on purchasing and/or renovating a home to meet their needs, within their budget.
What would you say to other women in construction about breaking the glass ceiling?
Explore the industry from as many vantage points as you can to gain an understanding of each stakeholder's role and challenges: construction can feel very segmented into "us" and "them" referring to the office and the field, or the GC and the Sub, or the Architect and the Owner.... the better you understand varying perspectives, the better you can add value and earn respect. Also find mentors who model the behavior you admire, whether that is a woman or a man. Work for people who will support your growth - this could mean attending conferences or continuing education, or through shadowing & cross-training within the organization.
What motivates you?
The homebuilding industry has a tremendous impact on social and environmental issues. I am motivated to work with others who want to positively impact people and the planet, through innovation, collaboration, creativity and empathy.
Do you have a quote, spiritual practice or inspiration that guides you forward?
"You get what you give." This is just another version of the Golden Rule.... I believe what goes around comes around, so my goal is to push out what I want back. This leads me to surround myself with others who I admire, to prioritize maintaining those relationships and supporting those people.
Tell us about one of your wins or victories.
In the mid-2000's my employer supported my interest in green building and gave me the opportunity to champion third-party certification of over 800 market-rate & affordable housing units within 8-years. After spending a few years educating myself and then incorporating the necessary changes into our construction documents, I moved to the field for 2-years to ensure success through "boots on the ground" supervision and training. This helped me to win the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Best-In-Green Young Professional of the Year in 2015.