After discussions with a wide range of stakeholders – policymakers,builders, developers, architects, real estate brokers, appraisers,lenders, and homeowners – Earth Advantage identified the following trends in green building for 2011.
The trends range from green homes becoming easily affordable tocommunity-based energy, from smart appliances to lifecycle analysis ofmaterials.
1. Affordable green. Many people associate green, energy-efficient homes with higher costs,but that’s changing. New business models, technologies, and highperformance materials are bringing green homes within reach of allhomeowners.
Free or low cost energy audits are now widely available, and ashomeowners become more aware of the benefits of simple, inexpensiveretrofits, energy efficiency upgrades are increasingly commonplace.Through programs like Solar City’s lease-to-own business model,homeowners can get solar on their roofs without an up-front payment.Habitat for Humanity builds affordable LEED and Energy Star-certifiedhomes across the US for as little as $100,000.
2. Healthy Competition on Energy Consumption. Sharing among "friends" on Facebook and other social networking sitesmay soon include a healthy competition for who uses the most and leastenergy in exchange for rewards. Earth Aid, for example, lets you track home energy usage and earn rewards forenergy savings from local vendors. You can also elect to share theinformation with others on Earth Aid to see who can conserve the mostenergy.
Coupled with developments including home energy displays, DOE’s Home Energy Score pilot program, and Oregon and Washington’s Energy Performance Score, alot more people will be sharing and comparing their home energyconsumption.
3. Performance-Based Energy Codes. Existing buildings are responsible for most of our energy use andassociated carbon emissions, but the prescriptive energy codes used incommercial remodels don’t encourage effective retrofitting. Compliancewith energy codes is determined at permit time, using prescriptive orpredictive models, and actual post-construction may never even bereviewed. Heating and cooling equipment could be faulty or improperlycontrolled, with significant energy and financial implications.
Under outcome-based energy codes, owners could pursue the retrofitstrategy they decide is most effective for their building and itstenants, but they would be required to achieve a pre-negotiatedperformance target through mandatory annual reporting. The City ofSeattle and the New Building Institute have teamed up with the NationalTrusts’ Preservation Green Lab to pioneer a framework for just such acode, for both new and existing buildings.
4. Community Renewable Energy. Neighbors will increasingly band together to get lower prices on solar installations and literally share renewable energy systems. Buying solar as group reduces the cost by 15-25%; investing in aneighbor’s solar system allows people to benefit from solar even if they can’t put it on their own roof because of shading, the age of theirroof etc. Guide to Community Solar.
5. Smart Appliances. Through the use of smart meters, homeowners will get feedback on theirenergy use, allowing them to conserve during expensive peak hours, andto see in real time how much energy each appliance consumes.Manufacturers are introducing "grid-aware" appliances that havesophisticated energy management capabilities and timers, enabling thehomeowner to gain control over their use.
6. Accessory Dwelling Units. During the recession, the McMansions trend gave way to "rightsizing," and with fewer people moving or building because of financial concerns, many are staying put and building accessory dwelling units. These smalldetached or attached units can be used for offices, studios, in-laws orrentals, and are the ideal size for energy efficiency and greenconstruction.
As rental units, they help cities increase urban density and restrictsprawl, while homeowners add value to their property. The cities ofPortland, Oregon, and Santa Cruz, California, waived administrative fees to encourage this.
7. Rethinking Residential HVAC. Advances in applied building science have resulted in homes that are so tightlysealed and insulated that furnace-less, ductless homes can be a reality. The increasingly popular "Passive House" standard, for example, callsfor such thick insulation in walls and ceilings that the home is heatedby the everyday activity of the occupants, from cooking to computer use.
Even in Energy Star-certified homes, builders are encouraged to bringall ductwork inside the insulated envelope of the house to eliminateexcess heat or cooling loss, and to use only small, very efficientfurnaces and air conditioners. Geothermal heating and cooling is alsogaining broader acceptance.
8. Residential Grey Water. With water shortages looming in many areas including the Southwest and Southern California, grey water recycling of household wastewater isslowly gaining traction. Benefits include reduced water use, less strain on septic and stormwater systems, and groundwater replenishment.Although many cities have been hesitant to legislate grey water use,some communities have increased the amount of allowable grey water forirrigation.
9. Small Building Certification. 95% of commercial building starts in the U.S. are under 50,000 squarefeet, but most LEED- certified buildings are much larger. This is inpart because of numerous "soft" costs including commissioning, energymodeling, project registration, and administrative time, all of whichcan be prohibitively expensive for small building owners and developers. Certification programs specifically designed for small buildings arespringing up, such as Earthcraft Light Commercial and Earth AdvantageCommercial.
10. Lifecycle Analysis (LCA). Understanding the lifecyle of building materials – their effect fromcradle to grave – has always been important to green builders. Now thatwe know how various green building materials perform, the industry isstudying the effects of these materials over the course of their entirelives, from raw material extraction through disposal and decomposition.
Lifecycle analysts are examining impacts of materials over theirlifetime through the lens of environmental indicators including embodied energy, solid waste, air and water pollution, and global warmingpotential. The results will help architects determine which productsreally are "green."
Tom Breunig is Director of Marketing and Communications for the Earth Advantage Institute, aleading nonprofit green building resource and research organization. The group has certified over 11,000 homes, and works with the building anddesign industry to help implement green building practices.