Creating Our New Normal

Green homes are going from elusive luxury to industry standard. Builders can help pave the way without breaking the bank

By ZACK JOHNSTON

A wise person once said “Always keep one eye on the future,” but with a new era fast approaching, some of us might feel a little cross-eyed. Innovations come and go so quickly these days it can give you whiplash. How do we properly navigate into a world of new advancements without major disruptions to our everyday lives?

Making matters more complicated is our tendency to hold on to vestiges of the past. As we move into the future, though, we have to be choosy about what comes with us. Some ways of doing things are tried and true, but others are in need of innovation and change. It takes a truly great innovator to consistently be forward-thinking, cognizant of past lessons, and able to enact change at the present moment.

Ask a homebuilder where their eyes are on and you’ll see that, in this industry, the future is now, and for many different reasons. Home technology and building materials are advancing quickly, and there’s a growing appetite for homes to feel modernized and efficient. The more the industry keeps advancing, the more green-building practices become expected as the norm for new homes.

Changes in the housing industry are also on account of changes in the market. Much of what’s available in the currently is either undesirable or unattainable to the average buyer, and the overall amount of time and money that can go into producing just one new home can be staggering. If the building enables homeowners to waste away energy or water, it eventually becomes an even greater expense.

This is the reality that many homebuilders are encountering, and if they’re smart, embracing. Some state legislatures have already begun imposing energy-efficiency regulations on all new buildings, but the true industry leaders are the ones seeing those requirements as the bare minimum rather than the goal.

In an interview with Green Home Builder Magazine, Director of Team Zero Jack Armstrong said, “California is a perfect example. Zero energy homes are increasing in demand, and your competitors are doing it, there are many products out there doing it so if you’re not on board you’re gonna get left behind.”

As more building companies follow suit and adopt higher standards across the board, the energy-efficient smart home will become our new normal.

Energy-saving features are shifting away from luxurious add-ons to deal-breaking necessities in homeowners’ eyes. That might have some builders shaking, but there are proactive steps that can be taken now in order to stay relevant and profitable in the future.

There are plenty of examples of large-scale innovations that yield amazing energy-efficient housing, but there are just as many simplistic and cost-effective solutions that any homebuilder can use.

It was not long ago that solar power in homes was considered as a niche energy industry, but it has now become the common practice it is today and the savings speak for themselves.

Armstrong put it in clear terms during his interview: “Say it’s going to cost $40 more per month for the mortgage for an average green home, but they’re going to save $80 per month, so cash flow positive right out of the shoot.”

On average the cost of doing solar has reduced over the years, and it is clear through the estimates savings alone that solar is a smart investment.

A true measure of a home’s sustainability is not just how much energy it can pull from reusable sources, but how much energy the home even needs to function properly in the first place. Builders have to not only think about clean energy production and storage, but also how to reduce a home’s energy needs to a minimum, or even to zero.

By incorporating bio-architectural features of a buildings exterior are not only interesting design features, but also great ways to help maintain a building’s temperature and air quality.

In his column, John S. Egan, Principal of Egan | Simon Architecture, details how this method helped the Step Up on Vine project become one of the first LEED Platinum affordable housing projects in the country. Designers combined exterior vegetation and some clever architecture to achieve a higher efficiency level.

“A green screen covering the front fac?ade helps reduce the heat island effect while lessening heat gain by shading the structure. Shadow boxes provide screening of the apartment units from the morning and afternoon daylight,” Egan said.

Buyers in the green home market are also prioritizing developments that are looking out for the external environment as well as the internal. Builders can tap into this by being mindful of alternative products that solve common issues.

A simple place to start is with water. A typical home can let a significant amount of clean water get wasted down the drain, but by using more advanced products builders can bring that down and help the customer lower their water bill.

“A very simple way to reduce water usage on your property is to replace showerheads and faucet aerators,” said Salvatore Pennachio from Niagara Conservation. “Standard showerheads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute while a low-flow showerhead uses 2.0 GPM or less.”

This is just one example of how a great building solution can come in easy and affordable ways. Builders are developers who keep these innovations in mind, and implement them into projects through practical measures will smoothly transition into the improved built environment, and will find success in an industry making great strides.

Zack Johnston is an Assistant Editor for Green Home Builder Magazine. He can be reached at zack@builder.media.