Green Building Goes Mainstream

Continuous growth in the industry over the past decade has taken green homebuilding practices from niche to ubiquitous
By Genevieve Smith

       California was the first state to introduce mandatory green building standards. First realized in energy efficiency code that had existed since the 1970s (as included in California Building Code Title 24), California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expanded on the concept and signed an executive order in 2004 that set in motion a Green Building Action Plan requiring all state-owned facilities to comply with specific green building requirements.

After a new policy was created in 2010 that would become the Calgreen building mandate, the state set out to use the codes to achieve a statewide goal of 33 percent renewable energy use by 2020 and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and water use.

The building codes, which took effect Jan. 1, 2011, applied to every new residential and non-residential building project in California. It required all buildings to reduce water consumption by 20 percent compared to conventional structures. In addition, nonresidential buildings constructed post-2011 needed separate water meters for indoor and outdoor use, with a requirement for moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects as well as mandatory inspections of energy systems for nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet.

The coordination required between different facets of the building profession to accomplish all the goals set forth in the mandate made it the first building code to truly span across disciplines, marking a significant change to the way many architects, engineers, contractors, and code officials do business. Considering the massive amount of building in California (with more than 56,000 building permits pulled as of the half way point this year), this had a significant effect on a large percentage of the industry.

Before the implementation of mandatory regulations, however, there were the early champions of green building. Founded in 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) set out to address a broad spectrum of risks to human and environmental health not otherwise addressed in the building code by establishing a standardized rating system focused on the environmental performance of building projects.

Recognizing that LEED was never intended to be a building code, the USGBC collaborated with ASHRAE, and the IESNA to develop Standard 189.1 for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, which was written in language that could easily be adopted into code. This document was released in 2009, no doubt aiding in the creation of the California mandate. That same year, the International Code Council launched the International Green Construction Code initiative with a similar aim.

This push for green seems to have had the desired effect of educating and motivating building industry professionals. Today, almost 150,000 worldwide residential units have earned LEED certification, according to the USGBC. And the number of LEED certifications continues to rise in countries like the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia and China. Within the U.S., states with the most LEED-certified homes include California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia.

“Since 2005, the green share of new single family residential construction has grown dramatically—increasing from 2 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013. This 23 percent market share equates to a $36 billion market opportunity,” according to a USGBC study on green labels in the California housing market.

The reasons are numerous and it’s not surprising to see the amount of growth in the green building industry when you consider the multitude of benefits. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air is two to ten times more polluted than outdoor air. Because LEED-certified homes are designed to maximize the quality of indoor air and minimize exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants by requiring proper ventilation, high-efficiency air filters and measures to reduce mold and mildew, they increase the health of occupants and the environment alike.

Chief among the tangible benefits driving the rise with a large percentage of builders in areas where green building isn’t yet mandated is the fact that green homes sell at higher prices and faster than comparable, conventional homes. In 2011, the Earth Advantage Study found that, on average, green-certified, new homes sold for 8 percent more than non-certified green homes. Additionally, resale prices of existing green homes were about 30 percent more than conventional homes.

It’s even slightly surprising to not have seen more growth in the industry considering all the benefits, and statistics seem to support that sentiment. The 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study, released by USGBC and prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton, found that the residential green construction market is expected to grow from $55 million in 2015 to $100.4 million in 2018, representing a year-over-year growth of 24.5 percent. It was also estimated that by 2016, the green, single-family housing market will represent about one-third of the market, and 90 percent of all residential construction will have energy-efficient features.

For all intents and purposes, it seems as if green has truly gone mainstream and is poised to take over entirely. Those not yet on board will be dragged along, whether by mandates or prevailing winds, in no time at all.

Genevieve Smith is the Editor for Green Home Builder magazine. She may be reached at