Planting the Seeds of Sustainability

The renaissance of green, affordable technologies has changed the homebuilding industry for good

BY SHEA COSTALES

Part of my job requires spending hours each day perusing homebuilding news and scouting for communities to feature. This can be sometimes scary, sometimes fun, and sometimes inspiring. Recently, I have been happily blown away by the massive strides our country has taken in sustainable construction.

Environmentally friendly developments are sprouting up daily across the nation, reflecting a powerful and ever-growing awareness of the crucial need to protect our planet. This issue features some of the biggest builders and communities pushing for a green approach, and the results of their efforts are stunning.

We have also included some incredible columns in this issue, written by respected industry professionals, that outline new, sustainable innovations. High-efficiency water systems are changing the multifamily housing landscape, saving property owners and residents thousands of dollars while conserving precious resources. Innovative new guidelines such as those presented by Earth- Craft™ restore antiquated buildings to efficiency levels equal to those of brand new properties, proving that sustainability can coexist with history.

Incredible developments beyond those featured in this issue capture our imagination every day. Green roofs are experiencing enormous growth in the U.S. market right now, providing homeowners with a garden that not only assists in a myriad of functional capacities such as irrigation and air purification, but also creates a beautiful natural haven for wildlife and residents alike. California is nearing approval on a measure that will require all houses built after 2019 to have solar panels installed, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a state that has already made great strides in the last few years. Elon Musk just announced plans to turn excavated earth from his tunnel-building enterprise into millions of solid bricks, which will then be used to construct sustainable, affordable housing. Incredible, mind-blowing machines such as ICON’S Vulcan 3-D printer can construct an entire house in less than 24 hours and under $10,000. And hemp, one of the oldest sustainable building materials in the world, is being resurrected in the form of hempcrete, a biocomposite, lightweight, highly insulated material that develops fully and is ready for construction use in the space of four months.

What strikes me most about these new methods is their multiplicity of benefits. They’re not just green, they’re also affordable, efficient, and attractive. The misconception that sustainable practices often cost more, function poorly or look ugly is finally being put to rest by today’s innovators, and we can only expect newer, better technologies as our economy continues to grow and more bright minds come of age.

The demand for these inventions comes from the demographic that controls the housing market. According to a recent housing survey conducted by Zillow, Millennials constituted a whopping 42 percent of homebuyers last year. While some of the older set are starting to migrate back to the suburbs to start families, many are still attracted to fast-paced, exciting urban life, which translates to a need for multifamily housing.

As Millennials continue to enter the housing market in full, environmentally-conscious force, multifamily developments have clamored to cater to their standards. In fact, multifamily constructions and sales have eclipsed those of single-family housing, as buyers seek greater access to public transportation, walkable neighborhoods, and retailers and grocers that share their principles. More than 1.5 million multifamily units across the nation participate in LEED programs, and that number is expected to grow as over 330,000 units are built this year.

Of course, it often seems necessary to maintain a little apprehension. Frequently, projects such as these that could dramatically benefit the general public are smothered or slowed by political agendas, greedy businesses, or just general ignorance of their merits. Sometimes it takes decades for a good idea to finally reach public fruition.

But I have to remain hopeful that we can see improvements in our planet’s health in the next few years. Millennials who care about the environment and who are starting careers in law, policy-making, engineering, homebuilding, and the like are not going anywhere. Change is not reserved for the young either; many baby boomers are also expressing a desire for sustainable housing, ensuring that change in construction processes and focuses are widespread.

Through a combined effort, and through the support and exposure of revolutionary new technologies and strategies, we can make sure that the next generation inherits a world where quality, affordable, sustainable housing dominates the market.

Shea Costales is an Assistant Editor at Green Home Builder Magazine. She may be reached at shea@penpubinc.com