A Shift in How We Perceive the Green Revolution

Californiaís mandate to build only ZNE homes by 2020 may become a national one tooówill you be ready?
By Jonathan Dean

As we hit the mid-year mark, builders have had much to consider since the beginning of the year regarding new statutes in coding, land development, and building methodology. While some may have forgotten, here is a reminder: the State of California has decreed that all new housing developments built will have to meet the stringent Zero Net Energy (ZNE) standards by 2020, also known as “Title 24.” Builders have another three and a half years to come up with their own solutions, and unfortunately, many are still playing catch up.

Some builders are worried about the extra costs they will incur in building homes that use things like high efficiency products, recycled or environmentally friendly building materials, and even solar panels. It’s understandable to be worried when looking at the bottom line—adding such features increases upfront costs, which in turn may increase home prices, and then competiveness in the market becomes an issue. Some builders may leave the California home markets entirely if they feel they cannot meet the impending mandate. However, there is another way of looking at the “green revolution” that has come to the homebuilding industry: the prospect of “green homebuilding” is no longer just a fad among custom builders with wealthy clients—it is here to stay, so get used to it.

The likelihood of this ZNE rule expanding to other states, and eventually the entire country, seems to be more of a matter of time rather than anything else. With climate change and increasing environmental awareness growing in the minds of the Millennial base (which is also now the largest demographic looking to purchase homes these days), builders will have to take notice sooner or later if they hope to be building homes into the future.

Ranging from college age to people in their mid-30s, Millennials are very particular about what they want, and will go elsewhere if they do not find what they are looking for. Among these wants include homes that are optimized for the digital age and are sensitive to the environment. “Going green” feels good, but it also has been proven to raise the quality of life within the home through lower power usage, cleaner living areas, and better air quality just to name a few. 

Politicians are also moving toward sustainability in many ways. President Obama not too long ago issued the executive order “Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade,” which details plans to curb climate change in the coming years. Reducing greenhouse gases is part of that plan, and building homes to produce their own energy to offset usage as well as use energy efficiently would fit nicely under that order. Massachusetts is another state that is beginning to invest heavily in ZNE buildings, and other states such as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, New York, and others are likely to follow suit; Austin, Texas is also looking to upgrade its ZNE platform as well. Many federal buildings are being retrofitted to be energy efficient, and the trend will most likely spill into residential in full force, whether by homebuyer popularity or governmental mandate.

So, since these green revolution changes are due to come to a housing market near you, what can builders do in order to make the transition more manageable? Here are a few ideas:

It’s not enough to be “green-ish.” While many homebuilders are on the right track towards energy efficiency, they need to think beyond ENERGY STAR® appliance and light bulbs. As DOE’s Sam Rashkin mentions in his interview in this issue, the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home guidelines are a good place to start if you are unsure of what is required to begin building ZNE homes.

Your competitors are doing it already. In the past, ZNE was only relegated to custom homebuilders with wealthy clients. Now, production builders like KB Home, PulteGroup, and Maracay  are developing their own plans for fitting the bill—how’s that for competition?

ZNE homes can be made affordable. If you think ZNE homes can’t be made affordable, our own ABC Green Home project series is proving that ZNE homes can be made Affordable, Buildable, and Certified. Forge partnerships with creative and resourceful green architects who can design homes in environmentally friendly, yet cost-effective ways.

Get an in-house green building consultant. You don’t have to navigate this process alone! An in-house consultant will be there with you every step of the way to get you up to speed and find the best ways for your company to build ZNE homes.

It’s true what they say: the homes are always greener on the other side, so be sure yours is, too.

Jonathan Dean is the Content & Social Media Editor for Builder and Developer magazine. He may be reached at