By Sean C. Penrith, Executive Director, Earth Advantage Institute
While the economy has not been kind to most new home builders, Earth Advantage has seen a surging interest in home energy management and energy improvement among homeowners. Those builders and remodelers who have adopted a transparent green message have been quite successful.
These trends, which range from a boom in certified multi-family construction to the advent of consumer friendly home energy technology, were identified by us based on discussions with a broad range of audiences over the latter part of 2011. These sectors included policymakers, builders, developers, architects, real estate brokers, appraisers, lenders, and homeowners.
Without further ado:
1) Urban density.
Filling in the spaces is the name of the game as homeowners and builders opt to create more living space through the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), laneway homes (bordering the back lane behind the main house), and build on infill lots. All this because the younger crowd and the empty nesters are opting to settle in the city where they can be closer to cultural activities, mass transit, more sustainable lifestyles, and other like-minded people.
2) Green multifamily homes.
As a corollary to the urban density trend, Earth Advantage Institute has seen a large spike in Northwest multifamily building certifications this past year. The increased interest by building owners and operators in energy efficiency savings coupled with 2011’s 17 percent growth in multifamily homes (McGraw-Hill) means that we can expect to see a rise in certifications in this sector, especially in progressive regions.
3) Energy upgrades start to drive home remodels.
Builders and remodelers who are plugged into changing consumer preferences (smaller homes, reduced energy bills) have been able to capitalize on energy upgrade work. They have moved into the energy audit and residential retrofit market by either expanding their service offerings or, in the case of large West Coast remodeler Neil Kelly, creating entirely new service groups. In the Northwest, demand has increased, leading to significant new energy improvement business for these firms. Remodelers see such work as a driver to help bring in more remodel leads.
4) Deployment and testing of new materials.
Although architects and builders are eager to try to new energy-saving materials and systems, these products require significant testing to ensure that the materials and benefits will last the life of the building and to avoid litigation. As a result, national labs and university research departments are partnering with builders to create test beds and sensor-filled buildings that log the energy performance of new materials and equipment. Portland State University’s mechanical engineering department recently partnered with a local builder to measure the effects of phase change material used as insulation in a duplex passive house, while Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories is constructing a test bed that will track all performance aspects of new materials and equipment.
5) Consumer friendly home energy tracking devices.
The introduction of the Apple-like Nest Learning Thermostat, and Belkin’s Conserve Insight energy use monitor that tracks energy use by appliance, are two of many sensor-based energy and water monitoring products for the home that are easy to use and help save money. Large electronics players like Fujitsu and Intel are also developing products, among others.
6) Energy education for commercial tenants.
The growing adoption of commercial building energy disclosure (New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Austin) has building owners/operators and utilities seeking effective ways to educate tenants on saving energy. Technology can only go so far in conserving energy without tenant participation.
7) Transparency in home marketing.
The increasing use of smart devices by consumers to instantly access information at a home site means that buyers are much more informed and can see through any greenwashing claims. Those builders, remodelers, and real estate professionals who can clearly educate their clients about the benefits and features of energy efficient, green homes will be those who earn the buyers’ confidence.
8) More accurate appraisals.
The old-school appraisal criteria based on a drive-by look at a home – view, approximate square footage – no longer holds. The ability for sellers and buyers to ask their banks for a green-certified appraiser (Certified Residential Green Appraiser) means that the lending community will buy into the idea of the additional value and return on investment offered by new certified homes and remodels.
9) Broader adoption of residential energy ratings for homes.
Energy labeling systems are appearing in many states, offering a miles-per-gallon style estimate of a home’s energy consumption for homebuyers and homeowners. The Energy Performance Score and the Department of Energy’s own Home Energy Score have been rolled out in different climate zones across the US to encourage homeowners to compare energy use and undertake energy upgrade work.
10) Smart grid-compatible high-performance homes.
According to Smart Grid News, household appliances (heating and cooling systems, refrigerators, electronics, hair dryers) account for 60 to 90 percent of the residential electricity consumption in the U.S., depending on whose reports you read. Increasing numbers of those appliances are becoming “grid-aware” and are gaining the ability to monitor and report their own usage and to increase or decrease their electricity usage by remote command.
Sean Penrith has successfully grown the non-profit green building resource into one of the largest third-party verified green building programs in the country. Earth Advantage Institute is now a nationally known program provider and think-tank, devising creative green building and climate change solutions for the built environment. Prior to joining EAI he established two successful international entrepreneurial ventures.