The team at Futuro Construction wondered why clients were choosing to build high-performance homes. Did homeowners want to protect the environment by saving energy and using nontoxic products? Did they want durable homes that require little maintenance and have low energy bills, saving money over time? Were they seeking healthier homes with cleaner indoor air?
We sat down with Matt Silva, Futuro Construction’s general manager, to discuss his findings.
What began as market research for Silva led him to discover one of the most important (but rarely discussed) items on customers’ minds: “More than 70 percent of the people surveyed indicated health concerns as their top priority, long-term costs as the second, followed by environmental concerns,” Silva told us.
“Clients aren’t necessarily raising concerns about healthy home air when they approach a builder. People come to expect indoor air quality, so I don’t think they ask for it much. People just come to expect it. If I bought a car, I just expect it to have a steering wheel.”
Futuro Construction is no stranger to giving clients healthy indoor air through several methods: “We build homes that are so tight that we have to use no-VOC paints,” Silva said, referring to eco-friendly paints free of volatile organic compounds. “Our cabinets are made locally and are formaldehyde free. More and more, we see that clients feel an increased sensitivity to these compounds in their daily lives, and we work to address it from the beginning.”
Tightly constructed homes exchange less air between the interior and exterior through gaps and cracks. While tightly constructed homes are great for reducing energy costs for the homeowner, they require the builder to ensure proper ventilation for healthy indoor air.
“An average home with a family of four can add 18 or more gallons of water vapor a week to the air through showering, cooking, doing laundry and other daily activities,” Silva explained. This water vapor increases indoor humidity levels and can cause mold issues in the home if it isn’t properly ventilated.
Futuro Construction installs Zehnder HRVs and ERVs to promote healthy air exchange. These systems run around the clock, maintaining ideal humidity levels and promoting indoor air quality. The HRV also adds a component of energy efficiency: Its heat exchanger transfers heat from the exhaust air to the intake air, transferring up to 95 percent of the heat.
“The beauty of a Zehnder system is that it does that job better than most without the concern of it being an energy hog,” Silva told us. “If you have something that is going to continuously operate, you want it to use as little energy as possible, like the Zehnder systems.”
Silva's survey results are consistent with research by UL Environment, which asked 1,000 consumers about their top motivations for green purchasing decisions.
The findings were published in the report Under the Lens: Claiming Green a few years ago. Forty-three percent of the participants reported being concerned about indoor air quality and 54 percent indicated being concerned about chemicals that come directly in contact with the skin, such as lotions and carpeting. Although waste reduction and natural resource conservation are priorities to many green shoppers, health and safety ranked No. 1 on the list of decision influencers for the building/home improvements category.
Image Credit: Futuro Construction
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.