Top 10 Green Building Trends for 2011

Words: Dan Kamys
Earth Advantage Institute (www.earthadvantage.org), a leading nonprofit green 
building resource and research organization that has certified more than 11,000
sustainable homes, today announced its annual selection of top ten green building
trends to watch for over the next 12 months.


The trends, which range from "affordable green" to lifecycle analysis of materials,
were identified by Earth Advantage Institute based on discussions with a range
of audiences over the latter part of 2010. These sectors included policymakers,
builders, developers, architects, real estate brokers, appraisers, lenders, and
homeowners.


"Despite market conditions, we have seen the market share for high performance
homes increase from 18.5 to 23 percent in the Portland Metro area alone," said
Sean Penrith, executive director, Earth Advantage Institute. "This is a sure sign
that the rate of appeal for these homes is increasing."


1. Affordable green. Many consumers typically associate green and energy-efficient
homes and features with higher costs. However, the development of new business
models, technologies, and the mainstreaming of high performance materials is
bringing high-performance, healthy homes within reach of all homeowners. Leading
the charge are affordable housing groups, including Habitat for Humanity and local
land trusts, now building and selling LEED?? for Homes- and ENERGY STAR??-certified
homes across the country at price points as low as $100,000*. In the existing homes
market, energy upgrades are now available through new programs that include low-cost
audits and utility bill-based financing. Through such programs as Clean Energy Works
Oregon, and Solar City??s solar lease-to-own business model, no up-front payment is
required to take advantage of energy upgrades.


2. Sharing and comparing home energy use. As social and purchasing sites like Facebook
and Groupon add millions more members, the sharing of home energy consumption data ???
for rewards ??? is not far behind. The website Earth Aid (www.earthaid.net) lets you track
home energy usage and earn rewards for energy savings from local vendors. You can
also elect to share the information with others on Earth Aid to see who can conserve the
most energy. When coupled with other developments including home energy displays, a
voluntary home energy scoring system announced by the Department of Energy, and
programs including Oregon and Washington's Energy Performance Score, a lot more
people will be sharing ??? and comparing ??? their home energy consumption.


3. Outcome-based energy codes. Existing buildings are responsible for most energy
use and associated carbon emissions, but the prescriptive energy codes used in commercial
remodels don't encourage effective retrofitting. Compliance with energy codes is determined
at permit time, using prescriptive or predictive models, and actual post-construction may
never even be reviewed. Heating and cooling equipment could be faulty or improperly
controlled, with significant energy and financial implications. Under outcome-based energy
codes, owners could pursue the retrofit strategy that they decide is most effective for their
building and its tenants, but they would be required to achieve a pre-negotiated performance
target through mandatory annual reporting. The City of Seattle and the New Building
Institute have teamed up with the National Trusts' Preservation Green Lab to pioneer a
framework for just such a code, for both new and existing buildings.


4. Community purchasing power. Neighborhoods interested in renewable energy will
increasingly band together to obtain better pricing on materials such as solar panels
and on installation costs. The Solarize Portland program was initiated by local neighborhood
leaders who wanted to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in Northeast
Portland by working together as a community. The program is structured so that the price
of solar panel installation decreases for everybody as more neighbors join the effort.
Group purchasing creates a 15-25 percent savings below current prices. This group
discount, in addition to current available tax credits and cash incentives, gives participants
a significant cost savings. In Philadelphia, the Retrofit Philly program leverages contests
between residential blocks to get neighborhoods involved in energy upgrades.


5. "Grid-aware" appliances fuel convergence of smart grid and smart homes. While many
residential smart meters have been installed, the customer interface that will allow
homeowners to track energy use more accurately are not yet in place. In the meantime,
manufacturers are increasingly introducing appliances that are "grid-aware." These
appliances are endowed with more sophisticated energy management capabilities and
timers, offering homeowners machines that monitor and report their own electricity usage
and that increase or decrease that usage by remote command. Many machines have
timers and can already be manually programmed to run during off-peak hours. These
developments will begin forging the convergence of a smart grid infrastructure and the
control applications needed to manage energy savings in our buildings and homes.


6. Accessory dwelling units. Last year we discussed home "right-sizing" as a trend. However,
with fewer people moving or building due to financial concerns, many have chosen to stay
put in their favorite area and build accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These small independent
units, which can be used for offices, studios, or in-law space, are the ideal size for energy
savings and sustainable construction. As detached or attached rental units, they help cities
increase urban density and restrict sprawl, while allowing homeowners to add value to their
property. The cities of Portland, Oregon, and Santa Cruz, California, have waived
administrative fees to encourage more ADU construction.


7. Rethinking of residential heating and cooling. Advances in applied building science in
the US and abroad have resulted in homes that are so tightly sealed and insulated that
furnace-less, ductless homes are now a reality. The increasingly popular ??Passive House??
standard, for example, calls for insulation in walls and ceiling that is so thick that the home
is actually heated by everyday activity of the occupants, from cooking to computer use.
Even in ENERGY STAR-certified homes builders are now encouraged to bring all ductwork
inside the insulated envelope of the house to eliminate excess heat or cooling loss, and to
use only small but efficient furnaces and air conditioners to avoid wasting power.
Geothermal heating and cooling, where piping loops are run through the ground to absorb
warmth in the winter and cool air in the summer, are another option gaining broader
acceptance.


8. Residential grey water use. With water shortages looming in many areas including the
Southwest and Southern California, recycling of grey water ??? any household wastewater
with the exception of toilet water ??? is gaining traction. Benefits include reduced water use,
reduced strain on septic and stormwater systems, and groundwater replenishment.
Although many cities have been slow to legislate on grey water use, some communities
have increased the amount of allowable grey water use for irrigation. Systems can be as
simple as a pipe system draining directly into a mulch field or they can incorporate collection
tanks and pumps.


9. Small commercial certification. 95 percent of commercial building starts in the U.S. are
under 50,000 square feet, but the bulk of current certified commercial buildings tend to be
much larger. This is in part because of numerous "soft" costs including commissioning, energy
modeling, project registration, and administrative time, all of which can be prohibitively
expensive for small building owners and developers. To encourage more small commercial
projects to go green, alternative certification programs have sprung up, including Earthcraft
Light Commercial and Earth Advantage Commercial, which have found significant appeal
through fully subscribed pilot programs.


10. Lifecycle Analysis (LCA). We know quite a bit about the performance of certain materials
used in high performance home and commercial building construction, but the industry has
just begun to study the effects of these materials over the course of their entire lives, from
raw material extraction through disposal and decomposition. Lifecycle analysis examines
the impact of materials over their lifetime through the lens of environmental indicators
including embodied energy, solid waste, air and water pollution, and global warming
potential. LCA for building materials will allow architects to determine what products are
more sustainable and what combination of products can produce the most environmentally
friendly results.


*In the case of land trusts, homeowners do not own the land the home is built on.

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