There are few bright spots in the housing market. According to recent reports, home prices have fallen 30 percent since 2007. That decline is more than what happened during the Depression.
Despite these anemic numbers, green construction and energy efficiency models are being sought by buyers and homeowners. This is due to an increasing recognition that earth friendly buildings are good for the wallet. Green construction starts went up 50 percent, from $42 billion in 2008 to $71 billion in 2010. It’s estimated ecological friendly construction represented 25 percent of last year’s new building starts. The commercial sector has seen the most activity, where a third of all new work meets green standards.
As eco-friendly buildings are growing in popularity, many new developments have entered into the construction industry. Here is a look at the latest trends for green construction.
- Outcome based energy codes. Presently there is no incentive for buildings to retrofit to conserve energy. The only time there are concerns is when permits are needed; however, once heating and cooling systems are installed there’s no need to consider if the systems are effective. That may all change thanks to outcome-based energy codes. With these codes, owners and builders could agree to a pre-arranged energy target. This would be checked annually, and should measurements be off, retrofits would be required in order to achieve the agreed upon energy consumption. For homeowners, this means peace of mind and better control of finances as they’ll now know how much their building is expected to spend in energy use.
- Sharing energy. For those who love friendly competition, social media is now branching out to entice users to battle it out for the title of most energy efficient.
The site Earth Aid allows users to track their energy use ,and rewards are given out for top conservationists. These points can be used with local vendors to purchase a variety of eco-friendly home goods. Not only can users cash in their winnings, they’ll also earn bragging rights for saving the most electricity, which ultimately also saves them money on their monthly bills.[ditor’s note: Earth Aid site no longer appears available as of 7/13/2016].
- Community sharing. Similar to energy sharing, community sharing allows neighborhoods to band together to receive competitive pricing on installation costs and solar panels. Currently both Portland, Ore. and Philadelphia have these types of plans. Retrofit Philly pits neighborhoods against each other to have home and building owners involved in heating and cooling upgrades. Residents who participated in Solarize Portland received cheaper discounts in solorizing the property. Savings were increased even more when popularity grew and more people joined the effort.
- Smart appliances. With the use of smart meters, homeowners no longer have to wait until the end of the month to know how much they’ve spent in energy. These appliances provide detailed feedback on energy use as it happens. This allows for more control over spending and conservation during peak hours, when energy is most expensive. The new meters can also be used to find out how much juice each appliance consumes in real time. This can also help to provide a detailed report on how much energy is consumed when appliances aren’t in use, as many appliances, when simply plugged in and set to “off,” still bleed energy, leaving homeowners footing the bill for something they aren’t even using.
- Green is for everyone. Although green construction is increasing, there is a perception it’s a rich man’s game. Fighting this perception are affordable housing groups like Habitat for Humanity and local land trusts. These organizations are building, and selling, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Energy Star homes. These sales are occuring nationwide, and include homes priced as low as $100,000. Energy upgrades can be paid for with new programs, including low-cost audits and utility bill-based financing (i.e., Clean Energy Works Oregon and Solar City).
- Residential greywater use. The reuse of gray water (i.e., all waste water minus what’s used in the toilet) is turning into a common practice. Gray water provides numerous benefits such as reducing the amount of fresh water used, decreasing strain on septic systems, replenishing groundwater, and maintaining soil fertility.
What are your thoughts about green building trends? Do your clients want “green” incorporated into their projects? Share your experiences in the green market in the comments section, below. And, be sure to sign up for email delivery of blog posts directly to your in-box so you never miss a post here at Construction Law North Carolina.
Photo (c) C. Frank Starmer via Creative Commons license.