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2015 high performance home building trends in review, (Green Building Marketing Trends)

Dec 30, 2015 11:23:46 AM / by Chuck Lohre

(Thanks to Proud Green Homes' newsletter for this great wrap up. For all the expensive bells and whistles available for those that can afford it, that's great. But the best and least expensive ways to save on your home are: 1. Move into the city, 2. Get a smaller home, 3. Seal your home so tightly you are on the edge of needing an air to air heat exchanger, and 4. Insulate. These four things will save you almost 50%.)

Photo via iStock

The ongoing recovery of the housing market in most areas of the United States helped lift the tide for high performance homes, as homebuyers come to value the overall cost of ownership of a home.

Growing acceptance of high performance homes continues to drive homebuilders to provide extra value in the their homes, and consumers are becoming more diligent about managing the environmental impact of their lifestyles.

Here's a look back at some of the top trends driving the high performance home market for 2015.

High performance homes go mainstream

Over half of homebuilders expect to be doing 60 percent or more of their new homes green by 2020, according to a 2015 Dodge Data & Analytics SmartMarket Report. During the prolonged housing downturn, green homes provided support to the ailing residential market and now promise to be an important element of the recovering market as well.

Not all builders pursue certifications such as LEED for Homes, Energy Star or Passive House, but homeowners are coming to recognize that a home with lower energy and water consumption represents a better value over the long term.

More homes are being rated with the HERS Index by a RESNet-certified home rater, which is typically part of a green home rating system such as Energy Star or Zero Energy Ready programs from the U.S. Department Energy.

According to the DOE, by 2013, nearly 220,000 homes were rated with an average HERS Index Score of 64. Assuming a basic bell distribution curve, that means upwards of a 100,000 homes last year achieved HERS Index Scores on or the Zero Energy Ready performance threshold from low to high 50’s, said Sam Rashkin, chief architect, Building Technologies Office for the Department of Energy.

Large production builders such as KB Homes and Meritage are incorporating high performance practices into their production homes. For instance, all KB homes strict ENERGY STAR guidelines, which helps to lower monthly utility costs for homeowners, which the company demonstrates with its proprietary KB Home Energy Performance Guide (EPG). The company is using some demonstration homes to test building technologies and techniques that it will incorporate into more homes.

Meritage, another large builder, is part of a project to build a community of 20 zero net energy houses that will be part of an energy use evaluation project in California.

LEED for Homes from the U.S. Green Building Council has had more than 50,000 housing units certified since its start in 2007. About 44 percent of those homes were classified as affordable housing. There are also more than 82,000 units under construction and in the pipeline for LEED certification.

The financial system is learning how to valuing green homes

As more high performance homes enter the marketplace, the financial services ecosystem is beginning to respond. Appraisals, realtors, mortgage companies and insurance carriers are adopting green-oriented products and processes.

For instances, more than 180 of the 850 multiple listing service sites (run by only 12 companies) now incorporate data on "green features" in a home. Louisville and Washington, D.C., are among the latest to add green information accessible to real estate professionals and homebuyers. For instance, MRIS, Mid-Atlantic Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in the D.C. area added 14 new MLS HPH fields including ENERGY STAR Cooling and Heating Systems, LEED for Homes certification (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), and HERS index scores (Home Energy Rating System). This will allow real estate professionals to better identify HPH features so that potential buyers can make more informed purchasing decisions. Louisville added eight green fields to its MLS services.

To support those tranasctions, the Appraisal Practices Board (APB) of The Appraisal Foundation in June adopted the first of three Valuation Advisories related to the valuation of green buildings: the Valuation of Green and High Performance Property: Background and Core Competency.

The Advisory offers voluntary guidance to appraisers on the background and competency necessary to credibly value green buildings and/or energy-efficient features. These Advisories are part of an ongoing joint project with the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to develop guidance and educational materials for appraisers on green valuation.

As formerly exotic technologies such as solar panels or smart home technology becomes more commonplace, insurance companies are responding. American Modern Insurance Group built a 1,471 square foot, two-story house at its 50,000 square-foot-claims training center, located in Amelia, Ohio. The house, which features smart technology, sustainable building materials and increased security measures, will be used as part of the company’s hands-on claims training curriculum.

Homes are getting smarter

Benefits of smart homes can only be realized if the technology becomes affordable for common people and accessible to those for whom it is essential. However, this is likely to happen if a broader consumer market gets traction by pushing down prices and creating more awareness.

“Product features can really impact adoption rates and sales,” said John Barrett, Director of Consumer Analytics, Parks Associates. “Over 40% of U.S. broadband households planning to buy a smart thermostat prefer a more expensive advanced model with more features, and nearly two-thirds of these shoppers are likely to replace their existing unit before it is necessary. This finding highlights the potential of feature-rich models to speed up the upgrade cycle.”

Smart home product manufacturers are tapping into homeowners' concerns related to security and energy savings. Smart home device manufacturers are also coming up with innovative wireless technologies across different sectors, which include security control & access control, lighting, entertainment control, energy management systems, and HVAC control, including air quality monitors.

For instance, a new system from Lennox can crank up the ventilation when it detects high levels of outdoor allergens.

Smart homes will also have to take extra precautions against weather, including lightning strikes. Lightning is often overlooked as a significant weather threat--even though lightning hits the earth over 100 times a second.

The threat of fire from a direct strike or an indirect electrical surge to homes and businesses is very real, making lightning protection an important consideration for inclusion in the smart structure building design process.

"Even though these automated systems are grounded, they are still highly vulnerable to lightning, since a direct strike can spark a fire and an indirect surge of current can pass through the wiring of a structure in any direction," said Bud VanSickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). "Lightning can initiate a domino effect path of transient overvoltage which can disrupt, degrade and damage multiple electronic systems and connected equipment, making lightning protection systems significantly important for smart structures."

Cost of wasted hot water

Homebuilders are looking at water efficiency as well as energy efficiency, at least in some parts of the country.

According to recent projections from the Energy Information Agency and USA Today, by 2025 Americans will see their water bills double and potentially triple in major metro areas. This threat to the wallets of homeowners across the country is adding to speculation that pressure to the U.S. infrastructure, already desperate for solutions to a water shortage in California, is headed toward a significant issue in water access. 

Conserving water is only part of the equation. Conserving the generation and use of hot water has even larger implications. Research shows that it takes 27 times more electricity to heat hot water than it does to move water, hot or cold, in the first place.

So wasted hot water impacts energy use as well as water use. When hot water goes down the drain, the cost of heating the water uses more water than the wasted water, and wastes water in the power generation process as well.

There is the energy and water associated with producing hot water in the home, and what is referred to “invisible water.”  That is, the water consumed during electricity production at a thermoelectric and/or hydroelectric power plant. We use it but never see it in the home.

The basic message is, heating water takes energy – lots of it which is why the invisible water consumed is so significant.

Technology such as demand-control pumps and shower drain heat capture systems reduce wasted hot water and the overall need for hot water, while maintaining comfortable use hot water on demand.

A demand control circulation pump circulates hot water through a home's plumbing system on demand. So instead of waiting 30 seconds for warm water to reach the shower, the demand control pump can cut the waiting time to just a few seconds. It pulls the hot water from the water heat through the plumbing system on demand, or at the touch of a button by the user. The pump runs only until the system measures the hot water moving through the pipes. Then it shuts off. The water is pumped through the plumbing system back to the water heater. It is not wasted down the drain, waiting for the water to warm up.

The pumps are being used in a variety of projects, from high-dollar custom homes to Habitat for Humanity homes. For over 15 years, Habitat for Humanity Homes in Southern California has been installing the ACT D’MAND KONTROL® Systems circulation pump for the efficient water conservation and energy saving measures it provides.

In the case of a 1,200-1,400 square foot home, such as the average Habitat Home, the loss of water waiting for hot water averages close to 7,000 gallons annually.

A large home with poorly designed hot water plumbing can waste up to 12,000 gallons a year waiting for the hot water to reach the faucet.  

The easily installed system saves the average homeowner $300 per year on costs associated with water, energy needed to heat it, and waste treatment, at an annual an operating cost of only $1 per year.

The rising cost of water will bring far-reaching effects to the US economy and impact the profitability of water-intensive industries, such as agriculture, electrical generation and manufacturing.

Material health transparency is gaining prominence

The origin and lifecycle of building products is taking more prominence in a holistic view of the construction industry and its impact on the environment.

Material certifications such as those from the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute and the Declare Label from the International Living Future Institute, provide guidance for builders and owners on the products origin, safe use, and disposal throughout the life of a building.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified mark provides a clear, visible, and tangible validation of a manufacturer’s ongoing commitment to sustainability, offering third-party verification across five attributes: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship, and social fairness. The Material Health Certificate, which is part of Cradle to Cradle certification requirements but also available as a stand-alone certification, uses the same methodology to provide manufacturers with a trusted way to communicate their work toward chemically optimized products and supports growing industry and consumer interest in knowing about the chemicals in products and supply chains, avoiding chemicals of concern, and making a commitment to continual improvement toward greener chemistry.

Often compared to the nutritional labeling found on packaged food, Declare labels focus on specific information important to consumers and building industry professionals by offering a transparent platform for the disclosure of materials, chemicals and elements known to pose risks to human health or the environment. A variety of building products have earned the Declare label, including metal roofing and toilets.

In recognition of the importance of material health information, the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Version 4 Rating System includes the Cradle to Cradle Certified (CM) Program, solidifying the organization's commitment to material health.

The endorsement of Cradle to Cradle Certified products marks the USGBC's deepening commitment to material health and improving the impacts of buildings on the well-being of humans and the environment.

The new Material Health Certificate Registry is an online tool for identifying and communicating the work of manufacturers toward chemically optimized products.

The Material Health Certificate Registry will provide a free database for architects to find and specify products that have been assessed against the v3.1 Material Health Certification Standard, which is governed by the Institute’s Certification Standards Board. Products that have achieved full Cradle-to-Cradle certification across all five attributes in the standard can still be found in the growing Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Registry.


Topics: Green Building Marketing

Chuck Lohre

Written by Chuck Lohre

Owner of Lohre & Associates Marketing Communications. The company celebrated their 80th Anniversary in 2015, his 38th.