Green homes have come a long way in the last few decades, and building a green home is quickly shifting from an “alternative” way of building to the mainstream…and it’s only growing greener.
The Scope of the Green Home Market
According to the most recent 2020 study conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics, in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), about one third of single family home builders (33%) report that they are currently doing green builds for more than a majority of their projects. And the green home builder market share continues to grow, with the number of dedicated green home builders that solely focus on building green homes growing to 21% in the 2020 report compared to 19% in 2017. Plus, in addition to new green homes there seems to be solid growth in the amount of green home remodeling work that is being done too.
The NAHB green home building survey highlights that the scope and level of green elements incorporated into homes can vary by builder and geographic region. Significantly, 91% of home builders now use energy-efficient practices in their homes whether or not the home is technically considered an eco-friendly “green home” project, and over two thirds (69%) do so on the majority of the homes they build. The report shows that most home builders use some energy-efficient practices and demonstrates that a home doesn’t have to be a hard-core, certified “Green Home” to incorporate green building characteristics. Additionally, many home owners will find that having the ability to include at least some green home elements can be an attractive alternative if their budget or plans do not allow a more significant investment.
At the same time, reported costs for building new green homes have gone down even as more eco-friendly green building elements are being incorporated into homes. Most green home builders believe that the cost differential to go green has decreased over time, likely because of increased builder experience and the larger supply of options and competition that are driving down prices in the green products market. In fact, about three-quarters of green builders surveyed by the NAHB believe the cost differential for building a green home is less than 10% more than building a non-green home (with 56% of those green home builders estimating the cost differential to be between 5%-10%). Despite the cost premium for building green, 84% of single family home builders think the lower operating costs that are achieved with green building practices add more value to a home than the cost of the green home premium that customers may pay.
All of this is important to consider for home builders who are looking to distinguish and grow their business in this expanding green home market. It’s also inspiring for people who are interested in building the home of their dreams, whether it’s a net zero home or certified green home or just one built or remodeled with green home elements. With the expanding green home markets, there are a slew of options for consumers that improve the quality of their home, reduce energy costs, protect their health and have a decreased environmental impact.
Incorporating Green Home Building Ideas
The good news is that building or living in a greener home does not mean you have to conform to the strictest requirements or make your new home LEED certified or Zero Energy (where it is so green that it produces more energy than it uses). Dropping costs in green technology are helping to make green housing a popular investment and available to more and more homeowners. You don’t have to go “off the grid” to start incorporating green or eco-friendly benefits into homes. Indeed, many green home products and technologies now can be purchased right from your smart phone or in your neighborhood hardware store.
Even well-known national home builders are beginning to offer green home options and choices for their home buyers. Home builders are putting these green building concepts to work for homebuyer customers at all price levels. Read more about this trend. Why not aim to continue to improve your home’s efficiency and environmental impact while making choices that work in your budget today and make your home greener?
So if you’re planning to build a new home, here are some green home building ideas you may want to consider:
No matter how green you build a large home, a smaller home with the same energy-efficient and eco-friendly construction techniques will have a smaller environmental impact. And even though “Tiny Homes” are all the rage, building smaller doesn’t mean that you need to restrict yourself to living tiny — using creative design principles you can make your more expansive dream home plans have a smarter yet smaller footprint.
Smaller housing options are becoming popular because of their efficiency, reduced maintenance costs, affordability and lower impact, and are being planned in both urban and rural settings. The point is, just be thoughtful about how you use your space when planning and building your home. Design your home around your lifestyle, and keep the space manageable and cost effective. Think of square footage as an investment; put it where you want it most instead of expanding in every direction.
The sun is the ultimate source of clean, low-cost energy. When you build, you have a unique opportunity to plan for solar power use in a way that owners of older homes cannot. By making solar power native technology in your new home, you can take advantage of light, positioning and geography to get the most efficiency and energy for your investment. How you situate your home on its lot and where you place solar panels can have a significant impact on the power you collect (evaluate the solar potential of your property and others using Google’s Project Sunroof website). Solar shingles are an emerging new option that could have a better aesthetic appearance compared to the typical solar panel installation, and even Tesla is producing a solar shingle product.
Combined with other green building ideas, solar power can generate enough energy for you to start selling some back to your utility company. In fact, by federal law utilities are required to purchase excess power from grid-connected home solar systems at a rate equal to what it costs the power provider to produce power itself. If that isn’t incentive enough, there also are grants, tax breaks and other government incentives related to the use of solar power in your home.
Cool Your Roof
The material used on your roof can make a dramatic difference in your home’s energy efficiency. You may want to consider a product that reflects the sun’s energy away from the roof, cools faster at night and holds less heat for less time in order to help reduce energy costs and usage related to heat. Slate, terra cotta, white tiles, special membranes, and metal roofing are a few of the roofing products available with varying degrees of green benefits. There are many roofing options, and though the green options typically are more expensive – both in terms of materials and installation – you’ll likely recoup the costs through energy savings, the longevity of the product and minimal maintenance required.
We have to mention the “living roof”, because it’s just so…cool. Also known as green roofs, living roofs are constructed to hold plants that grow on the roof to catch and filter rainwater and will insulate the home. This also prevents roof water from running directly into the storm sewer system. While they’ve been used more frequently in commercial building, living roofs certainly can be incorporated into residential roofs.
Harness Geothermal Power
Geothermal power involves a substantial up-front investment, but with it, you have almost limitless energy with which to heat and cool your home. The earth itself becomes your heat sink with geothermal energy. During winter, heat moves from deep underground to your home’s HVAC system; in the summer, your AC removes excess heat and dissipates it underground using the same principle as a heat pump. Think of geothermal heating and cooling as a way to move heat instead of creating it through combustion.
Rely on Recycling
If you’ve ever wondered where old blue jeans and newspapers go, the answer might be as close as your walls. Total-fill insulation made from recycled materials pays off in the short term and the long run. Because you’re using recyclables, your initial material cost is often lower than it would be for virgin materials. You’re also saving money over time by using insulating products that perform as well or better than first-use insulation. Cotton, wool, wood pulp and soybean byproducts are a few of the materials you’ll find as spray-in or roll insulation.
There are many other recycled materials being used in green home building, such as reclaimed wood and countertops made from recycled glass, aluminum and even soda cans. You also may want to discuss with your builder options for using recycled steel or recycled wood/plastic composite, both of which are high quality, durable products that can reduce the amount of new lumber used in your home.
Use Sustainable Materials & Methods
From the frame of your home to the flooring inside it, sustainable building materials can reduce the impact of your construction on the environment. Wood is a renewable resource when you choose a supplier who follows sustainable planting practices. Flooring is one area where new products that are environmentally friendly and great for home insulation ratings and climate control efficiency are flourishing. Modern flooring of this sort includes bamboo, cork and linoleum, which is made of natural, renewable materials. More consumers, designers and builders are choosing linoleum as environmentally friendly flooring with a long lifespan — 25 to 40 years – and the ability to be completely recycled at the end of life.
Additionally, some methods of construction have inherently sustainable and eco-friendly characteristics. Many Modular or Prefab homes can be considered sustainable not just because of their energy efficiency and the materials used, but also because the process of building the home’s elements in a controlled setting produces many material and labor savings and can decrease waste. Modular homes have become increasingly popular and are considered an accepted form of green home construction in many markets.
Work with Your Land
If you design your home to take advantage of the surrounding landscape from the outset, you’ll enjoy easier, less expensive lawn care for the life of your home. If your property slopes, plan your planting to take advantage of its natural characteristics, planting water-loving willows in low areas and conifers on higher ground. Try xeriscaping, a landscaping technique that uses native plants and rock to minimize water use. Developers can use green land development strategies that can save money and are environmentally-friendly.
Focus on Water
Americans are becoming increasingly aware of fresh water consumption and conservation, and are taking further steps to reduce water consumption. Consider fixtures and appliances that conserve water such as low flow faucet aerators, tankless water heaters and Energy Star rated washers. There’s even a product on the market that automatically pauses your shower once the water has warmed up so that gallons of hot water aren’t wasted in an empty shower.
Also consider capturing rainwater on your property. Before homes had running water, households often collected run-off in cisterns. You can use collected rainwater to fill water features, irrigate gardens and maintain landscapes. Innovations in onsite water management technologies include using a rain garden in place of simply piping water off the property and as a natural way of filtering runoff in your yard.
“Energize” Windows in your Green Home
Energy Star windows are have quickly become rock stars in the green home product market. These aptly-named windows are government-rated as Energy Star products, and are certified to be more energy-efficient than even the newer, double-pane window models that don’t qualify. Energy Star windows also greatly reduce sound transfer between outside and inside. The result? Heating and cooling costs drop and home values rise. Homeowners can experience savings of hundreds of dollars a month in reduced energy bills.
Take Thermostats to a New Level
Smart home technology is becoming much more common and affordable, and smart home products and services can be considered “green” if they improve a home’s energy management. According to the NAHB report, almost half of green home builders report using smart home technology on 50% or more of their new homes.
Highly programmable thermostats are becoming the standard smart home product for new homes being built everywhere. Plus, off-the-shelf upgrades like Google’s Nest Thermostats are being installed in existing homes by homeowners or their local HVAC contractor. These high-tech thermostats can be programmed (or learn on their own) to adjust heating and cooling processes that take into account time of day, times when no one is home, vacations and more. This type of thermostat reduces your heating and cooling bills and saves the environment by reducing energy production. Furthermore, your HVAC system works more efficiently, meaning less wear-and-tear on the system and a longer life.
There are many, many green products and smart building options out there today that can add value to your home, decrease the home’s environmental impact and make your home perform better. In fact, as the market evolves the term “green homes” is being used alongside the term “high performance homes” to convey the efficiency and cost savings that are gained by the homeowner.
Ready to get started? Consult your builder, architect, landscaper or even your local home builders’ association for information – before building your home and throughout the process – to help you go green while building your own dream home or when building for your customers.
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