While the economy has not been kind to most new home builders, Earth Advantage has seen a surging interest in home energy management and energy improvement among homeowners. Those builders and remodelers who have adopted a transparent green message have been quite successful.
These trends, which range from a certified multi-family construction to the advent of consumer friendly home energy technology, were identified by us based on discussions with a broad range of audiences over the latter part of 2011. These sectors included policymakers, builders, developers, architects, real estate brokers, appraisers, lenders, and homeowners.
Without further ado:
1) Urban density. Filling in the spaces is the name of the game as homeowners and builders opt to create more living space through the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), laneway homes (bordering the back lane behind the main house), and build on infill lots. All this because the younger crowd and the empty nesters are opting to settle in the city where they can be closer to cultural activities, mass transit, more sustainable lifestyles, and other like-minded people.
2) Green multifamily homes. As a corollary to the urban density trend, Earth Advantage Institute has seen a large spike in Northwest multifamily building certifications this past year. The increased interest by building owners and operators in energy efficiency savings coupled with 2011’s 17 percent growth in multifamily homes (McGraw-Hill) means that we can expect to see a rise in certifications in this sector, especially in progressive regions.
3) Energy upgrades start to drive home remodels. Builders and remodelers who are plugged into changing consumer preferences (smaller homes, reduced energy bills) have been able to capitalize on energy upgrade work. They have moved into the energy audit and residential retrofit market by either expanding their service offerings or, in the case of large West Coast remodeler Neil Kelly, creating entirely new service groups. In the Northwest, demand has increased, leading to significant new energy improvement business for these firms. Remodelers see such work as a driver to help bring in more remodel leads.
4) Deployment and testing of new materials. Although architects and builders are eager to try to new energy-saving materials and systems, these products require significant testing to ensure that the materials and benefits will last the life of the building and to avoid litigation. As a result, national labs and university research departments are partnering with builders to create test beds and sensor-filled buildings that log the energy performance of new materials and equipment. Portland State University’s mechanical engineering department recently partnered with a local builder to measure the effects of phase change material used as insulation in a duplex passive house, while Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories is constructing a test bed that will track all performance aspects of new materials and equipment.