US body predicts green building trends for 2010

An organisation set up to promote sustainable construction in America's Northwest has produced a 'top ten' list of emerging trends it claims will become increasingly important through 2010 and beyond.

The Earth Advantage Institute, which works with the construction sector to promote sustainable homes, says green building was a bright spot in 2009 in what was an otherwise lackluster year for the industry.

Its future-gazing predicts the following growth areas in the US, many of which are relevant far beyond American shores:

  • The smart grid and connected home.

    Improvements to the grid will make generation more effective, while smart-meters that show where the energy is being used in the home will shape consumer behaviour.
  • Energy labeling for homes and office buildings.

    More accurate energy rating systems for homes and office spaces – similar to the miles-per-gallon ratings for cars – have caught the attention of energy agencies and legislators around the country. Not only can it make a building-to-building or home-to-home comparison easier, but a publicly available score could galvanize owners to make needed energy improvements while adding value to their building.
  • Building information modeling (BIM) software.

    The continued evolution of CAD software for building design has produced new add-on tools with increasingly accurate energy modeling as well as taking into account energy properties for many materials and features. This will prove instrumental in predicting building performance.
  • Buy-in to green building by the financial community.

    Lenders and insurers have come to see green homes and buildings as better for their bottom line and are working to get new loan products, insurance packages, and metrics into place.
  • “Rightsizing” of homes.

    As we’ve seen during the current downturn, a larger home no longer translates into greater equity. Given that the forecast for home valuation remains conservative, that energy prices are expected to rise over time, and the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates mid-year, homeowners will likely feel more comfortable building smaller homes and smaller add-ons.
  • Eco-districts.

    Portland is already on the bandwagon with this one, encouraging the creation of greener communities where residents have access to all most services and supplies within walking or biking distance. These areas would also incorporate green spaces and green certified buildings. While there are already such neighbourhoods in American cities, the creation of walkable, low impact communities in the suburban setting is also gaining steam.
  • Water conservation.

    Water will be the essential resource in the next decade. Because indoor and outdoor residential water use accounts for more than half of the publicly supplied water in the United States, the EPA finalised the WaterSense specification for new homes in December of 2009, which reduces water use by about 20% less water compared to a conventional new home. Mandatory energy labeling in Europe already documents water efficiency in buildings – it may soon be incorporated into US performance scores.
  • Carbon Calculation.

    With buildings contributing roughly half the carbon emissions in the environment, the progressive elements in the building industry are looking at ways to document, measure, and reduce greenhouse gas creation in building materials and processes.

    Lifecycle analysis (LCA) of building products is underway by third party technical teams, while others are working with federal and state building authorities to educate staff, create monetised carbon credits, and develop effective carbon offset policies. This effort will be heightened once a federal cap-and-trade mechanism is launched in this country.
  • Net Zero Buildings.

    A net zero building is a building that generates more energy than it uses over the course of a year, as a result of relatively small size, extreme efficiencies and onsite

    renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or geo-exchange systems. While the Architecture 2030 Challenge sets forth net zero as the goal for all buildings in 2030, we are already within striking distance on many fronts.
  • Sustainable building education.

    While the slowdown afforded many builders the opportunity to learn about green building and establish credentials, the momentum for green building is being supplied by homebuyers, homeowners and building owners. The continued demand, especially in progressive cities, will supply new learning opportunities, not just for designers and builders but for the entire chain of professionals involved in the building industry, from real estate to finance, and insurance.
  • Sam Bond

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