7 green home trends for 2011

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
7 green home trends for 2011

After a tough 2010 in which green home building was one of the few bright spots in the economy, the editors of ProudGreenHome.com are eager for 2011. The items are not necessarily predictions of what may come to pass, but more of a wish list for the green-building industry.

1) Refinement of green certification

For homeowners and home builders, achieving certification of a green home carries a lot of pride and potential value in the marketplace. But deciding which green scheme to follow may be confusing. The decision is not to be taken lightly, as the cost of certification could add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the price of the home. LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is one of the most well-known programs, along with Energy Star for Homes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Other certification programs are available from the National Association of Homebuilders and Masco Home Services as well as approximately 80 other national and regional programs.

Certification can be expensive. For instance, pursuing LEED certification could add anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent to the cost of a home. Some local certifications may cost only a few hundred dollars.

Some of the more well known regional plans include the Austin Energy Residential Green Building program and the Earth Advantage Institute. Utility companies may offer certifications as well.

While the programs are not necessarily mutually exclusive, it’s not clear which ones return the most value to the homeowner. Not all programs actually measure a home’s performance relative to the program’s goals, so the return on investment may be murky. Fewer programs with more easily understood objectives and measurements would clear the air for homeowners who want to go green.

2) Smaller, high performance homes

Small homeThe median home size in America has fallen to about 2,100 square feet, down from 2,300 square feet at the at the peak of the market in 2007, with many McMansions topping 10,000, according to a survey by real-estate site Trulia. Think of a home like a car – pavement-pounding sports cars are typically light and nimble, using technology to wring the most out of the experience. Well-designed, well-proportioned homes perform better, too. Components in a home matter, as does the overall design. Build quality makes a difference as well. Attention to detail pays off, whether you're talking about a car or a home.

People are finding out they can live a quality lifestyle in less space, and reduce their impact on the environment. Do people still want big homes? Sure. But there’s a growing segment of the market that values quality of life over square footage. And builders are responding to the shift.

(photo courtesy of Pulte Homes Inc.)

3) Green goes inside

Green makes its way into the interior as homeowners understand how important their homes are to theGreen kitchenhealth of those who live there. Along with eating right and exercising more, ridding a home of potential health hazards will be the next step for better living. Interior finishes such as such as low-VOC paints, stains and sealants, and furnishings from natural products such as bamboo, eucalyptus and sustainable wood improve indoor air quality. HVAC systems remove allergens and freshen the air, and water filters block harmful chemicals. Materials from recycled and recyclable products may not improve air quality but contribute to a greener environment all around.

(photo courtesy of Pulte Homes Inc.)

4) Prefab-lite makes a splash

While most people think of prefabricated construction or modular housing as home sections lifted into place by a crane, that’s not all there is to it. Prefab components such as panelized components such as structural insulated panels offer a third way between full prefab and stick-built homes. Factory-built components avoid damage and dimensional changes due to weather. Panels also cut construction time and waste.  Plus, panels fit into any home style, from modern to Victorian. The virtues of prefab are well known. But changing the habits of homeowners and builders may take more time.

5) Home energy production takes charge

solar powerHome energy production – much of it from renewable sources – will gain ground as fossil fuel prices rise. For instance, in the U.S. the price of solar power for consumers hit a record low in 2009 and was falling in some areas throughout 2010. Of course, that was due in large part to aggressive tax credits that expired in 2010.

Alternatives to solar include wind and microCHP, which uses natural gas to generate heat and electricity in a highly efficient system. Tax policy and energy prices will drive this market but it’s never been easier to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption for the home.

Expect technology transfer from the U.S. military’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption in war zones. Unfortunately, there are few things better for acceleration of technology than a war.

6) Design for green benefits

Design may be the magic bullet for green homes, more so than the latest high-tech innovation. ArchitectsGreen home designand designers say a home’s orientation to the sun to take advantage of passive solar heat is critical, as are design techniques to store and transfer the sun’s heat. Homes that incorporate overhangs, thermal mass such as concrete slabs and other options can dramatically cut heating bills. Translating that philosophy into large-scale housing developments, where sites are laid out for maximum density, is still a challenge. In new building as well as remodeling and retrofits, the path to successful green home begins with the design.

(photo courtesy of CertainTeed)

7) Greenwashing will grow

Green marketing is where nutritional marketing was a few years ago. Food makers were slapping a lite or low-fat label on everything from broccoli to bacon. Consumers were confused until labeling regulations helped clear the air.

Consumers face the same situation with green products, as the U.S government strengthens rules on green labels for a variety of items. Consumers will have to do their research on what matters most to them. For instance, one product may use less energy, but is made from virgin plastics, compared to another product made from recycled materials. There will be tradeoffs. Do some research on products you use often and make some green choices for your home. Don’t beat yourself up over every purchase.

(Bungalow photo courtesy of brewbooks/Flickr)

Topics: Certification / LEED, Indoor Air Quality, Interior Design, Micro CHP, Remodeling, Solar Power, Trends / Statistics, Wind Power

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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