A Look Back: 2016 Top Green Building Trends
Vashon Island House, Vashon Island, Washington. Photo by Dale Lang. From PreFabulous Small Houses, by Sherri Koones.
Here's a review of some of the top green building trends that led reader interest in 2016.
From the Tiny House trend to tighter thermal envelopes, the marketplace is taking a deeper interest in high performance, sustainable homes. Here are some excerpts from our most popular stories to bring you up to speed.
Despite the number of voluntary green building certification programs, the biggest driver of green building are the local building codes that govern practices within local jurisdictions.
In most areas of the United States, the governing code is the International Energy Conservation Code, which is updated every three years. The current version is the 2015 code; the 2018 code is undergoing development. Often local government mandate use of codes that are several versions behind the current version.
The International Code Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes, oversees the International Energy Conservation Code. The codes are designed to deliver through model code regulations that will result in the optimal utilization of fossil fuel and renewable resources in all communities.
This code contains separate provisions for commercial buildings and for low-rise residential buildings (three stories or less in height above grade). Each set of provisions, IECC—Commercial Provisions and IECC—Residential Provisions, is separately applied to buildings within their respective scopes. Each set of provisions is to be treated separately. Each contains a Scope and Administration chapter, a Definitions chapter, a General Requirements chapter, a chapter containing energy efficiency requirements and existing building provisions applicable to buildings within its scope.
This comprehensive energy conservation code establishes minimum regulations for energy-efficient buildings using prescriptive and performance-related provisions. It is founded on broad-based principles that make possible the use of new materials and new energy-efficient designs.
At the 2016 EEBA Conference and Expo, building science experts discussed the benefit of the incorporating green building techniques and outcomes into the IECC code, and the benefit of additional voluntary green building programs.
Bill Fay, executive director, Energy Efficient Codes Coalition
The codes set the bar for what some people say is the least efficient home you can legally build. So in the span of two code cycles we boosted the efficiency of the IECC by 38 percent. It was a historic success. Some efficiency opponents are very powerful and they're trying to roll back some of those codes. But it really brought to light the fact that nearly everyone is united behind more energy efficiency for our nation, for localities, and for the individual homeowner.
The NAHB conducted a poll and found that 9 out of ten Americans want an energy efficient home with permanent features and will pay 2-3 percent more for that home. You would think that there would be no builders out there that are against that. But there are lot of builders that are frustrated and strongly opposing the efficiency gains, particularly with the code because when you raise the code it raises all the homes in the nation and it improve the energy efficiency of the whole nation.
It all comes back to eliminating waste for the homeowner, and for the builder it really talks about the quality of the home they're building and the quality of the home they're selling. In every state in the nation we find there are great builders building green and saving their customers tremendous amounts of money and helping to stabilize our national energy policy at the same time.
Sam Rashkin, chief architect with the Building Technologies Office, U.S. Department of Energy
If we look at the federal government there's a really good set of programs that all work as a staircase to higher performance. It starts with the energy codes themselves, which have really improved over time and even an energy code building is a great start to doing a better building. But there's so much more we can do. So the next increment is to do Energy Star certified homes. That starts to integrate a comprehensive approach to building science, particularly you're looking at the water management, the HVAC systems, better enclosures, so Energy Star is a great way to go above code.
But then zero Energy Ready Homes are the next jump. That takes the great work of Energy Star certified homes and adds extra best practices from the Building America program, including things like getting air ducts inside conditioned space, building to the next generation of code, have a comprehensive indoor air quality system, including a comprehensive package of energy efficient components inside the homes, now that they represent more than half the load of the house and need to be addressed. And also having the house so its zero energy ready with a solar-ready construction set of details that are low cost, no cost and effectively avoid disruption and cost penalties in the future for adding a solar system.
Then there are really important programs like Water Sense that make sure the whole house has water conservation throughout, and the indoor Airplus is encumbered in the Zero Energy Ready Home Label and stands on its own as another label for improved indoor air quality.
The tiny house movement has grown wildly over the past few years as people look to simplify their lives and lessen their environmental impact.
But could your family really live in a home smaller than many travel trailers?
Author Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell answers those questions in her new book, Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband, and One Remote–Plus More Stories on How You Can Too.
Campbell discusses her own tiny home journey with her husband, Dale, and their six dogs in their 480-sq. ft. cabin in the Ozarks. She also talks to other families living the lifestyle, in tiny homes ranging from hand built cabins to a catamaran sailing on the oceans.
For years, Kerri had been subconsciously trying to live up to the “American Dream” of owning a house when circumstances forced her and her husband into a 480‑square foot house in the woods.
They soon realized that they had serendipitously discovered a better way of life—by living smaller, they were in fact "Living Large." They were not spending extra time cleaning and maintaining the house, but had the freedom to pursue their hobbies; they did not waste money on things they didn’t need; and they grew emotionally (as well as physically) closer.
For ordering information click here.
Two of the hottest trends in home building -- tiny houses and prefab houses -- combine in the pages of Prefabulous Small Houses.
The latest book from author Sheri Koones, Prefabulous Small Houses (The Taunton Press, $32.00, 240pp;) explores the beauty, variety, design, and positive benefits of small-scale, prefab construction. More than 30 prefab homes ranging in size from 350 square feet to 2,000 square feet from around the nation are showcased; 250 stunning color photos and 32 floor plans provide all of the inspiration you need to think small, smart, and prefabulous.
In an exclusive interview with ProudGreenHome.com, Koones discussed the tiny house trend, prefab houses, and the difficulty of picking out her favorite home profiled in the book.
PGH: How do you look at prefab or factory built homes in the marketplace?
SK: There are different types of prefab, most people associate prefab with modular homes, but there are many other types of prefabs.
The home on the cover of the book is a kit type construction where the company cuts all of the parts, including the windows, and they go out to the builder and the parts are numbered and it's like putting together a puzzle.
And then there's structural insulated panels, and modular, and then concrete panels, and insulated panels, and prefabricated log homes and timber frames all different combinations of those.
They are different than manufactured homes, which are built on a metal chassis, and come on wheels. They always have wheels, though they are very often hidden. They meet the HUD code, not local building codes. All of the houses that I write about meet the local codes and don't have wheels, although in some cases they have metal frames but they are very different from trailers or HUD-type houses.
PGH: What are some of the barriers and benefits of prefab and systems-built home construction?
SK: A lot of builders don't want to let go of building on site because that's what they know that's what they've been doing for the last 30 years. A lot of them feel like they would lose money by doing this.
On the other hand, if they are the contractor on a modular or some other type of prefab house, they're going to be able to build many more houses and if they get connected to a good factory, they will get lot of customers through factory recommendations.
For architects, they get to do the creative part, the construction drawings are most often created by the manufacturer, so they don't have to do all that real tedious work and they get to do more creating.
When people start building prefab, they never go back. A builder I know in Washington he just tested building using SIPS and after he built with it, he never went back to building any other way. He said it was the most efficient way of building; it was fast, and it made the house very energy efficient.
I've dealt with homeowners in several books, and I've had heart surgeons and nuclear physicists, they are smart people and they try to find the best way to build and a lot of these people decide to build prefab. So it's not a default way of building, it's the choice when people make the effort and decide this is how they're going to build because it's better.
Louisville home builder Sy Safi broke ground in February on the Proud Green Home of Louisville, also known as Su Verde, which means “about green” in Italian. Though the roughly 3,700-square foot structure is nearly complete, he intentionally is not putting on the finishing touches, wanting the future owner to have final say on finishes, basement design and other visual aspects.
Safi has organized a series of open houses and training sessions for real estate agents and those within the building industry to get an up-close look at how traditional construction methods and strategies can be modified easily to erect residences that spur positive, healthy impacts for both occupants and the environment.
“We’re trying to add credibility (to green building) ... and we want it to be recognized,” said Safi, of UberGreen Spaces & Homes.
Safi is working to have the home listed and soon have a prospective owner. He’s unsure how long it might take the sell the home, as it likely will list 20-30 percent more than residences of comparable size – a little more than $1 million, he estimates.
But getting potential buyers to understand the Su Verde’s value hinges on real estate agents, appraisers and lenders learning the true story of sustainable construction.
“This house has way more value in it,” Safi said. “This home is the future of housing. I’m not going to turn my back on it. … This house will pay you back. This house will cost less than a $500,000 house over a 30-year period.”