Choosing biodegradable shampoo and recycling soda cans are good earth-friendly steps. Next up is building energy-efficient green homes, offices and retail spaces that use solar and thermal power — and leave less of a footprint on the planet. Here's how green buildings can save energy, water, and money.
The perception of green homes is changing — they're no longer expected to be off the power grid, carved into the side of a hill like a cave. Future homes will be more energy efficient and earth-friendly and are expected to produce at least as much energy as they consume over the course of a year.
Earth Advantage Institute looks at green building standard
Earth Advantage Institute, a green building certification resource, has taken a look forward at green building expectations for the next decade.
"The National Association of Homebuilders now has a green building standard in place, and the federal government has invested $4 billion of its stimulus money in energy efficiency for its buildings nationwide," Sean Penrith, the institute's executive director says. "The next 10 years will accelerate these trends."
Observers in the field predict a number of changes. For example, newly built homes will use one-third the energy of existing homes. Progressive builders are already going beyond the current standards to build "net-zero" homes that produce at least as much energy as they consume over one year. The green building techniques will filter down to the mainstream rapidly as homebuyers see how easy it is to create energy-efficient and even furnace-free homes. These super-insulated "passive homes" have even been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Buying decisions will be based on better information about the life-cycle impact of products. New studies are underway on the total environmental cost of building materials, from raw materials collection to manufacture, installation and eventual disposal or recycling.
The rising cost of clean water will spur most people to stop using it to water lawns and flush toilets. Many homes will use graywater (domestic wastewater from any source except toilet and garbage) and rainwater for these purposes.
Energy-efficient buildings save money
Lenders will require energy-efficient buildings because they are more stable investments. Sustainable homes are built to protect the homes from moisture, excessive heat and cold, and airborne toxins — all of which can cause unhealthy conditions for occupants or hasten decomposition of building materials. Efficient homes cost less to operate, so residents will have more cash for rent or mortgages.
Smarter, denser, green communities
Communities will become denser, making better use of pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths and mass transit. The 2010 New Partners for Smart Growth conference documented the growing preference to live in denser, more convenient, earth-friendly urban environments.
Not just buildings, but neighborhoods and entire cities will be certified. This verification work will ensure that water conservation, green space preservation, access to public transportation, and ongoing resident sustainability education are addressed.
All buildings will have baseline energy scores based on home design and the physical properties of the green house. Homeowners will have a better idea of where they stand in terms of energy efficiency and will understand how to upgrade their homes cost-effectively.
Real-time energy tracking in green homes
Homeowners will be significantly better informed about their energy and water use. Online home energy displays will enable them to monitor consumption in real time: how many times they opened their refrigerator door, when the hairdryer was used, how many gallons of water their teenager used during their shower, along with the approximate dollar cost of each activity.
Learn more about net-zero GREEN homes
Zero-energy home tour
David Shepler from IBM Research gives us a tour of his Zero Net Energy House (crib), built by Anthony Aebi of Greenhill Contracting.