With much of the nation baking in record-breaking heat this summer, many homeowners might be getting anxious about the utility bills arriving in their mailboxes. Some may even be considering home improvements and remodeling projects to make their homes more energy-efficient.
Many builders are already incorporating new products, supplies and technologies that can lower gas, electric and water consumption and costs. And the National Association of Home Builders is trying to get the message out to its members that they need to bring “green” building into the mainstream.
“It’s very exciting to see how many green products and technologies are available now for home builders and homeowners,” David Pressly, a builder in Statesville, N.C., and president of the national builders’ group, said in a statement. “The green market is growing by leaps and bounds, and as the market expands, we will see prices come down, making energy-efficient choices much more accessible.”
According to a survey of home builders released this year by the national builders’ association, more builders are getting involved in green building. In fact, 31 percent of builders surveyed reported more than moderate involvement with green building, while 90 percent of the home-builder community reported some participation in green building.
According to a residential green building report issued by McGraw-Hill Construction, green building made up about 2 percent of the U.S. construction market in 2005, including both commercial and residential construction. The residential market size of that 2 percent translates to about a $7.2 billion market. McGraw-Hill forecasts that by 2010, between 5 and 10 percent of new construction starts (both commercial and residential) will be green projects. That projected growth translates to between $19 billion and $38 billion for the residential construction market alone.
Among the technological innovations builders are incorporating into new homes:
Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.
These components include: photovoltaic roof shingles, which use solar energy; geothermal heat pumps, which take advantage of underground temperatures; and solar water heaters, which can slash utility bills. Replacing a traditional electric water heater with a solar model, for example, can reduce costs by up to 80 percent a year, preventing more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the 20-year expected life of the appliance.
Using an Energy Star-rated washer and dryer can slash utility costs by 10 to 50 percent. New front-loading washers use only half the water of conventional machines. Tankless water heaters provide hot water on demand, rather than storing it, reducing lost heat.
These windows block excessive radiation from the sun and prevent air from leaking in or out of the house.
Builders are also returning to basics, such as orienting houses to take advantage of sunlight and shade and xeriscaping, or choosing native plants, which require less water.
One company that has pioneered green building in Florida is Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities Inc., the developer of several projects in South Florida, including Parkland Golf & Country Club in Parkland and Evergrene in Palm Beach Gardens. Evergrene’s green model home was named the “greenest” home in Florida based on the standards of the Florida Green Building Coalition.
“Our senior management believes it’s the right thing to do,” said Karen Childress, WCI’s environmental stewardship manager. She said demand is increasing for green houses because of increasing energy costs and the media raising awareness of green building techniques.
Childress thinks more builders will jump on the green-building bandwagon as time goes on. “The tipping point will be energy efficiency,” she said. “I think every American would like to see a reduction in our dependence on foreign oil.”