Yesterday’s “Green” is Today’s Standard

By Beverly Smirnis

In the quest for airtightness, finding and fixing the big holes is easy; it’s the tiny holes and micro-cracks that can be the biggest challenge. AeroBarrier is an aerosolized water-based caulk that is suspended in the air of a pressurized structure; as the air leaks out of the house, the aerosolized particles collect and consolidate at the openings to seal them up.

Owens Corning’s Pure Safety High Performance was the first insulation to earn and receive the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s certification.  It meets USDA BioPreferred guidelines while also achieving a certified minimum average recycled content of 65 percent.

The Styrofoam™ Brand family of insulation products include new lower global warming (GWP) options for 2021, advancing DuPont’s 2030 Sustainability Goals and complying with adopted and upcoming state and regional regulations in the United States and Canada.

For the first time in industry history, consumers are able to monitor the quality of the air they breathe via a smart device application. Cosmos™ sensors placed throughout the home detect pollutants such as VOCs, PM2.5 particulate matter, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide. When any levels are out of range, the Cosmos Healthy Home System will activate the Panasonic ventilation fans to bring the indoor air quality back to normal levels.

Green building features, such as improved lighting, better air quality, and better connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, have been proven to positively impact health and wellbeing—things that are high on the list of just about every home buyer since the pandemic.

A “green” or “passive designed” house doesn’t look different from any other well-designed house.  The differences are in the way the homes are built and how they perform.   They consume much less heating energy than average new construction and greatly outperform homes built in previous decades.  Lower utility bills, greater comfort, reduced maintenance, and ultimately increased value that results in higher selling prices are among the advantages.

The third update of the National Green Building Standard (NGBS)  in 2020, has six green practice categories that align with important areas of sustainability:

  1. Site design, preparation, and development

A major goal of the program is to have low-impact development strategies and/or a green infrastructure designed to handle storm events. Transit features are also important for townhouses and cluster housing.

  1. Resource efficiency

Required percentages of recycled materials, including precut, precast, and preassembled products are specified. Resource efficiency also embraces size, with smaller homes being potentially more sustainable than larger homes.

  1. Energy Efficiency.

Not surprisingly, energy efficiency ranks at the top in terms of expectations with 95% of NAHB SmartMarket respondents saying it is important to them.  Of course, vital factors that ensure energy-efficiency relate to insulation, fenestration, U-factors, and solar heat gain coefficients for exterior doors, windows, and skylights. While foremost on most people’s minds when they think of energy efficiency is impact of these choices in relation to the cost to heat and cool their homes, the cost of heating water accounts for almost 20 percent of most household budgets.

Federal regulations require new storage tank water heaters to be more energy-efficient.  Although natural-gas water heaters cost more at the time of purchase, they typically use less energy and cost less to run (by about half) than electric water heaters.  Tankless (on-demand) water heaters are even more efficient, using heating coils to heat the water as needed.  They are best for households that aren’t drawing water for more than one use at a time and for homes that use natural gas to heat the water as electric models may require an expensive upgrade of the home’s electrical capacity.  Heat pump (or hybrid) water heaters capture heat from the air and transfer it to the water, using about 60 percent less energy than standard electric water heaters but they can need as much as 7 feet of clearance from floor to ceiling space and up to 1,000 cubic feet of uncooled space to capture enough heat from the air.  They also require a nearby drain to discharge the condensate and don’t work well in spaces that get below 40 degrees F.

Energy efficiency also relates to lighting.  The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use, and that starts in the design stage with sunlight harvesting for interior illumination.  Available technology like daylight sensors that automatically adjust for the light that’s being let in maximize the opportunity.  When and where lighting is needed, LED light fixtures use up to 85% less energy to produce the same amount of light as incandescents.

Green home plans also utilize passive solar design to increase the energy efficiency of the building envelope, and the use of all types of renewable technology continues to grow.   About 25% of single-family builders say they’re using solar photovoltaics and ground-source heat exchange. As demand increases, costs are beginning to decrease, helping to drive the goal towards net-zero homes.

  1. Water efficiency

Modern toilets using a fraction of the water as previous models can save between 55% and 77% of your annual water consumption, offering significant savings on ever-increasing water bills and protecting a resource we all depend upon to sustain life.  Smart lawn irrigation control systems can save an average home up to 15,000 gallons of water annually.

Less than half of the 80 to 100 gallons of water that the average American uses per day, is used for cooking or drinking, but most of it is treated, potable water from the municipal provider. Gray or recycled water and rainwater harvesting systems pose a huge opportunity for saving water that if flushed down toilets are used for lawn irrigation.

Lowering your use of water will also save water heating energy costs.  Consider that standard shower heads use up to 8 gallons of hot, steaming water per minute versus  new, low-flow shower heads using 1 to 2 gallons of water per minute. Today’s dishwashers currently use 5 gallons of water per cycle — half the amount of water and energy that standard dishwashers consumed 20 years ago.  Soil sensors in most dishwashing machines ensure dishwashers take only as long as they need to clean dishes.

  1. Indoor environmental quality

A home that is clean and efficient with less dust is very important to the millions of people living with asthma, allergies and chemical sensitivities.  A healthier indoor environment was ranked the second top priority for respondents in the NAHB SmartMarket report.  Avoiding the use paints, adhesives, sealants, and other building materials that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is where it starts.  A next step is adding air filtration to ensure that air is free of pollens and particulates.

  1. The operation, maintenance, and education of homeowners

The most recent version of the regularly updated NAHB book, What Home Buyers Really Want, revealed that 36% of about 4,000 home buyers polled said they want a sustainable, eco-friendly home, but weren’t prepared to pay a higher cost.  This requires that builders be able to illustrate that any extra paid now for a home with green, or zero energy measures, pays itself back in a certain number of years compared to paying less upfront and adding up the ongoing costs of heating and cooling expenses in the same time period. Furthermore, with the costs able to be rolled into a low-interest mortgage, the payback looks even better.

Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) HERS Index scores are a conclusive way to show the dramatic increase in the energy performance in newly built homes. Homeowners and prospective buyers can compare one home to another in terms of energy usage thanks to HERS scores based on multiple variables that affect the energy efficiency of a home, including exterior walls, attic, windows and doors, heating and cooling systems, ductwork, water heating systems, lighting and appliances. RESNET reports that approximately one-fifth of all new homes built in the U.S. are HERS rated and that HERS rated homes sell for an average of 2.7% more than comparable unrated homes.  RESNET data also shows that homes with better HERS scores sold for more than lesser rated homes—meaning homes with greater energy efficiency are being valued more.

The What Home Buyers Really Want findings also show that whole-house certification programs have become hugely important to home buyers.  Besides NGBS, the U.S. Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program are some of the other ways to rate and certify residential buildings.

The misperception that a green approach is only suitable for high-end projects has come a long way in being negated with a number of national production builders recognizing the need and bottom line impact of their decisions to implement advanced methodologies.  Ultimately, yesterday’s “green” is today’s expectation as the bar is continually set higher to differentiate “green” homes from standard homes.

Download Article