Shortly after last year's USGBC GreenBuild conference, an online publication queried building professionals as to their thoughts and expectations of the future of green building. Overwhelmingly, it seemed the green building experts interviewed believed that eventually there would be no distinction between green, high-performance building and standard construction, simply because conventional construction would be so much more efficient than current industry standards. Similarly, I often hear builders opine that because energy codes have become so much more stringent, there soon will be no need for above-code green certification programs.
In both cases, I couldn’t disagree more. There will always be a place for innovative, high-performance buildings that exceed prevailing construction practices and technologies. And that's very good for the industry.
True, the performance benchmark for all buildings will continue to increase progressively as a result of more stringent building and energy codes. But codes are a minimum standard applied at a very broad scale, and in general, lag industry innovation, being typically built upon thoroughly tested and proven technologies and systems. So, while all buildings should meet some minimum level of performance, many will not reach the highest performance technically possible at the time of construction. This is the realm of the green, high performance buildings, stretching to exceed current codes and standards, using innovative, state-of-the-art products, novel technologies and pioneering construction methods.
Let’s consider workforce housing designed for families earning the median income. Yes, these families benefit from lower utility bills. But does it make sense to burden them with high-performance technology that may be more expensive to maintain (precisely because it is new and not widely available) or has a long payback? Of course not.
Yet many builders still elect to build high-performance homes – even if it's not easy or cost-effective – because for them, the benefits outweigh the costs.
First, some builders are simply competitive, high achievers. Either for personal reasons or for corporate reputation they want to build the highest performance buildings possible. These builders know they can design and construct a better built home or apartment building than their competition, winning many awards and showcasing the next generation of building products and construction techniques.
Other builders believe there's a market benefit to building green, sustainable buildings, based on a number of credible studies demonstrating how green certified buildings financially outperform non-certified buildings in several aspects. These builders tout their homes' green benefits to consumers because they understand that consumers want to live in a home with a healthier indoor environment; that costs less time and money to operate; and can be part of a more sustainable lifestyle. For these builders, independent, third-party green certification programs – like the NGBS Green Certified program – can help them credibly market their building’s performance achievements. Such programs can also ensure they don’t run afoul of the FTC’s green marketing guidelines, as discussed in Got Third-Party Certification?
Last, builders want to design and construct above-code buildings to master new building techniques and technologies in order to be a step ahead should these higher levels of performance become standard. These builders can figure out the best, most cost-effective way for their companies to meet higher performance standards before they are mandated, without the risk of non-compliance if their new strategies do not produce the desired efficiencies.
As green building advocates, we have a responsibility to imagine, encourage, nurture, incubate, refine, test and spec new building practices. Simultaneously, we need to be confident building science and innovation can keep pace with the vision for a sustainable future. We near a time when zero energy homes seem not only an achievable stretch goal, but a probable code requirement – and builders nationwide are expected to be change agents within an industry slow to change.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery reminds us, “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” Voluntary green building programs like NGBS Green Certified help enable a high-performance future. To learn more about how Home Innovation Research Labs is helping, visit the Home Innovation website or contact us.***