Blogs > Sara Gutterman > October 2013

The Future of the Building Industry



It’s 2014 planning time, which generally means creative brainstorming about strategic growth strategies, extensive assessment of existing processes, and, alas, belabored conversations about spreadsheets and budgets. Since Green Builder Media is perpetually endeavoring to stay on the leading edge, our annual planning also involves the identification of key innovations and market trends that will influence the shelter industry over the next year (and beyond).

Here are a few concepts that we believe will be significant market drivers in 2014:

• Net-Zero: perhaps the most important factor driving the residential building market (not only next year, but over the next decade) will be ever-tightening energy codes, water conservation rules, and the interim application of green programs and rating systems. In the future marketplace for shelter, no home will be able to slip under the green radar as it might have in the past. A home with a good energy performance rating, for example, will simply be worth more than one that doesn’t, and homeowners will respond quickly to that financial liability. Proprietary rating systems will shift in and out of importance as states tighten their building codes. Once states and local codes mandate that all new homes need to meet a zero-net-energy standard—and that day is fast approaching—proprietary rating systems may eventually become obsolete.

• Sustainability: healthier, more resource efficient homes are here to stay. We won’t go backwards on this trend. As consumer demand for green homes increases, building professionals and manufacturers will continue to find innovative ways to leverage sustainability for competitive advantage.

• Smart homes: as consumers become increasingly more technologically savvy, so will their homes. Energy management and automation systems that allow consumers to remotely control their homes are already becoming commonplace. Consumer electronics will be integrated into surfaces and design features in creative ways to enable the seamless use of technology. We expect to see the proliferation of other smart technologies, such as glass that can harvest solar energy or change transparency to create privacy, innovative lighting solutions (surfaces rather than fixtures), and decorative thin-film solar sculptures and accents.

• Efficient design: contemporary, sleek, well-designed, compact homes with flexible spaces will become more prevalent and desirable in the future. Homeowners are looking for cleaner, simpler spaces without fussy details or unnecessary clutter that can be transformed for multiple purposes throughout the day.

• ‘Engineered homes’: building assemblies will combine products into a unified operational system that is designed for performance, pre-fabricated, and tested. This grown-up version of the modular unit will become ubiquitous as consumers look for innovative, affordable, and resource-saving shelter options.

• Focus on systems-thinking and building science: homes are not just becoming smarter technologically, they’re also becoming more sophisticated in terms of advanced construction techniques, whole-home systems thinking, and understanding the interaction of products, components, and design elements. However, as homes become tighter, we’ll continue to see a battle between efficiency and indoor air quality as it pertains to proper ventilation, moisture control, and long-term performance.

• Durability: consumers want to spend their weekends playing rather than fixing, so they are demanding homes with low maintenance requirements and costs.

• Custom solutions: there is no one-size-fits-all for green building, and while there will always be point chasers, savvy professionals understand that to remain ahead in the green building race, custom solutions are required for specific projects, climates, and geographies.

• Multi-generational living: as people are staying in their homes for longer periods of time, they require adaptable spaces that will enable them to safely age in place.

• Made in the USA: companies are touting American-made green products and local facilities to impress shareholders and gain customer loyalty. Locally/nationally sourced products are becoming increasingly more important to the sustainability dialogue.

• Product transparency: consumers are calling for increased transparency from manufacturers when it comes to the materials contained within the products that we use. The food and outdoor apparel industries are leading the charge with ingredient disclosure, and we’re starting to see groups like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) develop product transparency standards for a variety of industries, including construction materials.

• Creative capital: while the biggest issue for production builders is land acquisition, most small and medium-sized builders are facing challenges qualifying for project financing. The vast majority of small and medium builders operate on private equity, since community banks aren’t yet healthy or big enough to lend meaningful dollars. We anticipate that creative financing solutions will emerge to fill this hole in the marketplace.

• Valuation: We expect to see lending and appraisal vehicles that will finally incorporate energy efficiency and other sustainable features into the value of a home. As the moral imperative and financial benefits of sustainability become increasingly more vital, homeowners will become stakeholders not just in the design and construction of higher performing structures, but also in the proper valuation of those homes. They won’t be willing to accept the industry’s false metric of price per square foot without an accurate measure of quality and performance.

• Better consumer communication: builders are good at many things, but they have historically been known for being poor marketers. But this is changing—sustainability has laid the foundation for the development of a common language. Builders are figuring out how to more effectively communicate with consumers about the benefits of green homes, helping them understand the economic and emotional return on investment for sustainable living.

What additional trends do you think will affect the building industry over the next decade? Write to me at or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at @greenbuildermag and @VISIONHouseGBM for regular updates and breaking news.

Posted: 10/30/2013 11:54:30 AM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

Profiles of Courage



October has been a good month for energy efficiency. During the International Code Council’s (ICC) final action hearings for the 2015 I-codes, which took place earlier this month in Atlantic City, code officials claimed the high ground for energy efficiency by voting against a proposal that would have enabled builders to tradeoff building envelope performance with mechanical systems. If this proposal had passed, it would have effectively rolled back energy codes and allowed builders in Minnesota to construct the same type of building envelope as their counterparts in Florida, essentially ignoring all of the knowledge that building science experts have worked so hard to disseminate over the past two decades.

Also at the ICC meetings, code officials voted to approve a proposal that will incorporate an Energy Rating Index (ERI), such as RESNET’s HERS score (equivalent to a miles per gallon rating), into 2015 codes so that builders can have the flexibility to utilize a performance path as opposed to prescriptive one.

“A prescriptive approach, in which specs are dictated to builders, kills creativity, research, and development,” says Jim Petersen, Director of R&D and Quality for PulteGroup. “If builders are going to contribute to the development of advanced building systems and improved home performance, we need the flexibility to create our own solutions that fit into our systems, processes, and budgets.”

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who helped draft the proposal, if builders follow the performance method using the approved HERS equivalency numbers, they will achieve a 10-15% energy savings in every climate zone throughout the country over 2012 code levels.

Of course, the challenge now is twofold—first, to get widespread adoption of 2015 codes (many municipalities are still using 2006 or 2009 energy codes) and second, to establish a level of accuracy and transparency in energy performance ratings.

Challenges aside, improved energy performance in buildings, in conjunction with efficiencies in other sectors, have indisputably contributed to a substantial reduction in our country’s overall energy use, as documented in a report that was released earlier this month by the NRDC. The report cites a “remarkable turnaround” in the state of the U.S. energy economy, mostly due to energy efficiency.

According to the report, “Americans have found so many innovative ways to save energy that we have more than doubled the economic productivity of the oil that runs our vehicles and the natural gas and electricity that runs everything else. As a result, across the United States, total energy used per dollar of goods produced is down; gasoline per mile driven is down; and the cost of energy services (from lighting to refrigeration) is down. Because increasing energy efficiency is far less costly than adding other energy resources like fossil fuels, this is saving the nation hundreds of billions of dollars annually, helping U.S. workers and companies compete worldwide, and making our country more energy-secure.”

For the first time in modern history, “the national growth rate for electricity consumption has dropped below that of the population” over the past decade, primarily due to energy efficiency measures.

The use of oil and coal used in vehicles, homes, and businesses in the U.S. continues to decline, down 14% and 25% respectively in 2012 from peak usage rates in 2005, with further reductions expected due to fuel economy, clean car standards, and the desire to get away from “dirty and obsolete power generation.”

Based on a comprehensive analysis of energy trends, the Bipartisan Policy Center recently concluded that “over the past four decades, energy savings achieved through improvements in energy productivity have exceeded the contribution from all new supply resources in meeting America’s growing energy needs.”

While it’s important to celebrate the increase in energy efficiency, it’s also necessary to recognize that this is just a tiny step in long marathon of adequately tacking climate change. In order to ensure an environmentally stable and sustainable future, we must employ a layered strategy that incentivizes greater adoption of energy efficiency, renewables, pollution reduction, carbon pricing, and clean technology.

In an era when our elected officials are either paralyzed or puppets of the oil and gas industry, energy efficiency is an excellent example of how the power really does reside with the people. When it comes to this issue, the Federal government’s actions range from anemic to flaccid. It’s ordinary people who are displaying profiles of courage, disregarding convention and developing innovative ways to bring about positive change.

What’s your profile of courage? Write to me at or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at @greenbuildermag and @VISIONHouseGBM for regular updates and breaking news.


Posted: 10/24/2013 10:43:30 AM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

Meltdown, Meet Motivation



It has been an interesting week of extremes, replete with the full spectrum of emotions and events that make this very small world go round. The week began with a distressing reminder of our precarious environmental reality, delivered in the form of a newly released United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the latest climate science data that confirmed that global warming is “unequivocal” and that humans are without doubt responsible.

The report essentially substantiates what we already know—we have exceeded 400 parts per million (PPM) of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This level of carbon dioxide, as well as other heat-trapping greenhouse gasses (like methane), is the direct cause of increased global temperatures (the report verifies that last three decades have been the hottest on record, ever, and that we’re expected to experience a further 2-7 degree Celsius rise this century), augmented atmospheric moisture (which has increased approximately 5%), greater weather instability (as evidenced by ever more frequent and severe weather events), and rising sea levels (for each degree that the temperature increases, sea levels are expected to rise 4 feet.)

A recent article in USA Today translates the IPCC’s findings into the language of economics, stating that “extreme weather events are on the rise, with 800-plus extreme events worldwide in 2012 resulting in more than $130 billion in damages, adjusting to a “new normal” of a more adverse and costly climate.”

With all this destruction and uncertainty, it’s no wonder that the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) added climate change to its “High Risk” list, identifying climate instability as one of the largest vulnerabilities of the federal government.

It’s a sad fact that cities are now spending more money on disaster recovery than on education. Fortunately, despite reduced overall funding, educational opportunities in the sustainability arena are still abundant. And, in fact, it’s in the world of education where I found the sweet antidote to the discouraging news contained within IPCC report.

I’m currently in Irvine, CA attending the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a competition in which collegiate teams from across the globe showcase completely self-sufficient, solar powered homes that students have painstakingly designed and constructed over the past two years.

During the opening reception last night (generously sponsored by Bosch), I watched teams of young, ambitious students climb onto the stage to talk about their projects. As they reflected on their journeys, they didn’t talk about the enabling technologies, design aspects, or structural components used in their homes. Rather, they ruminated on the thrill of collaborating with their peers, the joy of bringing an idea to life, and the pleasure derived from sharing a common experience and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

The students’ enthusiasm was contagious, and, caught up in their exuberance, I experienced a renewed sense of encouragement and safekeeping for our future. It was abundantly clear that these students aren’t engaged in any debate about whether our climate is changing or if we need to alter our environmentally destructive ways. To them, climate change it’s not some vague “new normal”—it’s their entire reality. Sustainability is a way of life. Conservation is a mindset. Efficiency is cool.

The homes featured in the Solar Decathlon represent much more than just students employing sustainable design and construction practices. Each home provides a glimpse into the future—an innovative, green future that is co-created by a generation of thoughtful problem solvers. Each home embodies hope for a better tomorrow, in which the natural and built environments are not at odds. And each home offers assurance that there will continue to be stewards who will carefully preserve and protect our precious planet for decades to come.

Congratulations to all of the Solar Decathlon teams. Although one of your homes will be selected as the competition winner by the DOE, your passion and dedication for sustainability makes each and every one of you a champion.

Are you encouraged by student projects in your community? Write to me at or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at @greenbuildermag and @VISIONHouseGBM for regular updates and breaking news.

Posted: 10/3/2013 12:33:31 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

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