Ever since humanity first gathered in family and tribal bands, our choice of shelter has played a major role in our survival. For a millennia we were confined to caves and forests, reliant on nature to provide us with protection from the elements. Creating more permanent dwellings allowed us to store away more food and also to survive longer periods without having to follow herds or the seasons to survive. From hobbit holes to mall sized mansions to floating apartment buildings, we have expanded our idea of housing to encompass any and every type of dwelling imaginable. Over the years we have a come a long way, from simple animal skin tents to penthouses perched high atop massive sky scrapers: The idea of a simple roof over our heads has grown to much more than the literal interpretation of the phrase.
More recently the idea of sustainable building has developers and consumers alike realizing that building green has its benefits. By implementing economically sound practices such as double pane windows, using more efficient insulation, installing solar tubes and Energy Star rated appliances, just to name a few, the money saved on utilities alone can be staggering over the life of the building. Not only that, but many consumers are now looking to purchase more energy-efficient homes. In fact, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, market share for green homes has more than doubled since 2008, from 8% to 17%. That’s not all, according to the same report, in the next few years that number could grow to somewhere between 29%-38%, or to put in plainly, as high as $114 billion annually. Sustainable construction may not be for just the hippies and tree huggers anymore, it could carve a serious chunk out of the housing market, and builders might be wise to take notice.
In 2000 the U.S. Green Building Council introduced LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in order to provide developers with guidelines to help reduce their impact on the environment. Since then several other programs have sprouted up, and nearly all offer incentives for green building practices. For example Energy Star offers a $2,000 dollar “refund” for using appliances, and a labeling system for builders to feature in their listings.
Along with a growing market share comes higher asking prices, which builders say home buyers are willing to pay for more sustainable homes. Consumers not only see green building as more efficient, but more reliable and long lasting. In fact in the study put out by McGraw-Hill, 61% of home buyers and 66% of re-modelers are willing to pay a higher premium for green homes. Harvey Bernstein, Vice President of Industry Insights and Alliances at McGraw-Hill notes, “When builders are able to offer homes that not only are green, but also offer the combination of higher quality and better value, they have a major competitive edge over those building traditional homes.”
Being a developer myself, I’ve tried to implement as many green practices as possible. Although it initially affected my bottom line, over time I noticed that the more efficient homes were much easier to sell, and like anything else the more practice you have the more you can perfect the process. Certain things will possibly never be changed, our reliance on petroleum based plastics and copper wiring may be here to stay, but who knows if someone comes out with an alternative it may be able to further reduce the carbon footprint modern construction leaves behind. The green movement seems to be permeating all areas of our daily lives. From transportation to heavy industry to sustainable food growth we are now considering our place in the ecosystem and trying to work with nature instead of against it. Perhaps our newfound love of green living doesn’t place us as far away from animal hide tents and thatched roof homes as we think.
By Will Inglis
“Quality and Value Driving Growth in the Green Building Market—According to New McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report on Green Homes and Remodeling.” Press Release . McGraw Hill Construction. May 1, 2012
Marcacci, Silvio. “Green Home Building Booming, Could Be $114 Billion Market By 2016.” Clean Technica. June 1, 2012
US Green Building Council. What LEED is. US Green Building Council. n.d.
Fun, easy, affordable ways to clean up & green up…
I dont know about anyone else, but I have had this invisible weight on my shoulders ever since I started learning in school about oil spills, global warming, ozone layers, and something called a carbon footprint. Silly myths, right? Well this nagging little green angel on my shoulder keeps tugging on my ear to stop ignoring the “what ifs” and just DO SOMETHING.
Ive heard that cars can be modified to run on water. How is this possible? — Diane McMorris, Rockport, ME
There are a number of online marketing offers of kits that will convert your car to “run on water,” but these should be viewed skeptically. These kits, which attach to the cars engine, use electrolysis to split the water (H2O) into its component molecules-hydrogen and oxygen-and then inject the resulting hydrogen into the engines combustion process to power the car along with the gasoline. Doing this, they say, makes the gasoline burn cleaner and more completely, thus making the engine more efficient.
But experts say the energy equation on this type of system is not, in reality, efficient at all. For one, the electrolysis process uses energy, such as electricity in the home or the on-board car battery, to operate. By the laws of nature, then, the system uses more energy making hydrogen than the resulting hydrogen itself can supply, according to Dr. Fabio Chiara, research scientist in alternative combustion at the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University.
Moreover, Chiara says, the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the vehicle “would be much larger, because two combustion processes [gasoline and hydrogen] are involved.” Finally, there is a safety consideration for consumers who add these devices to their cars. “H2 is a highly flammable and explosive gas,” he says, and would require special care in installation and use.
The electrolysis process could be viable in saving energy if a renewable, non-polluting energy source such as solar or wind could be harnessed to power it, although capturing enough of that energy source on board the car would be another hurdle.
Researchers today put more focus on using hydrogen to power fuel cells, which can replace internal combustion engines to power cars and emit only water from the tailpipe. And though hydrogen is combustible and can power an internal combustion engine, to use hydrogen in that way would squander its best potential: to power a fuel cell.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are gaining traction, but commercialization of hydrogen fuel has not yet been accomplished. “The potential benefits of fuel cells are significant,” say researchers at the U.S. Department of Energys National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “[H]owever, many challenges must be overcome before fuel cell systems will be a competitive alternative for consumers.”
The state of California operates a “Hydrogen Highway” program that supports development of hydrogen fuel cell technology and infrastructure. And many companies are working on ways to produce, store and dispense hydrogen. Cars powered by fuel cells are in prototype stages now, nearing production.
While we all wait to see how that shakes out, the best choice today for high mileage and low emissions is still the gasoline/electric hybrid car.
SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; email@example.com.