Building Green: Five Top Trends for Contractors in 2012


Ten years ago, a green home might have meant solar panels on the roof. Five years ago, those photovoltaic cells began sharing space with a green roof and a LEED certification.

That’s all still the case in mid-2012, but in a far more connected and tech-savvy environment. Contractors and homeowners are no longer just taking square footage versus monthly power bill and giving a building its ‘green rating.’ Nowadays, smartphones can be used to carefully calculate exact energy usage, adjusting thermostats from a taxi on the other side of the country.

Building contractors have had to work hard to remain knowledgeable and up-to-date with the latest developments. What’s trending now often becomes tomorrow’s mainstay.

1. Consumer Awareness and Control of Energy Usage

Underlying the entire building industry is a growing demand by consumers for more energy efficient homes that allow careful control of power consumption by the user. From appliances that each tie into a smart-grid to the aforementioned remotely programmable Wi-fi thermostats (already available in the sub-$100 range), consumers are learning to treat their energy bill as they would any other expense. Instead of crossing their fingers that the monthly bill won’t be higher than expected, devices are already available from companies like Belkin and Intel that allow consumers to track the exact hourly energy consumption from each of their appliances and make adjustments accordingly.

HVAC contractors are already experiencing this trend firsthand. Whereas programmable thermostats became the norm for replacements over the last decade, requests for the newer remotely-programmable models are quickly increasing.

When people start to treat home electricity usage like they do gasoline or groceries (i.e. Driving across the street to save a few cents per gallon or clipping coupons), they demand that the infrastructure of their home allows for the maximum possible savings with their controlled usage. That’s a major trend that will increasingly define the building contractor’s role and their decisions about everything from appliances to insulation, both in renovations and new projects.

2. Increased Value on Water

For decades, Americans have enjoyed nearly unlimited fresh water in their homes for next-to-nothing. But with this summer’s headline-grabbing drought affecting so many regions of the country, contractors and consumers are beginning to respond and adapt. Contractors are installing rain barrels at an ever-increasing rate, retrofitting home gutter systems to utilize gray water for gardening and irrigation. With similar systems already available for toilet water and other non-drinking uses, smart contractors are integrating water recycling concepts into both new buildings and renovations.

This new development goes hand-in-hand with existing technologies like low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets, all of which have long been available and are increasingly being made mandatory due to water conservation efforts around the country.

3. Less Efficient Appliances are Growing Highly Undesirable

With increased awareness about energy consumption at the consumer level, people begin to look at non-Energy Star certified appliances like antiquated refrigerators or washing machines with disdain. Plumbing contractors have absorbed the largest market change thus far, with residents of more progressive major urban areas turning against the traditional hot water heater. Although they’re more expensive at the outset, homeowners are learning that tankless water heaters — which produce heat on demand and don’t require storing unused hot water for hours or days — can be a more desirable option. Due to the energy (and space requirement) savings, the tankless heaters may very well overtake the traditional model nationwide in the next decade.

4. New Perspectives on Landscaping

Public information campaigns about stormwater runoff and its effect on waterways is sinking in around the country, prompting heightened interest in organic fertilizers and eco-friendly pesticides. New options and brands have emerged almost monthly over the last two years, and even traditional landscape contractors are moving toward less harmful granule fertilizers over spraying. Likewise, even in playgrounds, recycled rubber mulch is gaining traction as an alternative to traditional wood mulch as a ground bedding, thanks to added safety benefits and significant deductions in cost that continue to drop.

5. More Accountability

With a higher premium placed on efficient homes, consumers will demand more stringent proof of a home’s future consumption levels. A simple list of upgrades will no longer suffice when another homebuilder can offer concrete numbers about a home’s expected use that they guarantee and stand behind. With energy-use appraisals becoming more detailed and accurate, more cities and states will soon follow the lead of Seattle, Austin, and New York, a few of the municipalities that already require energy disclosure to tenants of commercial buildings.

At the core of the changes to the building industry is a growing consumer enlightenment about energy use and the ability to control it via new technologies. With that power in the occupant’s hands, potential buyers and tenants will understandably want to begin with a building that offers the highest possible potential for savings. That translates to builders and contractors being held to higher standards than ever.

Jay Harris is a Home Depot sales associate and a regular contributor to Home Depot’s blog. He provides tips on products ranging from light bulbs to circuit breakers to home automation.

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1 Comment

  1. Crawl Space encapsulation is another green building trend. By insulating the inside walls of your foundation you will save 10% or more on your utility bills. Green builders are doing this on all new homes. In many cases the builder can use a smaller A/C unit to handle the same work load.