Challenges and possible obstacles for the future of green homes

First off, congratulations to Carver + Schicketanz on achieving LEED Platinum with their home retrofit project in Carmel, CA.  Reading about the house gave me the idea of writing about LEED homes, so here we are.

The uptake of LEED in the housing industry does not follow the same logic as the commercial sector because homeowners are not compelled to design a green home so they have more visitors. While commercial businesses may forge ahead with green developments because they believe it will give them publicity and bring in new customers, homeowners often take on green building projects due to principled causes to reduce their ecological footprint. In this article, I hope to explore some of those challenges that homeowners and LEED providers alike need to be cognisant of which are facing the field.

The first challenge that I see is the scope of many housing projects. While the number of projects may be similar to the number of commercial projects, their level of complexity and project site locations are vastly different. This affects the availability of expertise in the area required to perform tasks such as energy audit, ICF construction and cellulose insulation installation. While commercial projects maybe located primarily in the downtown area, green residential projects maybe located in country, suburbs or downtown core and without a certain amount of forethought the effort to build a green home maybe overshadowed by the pollution from various parties travelling to and fro the job site during the design and building process.

The second challenge is the continuing importance of explaining to potential homeowners the numerous benefits of LEED-certified homes. In many instances of commercial LEED projects, I feel that the expected publicity and the need for visually and technologically-impressive features, e.g., vegetated roofs and solar PV parkade, often overshadow more ordinary design elements like eco-friendly insulation or timed light switches. When homeowners spend money to increase their dwelling’s energy efficiency or decrease its ecological footprint, I believe it is part of the value-add for the designer to extol the benefits of most, if not all, of the features to the homeowner. I am sure some professionals will say that it is a waste of time and that they’d be preaching to the converted, but in my experience, this education creates positive feedback that leads to smarter homeowners and more business.

The third challenge relates to my comments about the importance of increasing the depth of knowledge in consumers. As energy costs continue to rise, I expect more homeowners to want to retrofit their homes for energy efficiency/savings. I believe there is room for LEED professionals to become thought leaders by expanding homeowners’ field of vision to include not only energy efficiency but also improving indoor environmental quality, i.e. suggest installing carpeting and upholstery to carry the Green Label Plus seal and replacing wooden furnitures and floors with brominated fire retardants (BFR)-free versions. I have included a link here to a report done by the Environmental and Human Health inc. and I would strongly encourage those interested in this topic to read the document.

As always, thoughts and comments are always welcomed.


About eatonkwan

Engineer by profession, interests lie in environmental development, LEED and sustainable development.
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