What will the home of the future look like?

| by John Johnson
What will the home of the future look like?

Nobody has a crystal ball, but wouldn’t it be fun to envision what the next generation green home will look like? The recent Solar Decathlon in Europe offered a few glimpses into the future, but perhaps the Earth Advantage Institute comes closest to owning a crystal ball prediction into the future.

In honor of Earth Day, the Earth Advantage Institute compiled a list of eight predictions that may provide a hint of what to expect from residential homes in the U.S. during the next decade. Earth Advantage Institute, a green building certification resource and educational organization that has certified more than 11,000 homes, based its predictions on the trends it has seen over the past five years.

“Since 2000, despite two wars and a serious economic slowdown, the U.S. has made significant progress in sustainable construction,” said Sean Penrith, executive director of the Earth Advantage Institute. “We’ve come from a point where the perception of green building involved remote off-the-grid homes to a point where the National Association of Homebuilders now has a green building standard in place and the federal government has invested $4 billion of its stimulus money in energy efficiency for its buildings nationwide. The next 10 years will accelerate these trends.”

Without further ado, here are the predictions:

Newly built homes will use one-third the energy that they do today. Progressive builders are already going far beyond the current standards to build net-zero homes that produce at least as much energy as they consume. The techniques used in building these high performance homes will filter down to the mainstream rapidly as homebuyers see how easy it is to create energy efficient and even furnace-free homes using readily available materials and emerging technology. These super-insulated “passive homes” were recently featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show on Earth Day.

Buying decisions will be based on better information about the “life cycle” impact of products. New studies are underway regarding the total environmental cost of building materials, from raw materials collection to manufacture, installation and eventual disposal or recycling. Homebuyers will also see data on durability and maintenance of those materials. Earth Advantage Institute recently completed a lifecycle analysis of residential building materials and practices for the state of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The rising cost of clean water will impact how homeowners water lawns and flush toilets. Many homes will use graywater (domestic wastewater from any source except toilet and garbage) and rainwater for these purposes. Many states, including Texas and the Southwestern and West Coast states, have passed legislation authorizing the use of graywater by households for yard irrigation. Arizona, for example, allows up to 400 gallons per day of graywater to be used on lawns and gardens.

Lenders will demand energy efficient buildings as more stable investments. Sustainable homes are built durably to protect the homes from moisture, excessive heat and cold, and airborne toxins –  all of which can cause unhealthy conditions for occupants or decomposition of building materials. Equally important, efficient homes cost less to operate, so occupants have more cash available to pay rents and mortgages. 

Communities will become denser, making better use of pedestrian walkways and mass transit. The 2010 New Partners for Smart Growth conference documented the growing preference among today’s young people and today’s older citizens to live in denser, more convenient urban environments offering easy access to cultural activities, dining, entertainment and green space. In addition, these communities reduce the need for transportation and therefore reduce carbon footprints.

Neighborhoods and entire cities will be certified, as well as homes. This verification work will not only cover eco-friendly structures and materials, but will ensure that unique bio-regional conditions, water conservation, green space preservation, access to public transportation, and ongoing resident sustainability education are addressed.

Houses will have baseline energy scores based on home design and the home’s physical properties. Home owners will have a better idea of where they stand with regard to energy efficiency and will understand how to upgrade their homes cost-effectively. Buyers will know more about energy performance when they shop for a home. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency will create a voluntary national energy scoring system for homes by October of this year.

Homeowners will know significantly more about their energy habits and water use. The use of stand-alone or online home energy displays and smart meters will enable them to monitor consumption in real time. Consumers will know how many times they opened their refrigerator door, when the hairdryer was used, how many gallons of water their teenager used during their shower, and the approximate dollar cost of each activity.

The Earth Advantage Institute works with the building and design industry to implement sustainable building practices. Its nonprofit mission is to create an immediate, practical and cost-effective path to sustainability and carbon reduction in the built environment. More information is available atwww.earthadvantage.org.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Cost of Ownership, Energy Audits, Heating & Cooling, Lighting, Water Saving Devices

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