Green building market trends for 2015

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Green building market trends for 2015

Photo via Shutterstock

From lower prices for solar power to an explosion of ductless mini split HVAC options, high performance home trends continue to develop.

The editorial staff of attended CES, the International Builders' Show/Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Expo and caught up on the latest trends in the industry. Keep an eye out for our ongoing series of video interviews at both shows.

Here's an overview of some of the trends in high performance home building based on conversations at these trade shows as well as with other leaders in the industry.

Internet of Things at Home

From CES to IBs to AHR, one of the common themes was smart homes and appliances. Your ranges, dishwasher, refrigerator, HVAC system, lighting, window blinds and thermostat, among other devices, can be controlled through your smart phone and give updates on status.

One of the latest wrinkles is the addition of geofencing. That means your mobile device will communicate with your home to know where you are. If you're on the way home from work, the system will adjust the temperature and lighting to your preferred settings when you get within a preset range, such as 5 miles. That means the heat will be where you want it and the lights on the porch and foyer will be on, making for a safe and comfortable return. The systems can be linked with several mobile devices, so when the last person leaves the house, the temperature adjusts to the away setting for energy savings.

Smart door locks and garage door openers increase the level of security – if someone forgets to lock the door on the way out, you can lock it remotely.

Ductless Mini Splits

Popular in Europe and Asian homes for decades, ductless mini split heat pumps are poised to have a larger impact in the U.S. market. Once seen as a solution home additions and bonus rooms, now mini splits are available in whole-home solutions with outdoor systems that can handle up to 8 indoor units. An array of indoor air handler options, such as ceiling cassettes and wall-mounted units that are disguised as a picture frame, give homeowners and contractors flexibility. New technology addresses some of the shortcomings of heat pumps, such as a loss of heating capacity in sub-freezing weather. Now units on the market offer high levels of heating capacity in temperatures as low as 5 below zero Fahrenheit. Mini splits will be a more popular option in northern climates with less need for expensive back up heating.

Distributed Utility For Renewable Energy

Despite price drops, the upfront cost of renewable energy such as solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling remains a barrier to adoption. One solution that's gaining popularity is treating those options like utilities, so the homeowners don't have to pay for equipment and installation costs but only pay for energy use.

For instance, homebuyers in the Whisper Valley development in Austin, Texas, will incur no upfront costs for the geothermal system, as the ground loop infrastructure is pre-installed throughout the community. Homeowners will receive an extended warranty and no maintenance costs for the first three years. Their energy costs will be fixed at approximately $175 a month, which covers the costs of the geothermal infrastructure equipment, a solar PV system, LED-lighting package, appliances, and other technologies, and includes maintenance service.

For people with existing homes, solar panel prices continue to drop, and various financing options such as leases and power purchase agreements help defray the costs.

Thermal Envelope

Strategies to make homes tighter than ever were a big part of the International Builders's Show. From basic foam board insulation to low-cost spray foam applications systems, to insulated house wrap to spray-on air sealing, there's no excuse for a leaky home. Wall systems such as insulated concrete forms (ICFs) and structural insulated panels (SIPs) deliver air sealing and continuous insulation in one product.

Windows and door manufacturers are stepping up, too with formerly exotic options like multiple-pane gas fills and low-E glass showing up in mass market lines.

In Home Air Quality

As building envelopes become tighter, strategies to ensure that homes have a supply of fresh air are becoming more common, with whole-home ventilation systems seen as a common solution. To further make the home more comfortable, Energy Recovery Ventilators and Heat Recovery Ventilators also manage heat and humidity in the air stream. These systems deliver fresh air and reduce heating and cooling loads. Also individual fans can play a role in managing humidity and comfort, with fans powered by DC motors offering energy efficiency and low-noise operation.

Water Savings

As western states battle drought conditions, water use becomes more vital. There are a number of strategies that homeowners and building professionals can implement. For instance, demand-control pumps cut the time and water wasted in waiting for hot water in a shower or sink. These pumps connect the hot and cold water sides of the home's plumbing circulate hot water through the system at the user's demand, through a button, motion sensor or timer. Instead of letting water run down the drain, the water moves through the plumbing system.

Low-flow toilets are getting better, with 1 gallon per flush models delivering the performance that people want. Not too many years ago, a 1.6 gpf commode was considered the ultimate improvement from the venerable 3.5 gpf units.

Small Steps for Homeowners

Not everyone can afford a new home or a deep green retrofit, but many people are interested in doing what they can to reduce utility costs and use of natural resources.

Rapid innovation in major appliances means many homeowners can make some significant improvements in their energy and water usage. There are options for refrigerators, ranges and cooktops, dishwashers and other major appliances that meet or exceed Energy Star and WaterSense standards.

In the past few years dryers that are Energy Star certified have hit the market. Also, heat pump dryers that don't need outside ducts are available from Whirlpool and other makers. These dryers use less energy than the average unit, and also don't require an outside duct. That makes it easer to put the laundry room in other parts of the home, and also eliminates a penetration through the wall that could lead to energy loss.

Read more about sustainable building trends.


Topics: Appliances, Building Green, Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Dishwashers, Exteriors, Foundations, Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Going Green, Healthy Homes, Heating & Cooling, Indoor Air Quality, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF, Insulation, Maintenance & Repair, Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Ranges, Refrigerators, Remodeling, Solar Power, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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