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JOHN D. WAGNER: McGraw Hill Construction Stats Tell The Green Housing Story

But has the Green Building Movement finally plateaued?


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As someone who’s advocated for green building since 1988, when I started editing the Journal of Light Construction, it’s satisfying to see how mainstream green has become. Oh sure, builders can bellyache about all the regs and the increased costs, but honestly, the overwhelming majority of money invested in green building has produced structures that are more-energy efficient and more-durable than their counterpart structures from the 1980s and 1990s, and vastly better than homes built before that.

By any comparison, these green structures require less maintenance, consume less water, consume less electricity, and burn less fuel for heating/cooling; this has saved/will save occupants millions if not billions of dollars over time, to say nothing of what it has done to lessen, or even outright avoid, damage to the environment.

Now, an NAHB Eye of Housing (bit. ly/1xi4lhO) report shows that “a focus on energy efficiency is the most important development and design strategy that is making new housing greener,” according to a new McGraw Hill Construction survey.

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The survey that Eye of Housing cites looked at single-family and multifamily builders in 2013 and it asked them about their green practices. The results? Sixty-two percent of singlefamily builders and 54% of multifamily developers are doing “more than 15% of their projects as green.” But for just single-family builders, the rate is even higher: “19% of builders are doing more than 90% projects as green,” the study found.

What is Green?

McGraw Hill Construction considers a green home as “one that is either built to a recognized green building standard or an energy- and water-efficient home that also addresses indoor air quality and/or resource efficiency.”

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Given that definition, there are probably a lot of homes out there that are green but wouldn’t show up in this survey, simply because they weren’t built to a “recognized standard.” We’ve all seen houses that are super high quality, yet the builders didn’t seek certification due to the nuisance and expense of getting projects inspected.

The McGraw Hill Construction report also found that “75% of single-family and 84% of multifamily builders indicated that improved energy efficiency was a factor making their projects more green than two years ago.”

Further, the McGraw Hill Construction report stated how many builders are focused on indoor environmental quality: Fifty-eight percent of singlefamily builders and 55% of multifamily developers in the study cited indoor environmental quality as “a reason why their current projects are more green.” No surprise there with these high numbers. Long before the green building movement, people knew that breathing toxic fumes in their homes wasn’t a path to good health.

Conservation Practices

With droughts abounding in the West, and much of California and Nevada in the midst of full-blown water crises, water conservation and material conservation/ recycling practices were also cited by builders surveyed as the reason that their projects were green. Unlike other regions in the U.S., water shortage is a concern in these areas and people are working towards conservation. (Curiously, I just learned that Californians are consuming the same amount of water they used 30 years ago, even with the explosion of population; 80% of California’s water is used by agriculture, often wastefully. People are largely already doing their part with water preservation at home.)

Has the fragile economy caused the green building movement to slow down? That’s unclear, but it appears to have plateaued for now. The McGraw Hill Construction report stated that “11% of single-family builders and remodelers are constructing homes that are greener in 2013 than in 2011.” As the economy rebounds, ever so slowly, this will be a key indicator to watch to see if green building continues to grow or has saturated the housing market.


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