Several energy-saving devices just now coming on the market, including "grid-aware" appliances that hike or drop their activity based on actual use, are among the Top Green Building Trends for 2011, according to Oregon-based Earth Advantage.
"It has an energy-management program that monitors use and can, for example, turn off the fridge if the house is cool enough during the night," says Fred Gant, local builder-outreach specialist for Earth Advantage, a nonprofit organization that educates builders, homeowners and others about green building.
The program and timers come integrated into new appliances, and they're just starting to be available, says Tom Breunig, Earth Advantage marketing director in Portland. They may cost a little more but will pay themselves off in saved energy, he adds.
"These developments will begin forging the convergence of a smart-grid infrastructure and the control applications needed to manage energy savings in our buildings and homes," wrote Breunig, author of the trends list.
Another big advance on the list is that many municipal governments, including Portland, are relaxing or removing bans on use of gray water from tubs and sinks, so it can be used for irrigation instead of overloading wastewater-treatment systems in a time of pervasive water shortages.
"You could have pipes draining to a mulch field or collection tanks for later use," says Breunig, noting it also reduces strain on septic or stormwater systems and helps groundwater replenishment.
Super-tight sealing of homes — with extra-thick insulation — is bringing in an age of ductless and furnace-free homes. The so-called "passive house" is one that's actually heated by "everyday activity of the occupants, from cooking to computer use," according to the report.
"Even in Energy Star-certified homes, builders are now encouraged to bring all ductwork inside the insulated envelope of the house to eliminate excess heat or cooling loss, and to use only small but efficient furnaces and air conditioners to avoid wasting power," wrote Breunig, adding that geothermal heating is part of this trend.
Another green trend is the waiving of systems-development charges by municipalities for "accessory dwelling units" — also called "mother-in-law units" — to encourage infill, prevent unnecessary new infrastructure and reduce energy use because they will be built with the latest green technologies and systems, says Gant.
Portland last year passed a law waiving SDCs for ADUs for a period of three years to stimulate construction, says Breunig, noting the units are used for family members, studios, offices or as rentals.
The list of Top 10 Green Ideas for the year is not a "to-do list," says Breunig, but a list of visions "just around the corner" that will be brought into the mainstream by the pressure of energy and resource costs, as well as the economy.
On a broader scale, the list points out several other green trends:
- "Affordable green," the decrease in price of new, green technologies, led by affordable-housing groups and local land trusts, including Habitat for Humanity, resulting in LEED- and Energy Star-certified homes as low as $100,000.
- Sharing/comparing home energy use on social and purchasing websites to eventually qualify for energy savings from local vendors. You can track your home-energy use via www.earthaid.net. A voluntary, home-energy scoring system was announced by the U.S. Department of Energy, and Oregon is bringing on its Energy Performance Score.
- Outcome-based energy codes. On remodels, builders will be able to negotiate energy codes to retrofit older buildings with the most energy-efficient systems, rather than just following existing building codes. Post-construction evaluations would determine the outcome.
- Community purchasing power. Neighborhoods are joining together to install solar-power systems at a savings of 15 to 25 percent.
- Life-cycle analysis. This approach examines the performance and costs of green materials over their entire life, from raw-material extraction to disposal and decomposition.
"Despite market conditions, we have seen the market share for high-performance homes increase from 18.5 to 23 percent in the Portland Metro area alone," says Sean Penrith, executive director of Earth Advantage Institute. "This is a sure sign that the rate of appeal for these homes is increasing."