AUGUST 8, 2019 | Avery Ellfeldt, E&E News reporter
Homeowners and residential developers in the United States are now, more than ever, recognizing the value of “green homes,” according to a U.S. Green Building Council report.
The prevalence of green homes rose 19% in the last two years, which chalks up to more than 400,000 certified residential units nationwide, said the report from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the nonprofit organization that created Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a global green building rating system.
Homeowners in California, Texas and New York are leading the charge, the report said, with almost 40,000 LEED-certified housing units in California alone. Washington, Colorado and New Jersey are also high on USGBC’s certified units list, each with over 8,000 certified residential units.
The LEED model emphasizes human health, resource efficiency and durability, among other factors, all of which are increasingly attractive to climate-minded homeowners and developers looking to reduce costs, said Alysson Blackwelder, a USGBC project manager.
“I think it’s sort of a chicken or the egg situation,” Blackwelder said. As residents increasingly want sustainable housing options, developers will likely continue scrambling to meet that demand, she added.
And as the LEED label carries more and more weight around the world, Blackwelder said both consumers and developers are looking to the LEED rating system to enhance in-home living experiences. This can take the form of improved internal ventilation; reduced energy use; and water metering, which helps residents track their water use over time.
On average, LEED-certified homes use between 20% and 30% less energy than other homes, which can lead to substantial financial savings for residents, the report said. This is one element that Blackwelder said makes green homes a good option for a wide range of homeowners, including low-income families in need of affordable housing. Affordability and low utility bills are just several factors generating a demand for the 78,000 affordable housing residential units that are already involved with LEED.
In some cases, green housing can result in a 2.4% cost increase, according to USGBC, which could be prohibitive for some low-income families.
But when developers take an “integrated” approach to LEED from the outset, that can help streamline added costs that otherwise might result from a more sustainable housing structure, Blackwelder said. As a result, LEED-certified homes often sport the same — or even lower — price tags as noncertified homes, according to the report.
Federal and state policy and new financing options are also making green homes more accessible across the board, the report says.
The Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly referred to as Fannie Mae, is one example of an organization that offers financial incentives like reduced interest rates for green multifamily projects. The city of Cincinnati, on the other hand, facilitates green construction and renovation by offering a residential tax abatement that favors LEED-certified projects, among others.
Cincinnati’s residential tax abatement is a great example of how LEED, combined with sustainable finance options, can revitalize an area that was formerly “abandoned and blighted,” Blackwelder said.
The growth in green homes worldwide comes at a time when property developers and owners are increasingly vulnerable to climate-driven events like rising temperatures and flooding. And, according to the report, developers and residents have a lot to gain from facilities that are built with more durable materials and outfitted with backup power sources in case of extreme weather events.
“Developers are seeing that not only does it help their bottom line but is really beneficial to the residents that live in these residential projects because it’s a smart financial decision and really the right thing to do,” Blackwelder said.