Background and Overview
August 4, 2015 By Peaks to Prairies
Residential Construction

The 2002 construction statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that residential construction represents approximately 49% of the value of building construction in America, or over $336 billion. In the United States, there are:

  • nearly 80 million residential buildings and
  • an average of almost 1,600,000 residential units built each year; approximately 78% contain single residences and the remaining units containing multiple residences. Source: National Association of Home Builders, Units Completed 2002

Home construction and long-term operation require a tremendous amount of resources. With the average square footage of homes doubling from the 1940s and 1950s to 1999, more resources are used to build and operate them.

  • Building construction and operation is accountable for one-third of all energy use in the United States. Source: U.S. Department of Energy
  • Construction often degrades water quality in streams, wetlands, and groundwater near construction sites.
  • Plumbing and appliances contribute to large amounts of water use within the home. One study indicates that between the years 1900 and 2000, residents increased per person water consumption from 5 to 10 gallons a day to 50 to 100 gallons a day. Source: National Wildife Federation
  • As estimated in 1996, 43% (58 million tons per year) of construction and demolition (C&D) debris is generated from residential construction, renovation and demolition. This material often ends up in landfills where it occupies space and may potentially cause additional adverse environmental effects. Source: U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste
  • Building construction, operation, and maintenance contribute significantly to air pollution, which contributes to acid rain, climate change, health problems, and other impacts resulting from degraded air quality.
  • A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that indoor air can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.

Building Green

People feel the pressures of limited land, air, and water, pollution, liability and health insurance costs, energy shortages and costs, waste management tensions, and habitat loss. The ideal of pollution prevention(P2) is to use all resources in the most efficient manner and to eliminate waste and pollution before it is produced. During the past several years, the residential construction industry has recognized a need to incorporate P2 practices into daily activities and has begun to achieve these changes through green building, which is also known as resource-efficient construction, or sustainable design techniques.

Green homes strive to reduce adverse affects of traditional building techniques through sustainable building practices. Sustainability is meeting the needs of people today without destroying the resources that will be needed by people in the future.

Sustainably built homes:

  • conserve natural resources
  • minimize waste products
  • conserve energy
  • create a healthy environment for the occupant

These goals are best met through an integrated or whole system approach where all aspects of construction are considered together. To prioritize goals, the Environmental Building News offers a priority list for sustainable building. It suggests ways homeowners can get the most bang for the buck while building a more comfortable and affordable home than would otherwise be possible.

Builders can play a major role in providing homebuyers opportunities to be more active in protecting the environment and preserving resources. Pollution prevention can also benefit them directly. Home buyers recognize that long-term maintenance and operation of their home can be a financial drain. They also want their home to be a reflection of their lifestyle and desires.

Benefits of Preventing Pollution and Building Sustainably

To Builders

To Consumers

  • Reduced disposal costs
  • Enhanced health and safety for workers
  • Reduced material and labor costs
  • Reduced liability
  • Improved market appeal
  • Community leadership status
  • Reduced utility and maintenance costs
  • Occupant satisfaction
  • Increased health
  • Durability
  • Strong resale value
  • Stronger communities
  • Increased global security (less reliance on imports)

Trends in Green Building

Gallup poll surveys show that a majority of citizens embrace environmental protection, even if it risks economic growth. Individuals and communities are looking for ways to actively take part in the protection of resources and habitats. They are finding that their homes provide an avenue to demonstrate efficient resource use and environmental protection. According to direct surveys and market research, the vast majority of homebuyers are willing to pay extra for features that improve quality, durability and the health of the house. Source: Professional Builder Magazine, September 2000.

Consumer preferences and changing demographics are already driving changes in the way new homes are built. According to the Meyers Group, the largest residential real estate information research company in the U.S., the “old way” of development is being pushed aside by “new strategies” as shown in the following table.

Developing Communities: “Old Way” To New Strategies

Old Way

New Strategy

Mass marketing …. Niche markets for life stage and lifestyle
Unplanned suburbs …. Master planned communities
Hard infrastructure; single purpose …. Soft programming and multiple purpose
Golf course as sole amenity …. Open space/natural environment focus
Suburban anonymity and individualism …. Creation of community
Contemporary styling .… Neotraditional values (implies density)
Low tech homes …. Technology integration
Public sector Vs. private … Partnerships
Find more land (“sprawl”) … Adaptive reuse
Source: Hanley Wood Market Intelligence

These new strategies embrace green building practices and correlate to smaller, more comfortable homes that provide savings in utility bills and maintenance costs.

Partnership Development

The building industry is focusing on ways to build homes that preserve environmental quality, enhance communities, and conserve resources. A whole system approach to home building promotes the development of partnerships as many interests, (i.e. planning, architecture, construction, affordability, health, realty, codes and standards, energy, water protection, wildlife, transportation, waste and utility infrastructures), are combined into one home. These varying interest groups are finding that homes can be built in an affordable manner and still maintain environmental integrity. Examples of resource-efficient home construction are found throughout the nation and are becoming more common.

Home builders associations offer technical assistance and information for resource-efficient design and construction. Mortgage and real estate brokers see it is important to develop tools and skills to work with homeowners interested in green homes. These groups educate customers about the benefits of resource-efficient homes. Local, state, and federal entities are also interested in developing better communities and protecting resources. Partnerships between government agencies, and trade and consumer groups are effective ways to encourage, certify, and recognize green building efforts.