By Michael Tobias

There is a common misconception that going green in relation to the construction industry is expensive. While building or renovating houses to ensure that they are sustainable and energy efficient does cost a little more than using traditional building and renovation methods (usually 5-10%), the benefits in terms of cost, performance, health, and wellbeing add more value than many people realize. 

In general, those who live in low carbon, sustainable homes have lower energy bills (none if they live in a net zero carbon home). Research shows that they suffer from less health issues that are related to temperature because heating and cooling is energy efficient and keeps the house at comfortable temperatures all year long. 

There is a body of evidence that shows how the affordability of sustainable, green homes is continuing to grow. This is largely because systems that make our homes more energy-efficient, including both solar and wind power, are being used on a much larger scale, which has substantially decreased costs. So, it stands to reason that green building activity is also increasing, even though projects are not always certified. 

Apart from anything else, when houses are built according to passive solar principles, inhabitants spend substantially less on electricity, they consume less water, and comfort levels are higher. 

Of course, this means there will need to be input from a variety of professionals including those who offer heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) and mechanical engineering services.

Investing in Energy Efficiency

Green building activity has increased exponentially in at least 20 countries on five continents. 

A recent SmartMarket report released by Dodge Data Analytics on World Building Trends 2018 shows the decrease in 12-month operating costs of new green buildings (including houses) is 8% while decreased five-year operating costs are 14%. The increased asset value, according to owners, is around 7% while the payback time for so-called green investments is seven years, a decrease from eight years in 2012 and 2015. 

The figures for green retrofits is similar, with 12-month and five-year operating costs decreasing by 9% and 13% respectively. The increased asset value is slightly less at 5%, and the payback time only six years. 

The report also looks at the various triggers and reasons for increased green building:

Environmental regulations and client demands are the top triggers.
In some countries including the U.S., India, Brazil, China, and South Africa, the desire for healthier buildings has become a major factor.
The most important social reasons for going green are listed as the need or wish to:
o promote an improvement in the health and well-being of occupants
o encourage sustainable business practices
o increase productivity of workers
o create a sense of community
o support the domestic economy

On the down side, costs and affordability are still cited as an obstacle to building green, though this has dropped from 76% of respondents, from a total of 86 countries, citing higher first costs as the major obstacle in 2012 to 49% in 2018. Other obstacles are perceived to be a lack of incentives and political support as well as a lack of public awareness. 

Australia, Norway, the United Arab emirates, the United Kingdom, and Mainland China identified affordability as a major barrier (42%-38%), while Ireland, Spain, and Brazil didn’t see it as much of a barrier at all (19%-12%). The global average was 33%.

Proven Ways to Make Our Homes Sustainable

We can all learn a lesson from the City of Chicago in Illinois, which continues to make a concerted effort to improve energy performance in city buildings, including commercial, industrial, and residential buildings with the help of Chicago engineers

There are a little more than 1-million residential housing units in the City, including single-family homes and multi-family apartments, and the aim is to ensure everyone – government, owners, and residents – save money. 

They are particularly cognizant of the fact that low-income families commonly spend up to 20% of their income on energy.

Green policies in Chicago are aimed at making small changes that can be as minor as turning lights and appliances off when they are not required, or turning the faucet off when brushing your teeth. 

Using efficient appliances is vitally important since air conditioners and refrigerators use about 30% of total household electricity in the U.S. Newer energy-efficient appliances not only save energy, they also operate more efficiently. 
By replacing old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs will save hundreds of dollars in any household over a year. 
Unplugging appliances like TVs rather than leaving them in standby settings can also save a lot of money. 
Using water wisely is also vital. Having said that even turning lights off when they aren’t needed is important, consider that running a faucet for just five minutes uses about the same amount of energy as a 60-watt light bulb pulls in 14 hours. 

If you can make these savings in your own home, you could use that money to go green sooner than you ever thought possible.