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Where Is Green Building Headed?


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Green building has been a growing trend in construction for over 10 years now. Yet, when you look at the numbers, the amount of building area that is certified green (LEED) is amazingly small (3.8% in the US). Based on this past history, author and green building guru Jerry Yudelson predicts where green building will go in the near future in his book “Reinventing Green.” 

Here are a few of his predictions:

1. Certification levels flatten out

This trend has already started in places like the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific. Instead of rising, as its popularity would suggest, the number of projects registering for green building certification has leveled out in many countries. 

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the US’s most popular green building certification program, has been increasing project registrations each year since its inception in 2000. Yet the number of projects registering has flat lined over the last few years, and is now lower than it was in 2010. 

Other certification programs, such as Green Globes, Energy Star, and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), may become more popular in the near future, as the cost to certify a project is cheaper with these programs.

2. Energy efficiency retrofits

With rising incentives and financing options for energy efficiency upgrades, many building owners are jumping on the bandwagon. 

Retrofits have shown stronger growth than energy efficient new construction since 2012. Many municipal, university, school, and hospital projects are taking advantage of ESCOs (Energy Service Companies) that provide cheap capital and financing for equipment upgrades. 

Building owners sell their future energy savings in exchange for investors providing upgraded/modernized physical plants. The federal government provides similar services to municipalities through Energy Service Performance Contracts. There are many opportunities to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings, and these projects have a relatively quick payback.

3. Net zero energy projects

Buildings that generate as much energy as they use, or even produce more, are called net zero energy projects. In 2014 there were over 160 net zero buildings in the US, and another 53 projects that were low energy users and could be capable of reaching net zero. 

With growing numbers of utilities offering net metering, an agreement where users who generate more electricity than they use can sell it back to the utility for use by others, net zero is becoming more attractive all the time. The key to net zero is reducing energy use through the use of passive systems to heat and cool spaces. 

How to: Passive design includes using building mass, operable windows, and the chimney-effect to naturally heat and cool building spaces. Large areas of stone, concrete, or water absorb and store heat during the day, then release it during the cooler evening hours.  

Opening windows at a lower level and skylights or clerestory windows at the top of a building allow for natural ventilation through drafts, without the need for fans. These drafts and the use of thermal mass allows buildings in some climates to be naturally ventilated, without the need for additional HVAC equipment, thus saving energy and money.

4. Rating system competition is increasing

Although LEED may get the most press in the US, in the federal government’s eyes it is on equal footing with Green Globes, a rival certification program started by ECD Energy and Environmental Canada. 

Green Globes came to the US in 2000 and is administered by Green Building Initiative, a standards developer through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Design documents are submitted online and a detailed questionnaire is answered to determine certification levels. 

BREEAM is big in Europe, and is beginning to increase its market in the US. In this program, assessors visit the project to see the green building measures in person. In Asia-Pacific, country-specific programs are more dominant than any of the western transplants.

5. Increasing focus on existing buildings

Starting with the recession in 2008, there has been an increasing focus on refurbishing existing buildings and interior spaces in the green building marketplace. These projects have continued to become more popular the last few years.

New construction, especially green new construction, has become too costly for some investors, so they are looking for ways to improve their current building stock. Energy retrofits and interior renovations are becoming more popular.

LEED’s share of the existing building market is only 0.01% of US non-residential building stock. Energy Star ratings, which are self-certified through energy use data, are becoming more popular in existing building upgrade projects, as many of the incentives for energy efficiency upgrades are tied to the Energy Star rating.

6. BIM and cloud computing will grow

With the proliferance of micro-technology and the Internet of Things, building and energy monitoring and analysis have become very easy. There are opportunities for performance monitoring, data analytics, visualization, fault detection and diagnostics, and energy management. Large property management companies are able to monitor energy use in real time and make adjustments from a central office, instead of having to dispatch a service technician.

There are increased incentives and stricter regulations on energy use around the world, so these systems will only continue to become more popular.

As technology improves and becomes smaller and cheaper, more buildings will be integrating automation systems into their structures. This allows for greater control, improved reporting, and less energy use overall. 

A new survey from the Net-Zero Energy Coalition found that there are currently over 6,500 net zero residential units across the US. And with green trends on the rise, they expect this number to increase six times this year alone, with California leading the way. What else do you need to know about the future of green building?

While experts don’t have a definitive answer for what to expect in the next ten years, they have some pretty good predictions based on past history and recent shifts in the market.

Download the rest of the free eBook by Dawn Killough, a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor, as she presents ten predictions for the next ten years with additional tips for where your business fits into the “green” future. Click here to download.

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