Getting Housing On The Green Track

Changes need to be adapted to address climate change and continue the housing boom. 

By Alexa Moreno Perdomo

After a hellish year painted by declining national health, economic downturn and legislative hurdles, the pandemic is finally subsiding and the country seems to be taking a collective sigh of relief. With the renewed optimism for the future has come a passion for recovery, not just health-wise, but also economically. 

Like many people and industries, the economy suffered during the pandemic, but, also like many people and industries, it is aiming at regrowth as the pandemic lessens. According to Nadia Evangelou, senior economist and director of forecasting at the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. economy saw a 4.1% growth in the last quarter of 2020 — still shy of pre-pandemic levels. Nonetheless, her, as well as other economists, predict a brighter future ahead. 

“The economy is expected to grow more than 4% in 2021, moving us closer to pre-pandemic economic conditions,” Evangelou said.

One of the shining lights for the economy during the pandemic was the housing industry, which, while almost every other industry suffered, was flourishing under pandemic-induced homeowning fervor; however, it was not an easy road.

Homebuilders had to adjust their construction and homeselling practices to ensure the safety of all those involved, while also staying on top of home buyer’s desired home features, which included an increased desire for green homes that promoted health and sustainability. 

The 2021 National Association of Home Builders’ What Home Buyers Really Want study found that buyers sought homes that had energy efficient features such as ENERGY STAR-rated windows (39% considered it essential/44% considered it desirable), ENERGY STAR-rated appliances (33% essential/48% desirable) and energy efficient lighting (31% essential/49% desirable). 

With the heating, cooling and lighting of residential buildings representing about one-fifth of all U.S. carbon emissions, it is crucial for the homebuilding industry, as a whole, to become active participants in the battle for a healthier world.

Now that the pandemic’s end is seemingly in sight, homebuilders should eschew resting on their laurels and charge toward a greener future. Not only to help continue stimulating the economy and meet buyer’s demands, but also to ensure a continued future for the earth. 

With the heating, cooling and lighting of residential buildings representing about one-fifth of all U.S. carbon emissions, it is crucial for the housebuilding industry, as a whole, to become active participants in the battle for a healthier world. As senior energy policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council Lauren Urbanek said to NBC News, “Getting to any of the 2050 carbon goals is going to require addressing buildings on a big scale and especially existing buildings.” 

As the pandemic gets under control, the desire for housing is speculated to remain high. Despite housing affordability being impaired by rising material costs and housing shortages, the NAHB’s Housing Trends Report for the first quarter of 2021 found that 16% of American adults were considering buying a home within 12 months. 

However, housing prices may regulate as housing is added. According to ZIllow, more than two-thirds of their panelists of real estate experts expect housing inventory will begin to grow in the second half of this year or the first half of next year. In addition, if the President’s American Jobs Plan passes through Congress, then there will be more than 500,000 new homes built and more than a million retrofitted and rehabilitated to be energy efficient. 

With the recently announced dedication to reducing emissions by more than half by 2030 and the Biden administration pushing for all facets of the nation to be more environmentally-friendly and sustainable, the time to implement greener practices and features into housing is now. Through third-party verification programs, like Green Point Rated certifications, homebuilders can get the help and support they need to transition to greener building. 

As homebuilders, designers, suppliers and more., we have a duty, not only to serve our industry and home buyers, but also to serve this planet in hopes that it will continue to evolve. It would be morally negligent to not understand the profound impact that we could have on climate change by changing the national housing landscape to support energy efficiency and sustainability goals. The road may not be easy, but nothing worth noting is. Let’s use this time as an opportunity to lead and be an example to other industries. Home is where the heart is and it can also be where change begins as well.

Alexa Moreno Perdomo is the assistant editor of Builder and Developer Magazine. She can be reached at alexa@builder.media.

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