Green Residential Building: Looking to the Future

Market data reveals how the industry has moved over the year, and where it’s going next


At the 2018 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Chicago, new research was released that showed global green building activity is expected to increase through 2021. In the residential market, over a third of multifamily and single-family homebuilders are already building more than 60 percent of their projects green. As activity continues to grow, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been focused on refining the LEED rating system, which has served as a framework for the industry and an indication to buyers that homes meet high-performance, sustainability standards. Looking ahead, however, increasing the interest in green homes will require builders and developers to move beyond talking about the benefits in terms of construction and efficiency, and instead show how living in a green home impacts the people inside.

Currently, there are more than 1.6 million residential units around the world participating in LEED. Certification has grown 19 percent since 2017, reaching an all-time high with nearly 500,000 single-family, multifamily, and affordable units certified according to USGBC’s latest report, LEED in Motion: Residential. The rating system has helped define what it means to build a green home, and certification is a signal that standards have been met. The report also outlines the top 10 states for LEED certified homes in the U.S., with California coming in at number one. The state is home to nearly 40,000 certified residential units, followed by Texas with more than 24,500. This research is on par with other global trends showing the prevalence and the growing demand of green homes.

While client demand and environmental regulations remain top motivators for using LEED, creating healthier buildings emerged as an important trigger for green building globally. This aligned with the latest update to the LEED rating system, LEED v4.1 Residential, which opened for registrations in April of this year and offers builders and developers a simplified and streamlined approach to certification. The updated rating system prioritizes health and well-being, improved comfort, energy and water savings, and green and healthy materials, which have a higher value to homeowners and residents. LEED’s residential program addresses the needs of single family, multifamily and affordable housing projects, and helps builders and remodelers create efficient and sustainable homes that residents can feel confident are also supporting their health and comfort. As LEED evolves, more emphasis is placed on the comprehensive social costs of a home’s sustainability, and the impacts they have on human health.

Despite all of this activity, however, there is still more work to do, especially when it comes to talking about the benefits of green buildings and homes with everyday people who may not have an understanding of the more technical aspects of green building. USGBC’s Living Standard campaign recently released its second research report, called “Standard Issue Volume 2,” which surveyed 1,850 adults across the U.S., and revealed that although most people consider environmental issues important, they do not believe the outcomes are substantial enough to prioritize action. As part of the research, respondents were asked to rate how important environmental problems were to them, and 82 percent responded that they believe environmental problems are very or somewhat important, an increase of 8 percentage points in the six months since USGBC began conducting this research. However, in the breakdown of that large majority, 49 percent believe that environmental problems are very important, while 33 percent say they are somewhat important, suggesting that there is a great deal of variation in beliefs on the importance of environmental problems. Proving that we need to continue the conversation around the benefits of green building to health, in another part of the survey where respondents were asked about how often they consider the impact of buildings where they spend their time on the environment and their own health, 39 percent said they never considered it or do not know. Right now, the growth of green building in the residential market has showed us that green buildings are important, and demand is there for their construction and use. With updates like LEED v4.1, there are definite opportunities to better promote the importance of green buildings to a wider audience. Going forward, as green homes are built, we need to draw a better connection between their cost savings and economic value, as well as their social and health value.

It’s time to discuss long-term environmental and health benefits of green building. The updates to the LEED rating system is the road- map for how that work gets done and the Living Standard campaign will help the industry adjust its narrative. A priority for USGBC in the future is not only to expand the availability of LEED in the residential market, but also to change perceptions around the purpose and promise of green homes for everyone.

Asa Foss is the Director of Residential Technical Solutions with the U.S. Green Building Council. Foss is a national expert on the single family and multifamily green building industry. To learn more, please visit

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