The Modernization of Green Aesthetics

The rise of green building is improving not only the functionality of the home, but the
aesthetics as well

By Sergio Flores

Besides the common misconception that building green is more expensive, which has been disproven, another misconception about certified green homes is that they are not easy on the eyes. However, as more and more production builders begin to recognize both the benefits and desire for sustainable building and living, the face of the green home is adapting.

Recently, Zion Research published a report for green building materials where they forecast the market to reach USD 255 Billion by 2020—in four short years. The report includes materials such as framing, insulation, roofing, exterior siding, interior finishing, and more. In addition to fiscal and environmental benefits, venerable certifications such as LEED adding to the momentum of green building. With more materials available for builders to utilize, the look of the green home is no longer limited.

When green homes were first incepted, they were empirically different. Mostly curated by custom homebuilders, the end-goal of these homes was not to create the most aesthetically enticing home, but instead to maximize energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. Thus, aesthetics were often compromised for functionality.

Perhaps the most notorious “face” of the green home comes from the passive home design, where homes were often defined by their geometric, straight lines that made them look unattractively “boxy.” Although not the most appealing homes, they were extremely efficient and were a direct response of the energy crisis during the 1970s.

Another response to this crisis was solar energy, and thus solar panels began to invade the home’s aesthetic. Alex Wilson, founder of BuildingGreen recalls the early days of solar homes, when “solar energy was often captured by appending large fiberglass-glazed solar panels onto roofs at odd angles…without regard to proportions and design sensibilities.” The lack of proper design to accommodate the novel innovation came at the expense of the home’s aesthetics.

But, with the rise in green building more options are readily available, and consequently changing the green look.

A great example from within this issue is McVaugh Custom Homes’ new community in Houston, Texas, Royal Oaks Courtyard Villas. This community is the first LEED certified residential subdivision for the City of Houston. At a glance, though, none of the 80 homes appear to look any different than a normal house you might find down the street. The homes deliver modern architecture through flat roof lines, pocketing glass doors, and great room ceilings heights of up to 14 and 15 feet. The performance of the home is just as grandiose. McVaugh partnered with Snyder Energy Services to deliver a beautiful yet functional home, guaranteeing homeowners utility bills of $75 or less. Both were confident in the design’s efficiency that Snyder Energy agreed to pay the difference if utility bills exceeded that amount.

Builders are even using their green endeavors as a part of their aesthetic. Anthony Maschmedt, owner of Seattle’s Dwell Development said the design for their Ballard Emerald Star Zero Energy Home “came from [their] passion and commitment to sustainable and thoughtful design.” The design is inspired from a desire to achieve a high level of energy efficiency, with “the aesthetic qualities of the home [born] out in the pursuit of this goal.” Aesthetics and sustainable worked hand in hand in this project.

But it’s not just the exterior of the green home that is changing, it’s also very much the inside. The average size of homes today are nearly 1,000 square feet larger than they were in the early 1970s.

The retrofitting of homes is especially gaining traction. Integrating sustainable/green products to improve the overall health and efficiency of a home translates to an improvement in resale value, which every homeowner is a fan of. Houzz’s recent report, Overview of U.S. Renovation, Custom Building & Decorating, found that importance is placed in improving design/look and feel of the home, improving functionality, increasing resale value, improving energy efficiency, minimizing costs, and more.

As efficiency becomes more important to buyers and owners, manufacturers are adapting, too. Whirlpool for example worked with the Association of Household Appliance Manufacturers to set new standards in appliances to assess the impact from each stage of the life cycle of the product and the energy efficiency used during.

It used to be that the only way to identify a green home was through a blue label from ENERGY STAR®. This isn’t true anymore. With awareness to the benefits of sustainable building and living for both homebuilders and homeowners, it is only a matter of time before building green will fully evolve from being a fad to being the norm.

Sergio Flores is an Assistant Editor for Builder and Developer magazine. He may be reached at sergio@penpubinc.com.

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