Is Energy Efficient Design Really Just a Fad?

Sustainable living is not only a growing business and news trend, it is also the direction home design and construction must move towards as valuable, limited resources become increasingly sparse for our growing population. Energy efficiency in the home building industry will remain the focus of some progressive, forward thinking companies, but not all of them. But when will this focus on efficient design become a commonplace reality of modern home design?

The conservation of energy, as part of the design process itself, is not the main focus or even a standard practice in the site built home construction industry or in the manufactured, modular and pre-fabricated home industries. Comparing these two categories of home building, I am confident that if the average consumer compared major site built home companies to the high-end factory built home builders, their ultimate conclusion would be that the factory built home builders put more emphasis on energy efficient design, and have a much more inherently efficient building process, than their site built counterparts. If the future of home construction will be heavily influenced by efficient design, why, then, aren’t more site built and factory built home construction companies currently working towards this end?

There are three main reasons why more homebuilders, factory built or otherwise, are not working swiftly towards energy efficient design within every home they build. These reasons are: first, the cost of new design plans that are energy efficient is greater than sticking to standard practices; second, many of these homebuilders do not have the technical aptitude or interest to undertake energy efficient design, and lastly, consumer demand has not reached a fever pitch.

As a homebuilder, it takes serious commitment of financial and human resources to develop a new product line or commit a company completely towards green design. Those in charge of making these financial decisions must determine if their new energy efficient design will easily fit within the framework of existing building codes. They must also consider whether or not the commitment to energy efficient design will be rewarded by a consumer base willing to pay for an extremely efficient home. Consumer demand, therefore, is extraordinarily important in making these decisions.

At present, there are two main issues affecting consumer demand: first, education on the benefits and implementation of energy efficiency; and second, the general uncertainty and pessimism that lingers from the recent meltdown in housing brought about by “McMansion” sprawl. in our recovering economy, many consumers are focused on basic necessities, obtaining benefits and features consumers are currently familiar with, and of course the overall price. The purchase price and anticipated resale value of a home is far more important than green design in the minds of many consumers as the notion of never-ending home equity growth has been dashed by the recent debacle with mortgage lending. However, this will most likely change in the future substantially.

Regardless of if our economy remains sluggish or worsens, it remains likely that the price of electricity, water and gas will increase. We have seen this in the price of gasoline. Throughout the economic crisis, gas prices have risen and fallen and, in California, we are still paying over $4.00 per gallon. Whereas the price of gasoline peaked at over $5.00 a gallon a few years ago, we have not seen the price of gas drop to pre-recession levels. If our economy improves substantially, what incentive do the producers of gasoline, electricity and heating oil have to reduce the price of their commodities? None really. And with a growing population, the scarcity of these resources will always command a higher value in the eyes of commodity owners and producers.

Energy efficient design is really a niche in the home building industry. It is definitely not a standard practice. There is a trend towards energy efficient design because a segment of the population is very concerned about the conservation of energy and sustainability. Green builders must compete to win the attention of this consumer niche. However, over time, considering the scarcity of resources, growing population and lack of any incentive for owners and producers of commodities to reduce their premiums, energy efficient design will be a standard practice and those home builders that invest the time, energy, and financial resources in to energy efficient design today, will reap significant benefits in the future.

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