By Kimberly Dawn Neumann | Apr 19, 2023
While buying something brand-new is rarely the eco-conscious choice, it can be if you’re buying a house—now more than ever.
Existing homes often lack many of the most cutting-edge, energy-saving features available today. And while these environmentally friendly upgrades tend to raise the cost of a new house, a growing number of homebuyers are happy to pay. They see these features as investments that can save them money on energy bills for years (or even decades) to come.
This growing demand for energy-smart homes has allowed more builders to embrace earth-friendly innovations from the ground up, rather than see them as “niche” extras that might not net a profit at sale—or make sense to their bottom lines. “For years, businesses struggled with a gap between what consumers said they valued with environmentally conscious products and their actual purchasing behavior,” says Dan Bridleman, senior vice president of sustainability for KB Home. “But now, instead of seeing sustainable homebuilding as a barrier or cost to overcome, it’s a lever to maintain affordability. Customers don’t have to choose between a green home and their dream home.”
Whether you’re concerned about climate change or your bank account or both, it pays to know what options are out there when shopping for a new-construction home. Keep these items on your new-construction wish list, for a double-dose of benefits—for yourself and the planet.
Zero Energy Ready Homes
America’s nearly 130 million residential and commercial buildings use 74% of its electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). And that enormous expenditure is responsible for a staggering 35% of all U.S. carbon emissions—either those released directly from the homes and offices being heated with fossil fuels or indirectly from the power plants that generate electricity to power these buildings.
To alleviate this climate burden, builders are being encouraged to construct Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH), which are structures built to high-efficiency energy standards that they use 40% to 50% less energy than usual. And if a renewable energy source (such as solar panels) is added, these homes graduate to becoming a fully designated Zero Energy Home (ZEH), which could whittle monthly energy bills to $0.
Currently, there are more than 12,000 Zero Energy-certified homes across the country. But that number is sure to rise—in January 2023, the DOE announced new tax incentives to encourage builders to make ZERH their main offering. On a policy level, energy codes for builders have gotten stricter in recent years, leading many construction companies to adopt ZERH requirements as their standard construction practices.
What this all boils down to for homebuyers is that many builders are now offering these energy-efficient homes at competitive prices. Make sure to ask any builders you are considering if they are ZERH-certified, or check out this DOE map for Zero Energy-compliant builders in your area.
Taking zero-energy homes one step further, some builders have expanded that concept to create entire interconnected communities of homes that all contribute to—and pull from—their own local microgrids. This means that although these communities are hooked up to the traditional state-run power plants (also known as macrogrids), they also possess their own independent energy sources (typically solar panels) on community premises.
The first, fully functional microgrid communities in California were recently launched by KB Home in Durango and Oak Shade, near Menifee, CA. In these communities, every home is equipped with its own solar panels and battery and is connected to other homes in the development through a shared community battery.
“With our microgrid communities, we expect to significantly decrease energy usage by 40%, in comparison to the national average,” says Jacob Atalla, vice president of sustainability for KB Home, which has partnered with the Department of Energy to help future microgrid builders. “The exciting thing about microgrids is that they can operate independently when larger systems might be overloaded, unstable, or offline, providing homeowners with power resiliency.”
Community microgrid systems free entire neighborhoods from the constraints of being tied to traditional energy sources in the area. So if the power goes out on a grand scale, the community will be unaffected, because it’s generating its own energy.
3D printers are increasingly used in homebuilding. And this is good for the environment, since building a traditional 1,200-square-foot house produces around 2.1 tons of construction waste. A 3D-printed home eliminates nearly 99% of that, since it only “prints” what it needs. Mighty Buildings, which has printed more than 70 homes in California, has even set a goal of building homes that, by 2028, make a negative carbon impact.
While 3D-printed homes have been popping up across the country, the first entirely 3D-printed community is currently under construction in Georgetown, TX, just north of Austin. The Genesis Collection at Wolf Ranch by Lennar Homes and Icon will include 100 3D-printed homes, all built with a robotic arm. It’s a method that saves substantially on labor and construction costs.
Genesis Collection homes will range from 1,574 to 2,112 square feet and sell for the mid-$400,000s—comparable to the area’s traditionally built homes. The company broke ground in November 2022 and is taking reservations from interested buyers, for 2023 move-ins.
This accelerated speed is possible since 3D-printed homes can be as much as two times faster to build than regular construction projects. For example, developer Mighty Buildings can print its two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,171-square-foot Mighty House Quatro in three months, with a three-person crew.
Another environmentally friendly component of 3D homes is that they use fewer materials. For instance, a typical wall might have wood, drywall, screws, tape, insulation, metal plates, and more. But a 3D-printed wall is built from one material alone. Mighty Buildings uses a patented, light-stone material made of 60% sustainably sourced and recycled materials.
Plus, because the materials that go into 3D-printed homes are highly durable, these homes are set up to withstand the weather effects of climate change, including extreme hot and cold temperatures and inclement weather. They’re also more earthquake- and hurricane-resistant.
Partnerships with energy-saving suppliers
While builders might have offered energy-saving appliances as an optional upgrade in the past, now it’s often par for the course.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several homebuilder programs, including ENERGY STAR, which establishes energy-efficiency standards; WaterSense, which outlines water-efficiency standards; and Indoor airPLUS, which focuses on air quality. Bridleman encourages homebuyers to ask builders if they incorporate appliances and systems with these demarcations in their homes.
Partnerships take this one step further. For instance, KB Home partners with Moen, which has vowed to save 1 trillion gallons of water by 2030 through their faucets and fixtures. To date, KB Homes has installed more than 900,000 WaterSense-labeled fixtures in its homes.
Builders are also increasingly using paint, cabinets, and carpet that emit low Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs, providing healthier indoor air quality. Some paints, such as the SuperPaint line by Sherwin Williams, boast an “air-purifying technology” that transforms any circulating VOCs in the nearby air into harmless, inert gases.
Smart-home tech that focuses on saving
Advanced, smart-home technologies are eco-conscious, since they automate energy savings by, say, turning off the lights, adjusting room temperatures, or managing sprinkler systems without you needing to remember on your own.
Landsea Homes has a partnership with Apple to build “High Performance Homes” that include an Apple HomePod Mini, so homeowners can set up automated commands through the Apple Home app. This means they can preprogram the front doors to lock and the window shades to come down at certain times, thereby saving energy—and sanity— because you’ll never again have to wonder, “Did I turn the light off?”
While many smart-home components can be added to existing homes, having them incorporated into a new build allows for heightened seamlessness and functionality—not just with lights but with electrical components, HVAC, water-heating, and irrigation systems, too. For instance, KB Home microgrid community houses are all equipped with smart water heaters that can alert homeowners to leaks.
“While sustainability is not new, we are really just at the precipice of seeing sustainable innovation in interior design,” says Gena Kirk, vice president of corporate studio design for KB Home. “We expect innovations to continue to evolve and sustainable design to become affordable for all.”
Have more questions? Contact our team today!