Thursday, February 11, 2016

Green Building and the California Construction Industry, Current Trends Shaping the Industry's Future

California builders have a brighter outlook now than they have in years as the construction industry starts to rebound from the losses of the Recession. As it does so, industry leaders are looking at a fresh approach to prevail over the obstacles that continue to impede the construction industry’s growth. With a need to stay ahead of the curve in order to be successful, residential and commercial builders are looking towards environmental considerations such as sustainable building materials, energy efficiency & accommodating the conditions & needs of a state undergoing a serious drought.

The construction industry in California is subject to a variety of influences that steer it accordingly. Not to be overlooked are the needs and priorities of home and business owners themselves, who are becoming more conscious of the benefits of eco-friendly options and modifications to their homes. The significant inroads that green construction has made is evidenced by that fact that the past year showed a record-breaking number of solar panel installations, with California leading the way. Recently California was named 7th in the nation for the amount of LEED-certified space currently in existence. LEED-certification takes into account certain green-building standards that are recognized to reduce environmental impact as well as increase energy-efficiency and keep down costs.

As the construction industry continues to grow, and demand for new projects rises, another component becomes a consideration for builders and developers: competition. Builders want to make themselves stand out to potential customers and one way they are doing it is by lowering their prices. In order to remain competitive and justify the expense, builders may choose to pursue an eco-conscious approach. As the construction industry recovers, home builders in particular are slow and careful in how they’re proceeding, and energy-efficiency is an important way they can continue to thrive. Businesses that exemplify the California way of life are considering the environment as well as the well-being of their employees when building new work spaces. The USGBC in their document “The Business Case for Green Building” claims that commercial building owners and their tenants, as well as homeowners, see tangible benefits from building green such as reduced operating costs, attracting and keeping tenants and even increased productivity.

There is another important consideration in the construction industry today, in California and all over the United States, and that’s climate. Weather conditions have had significant impact on our lives in the past few years, and Californians have certainly felt it. We regularly experience wildfires and power outages as a result of wind and dry conditions; we have an ongoing drought and when it does rain, floods and mudslides are not an uncommon occurrence. Providing a solution for these concerns is the newest line of thought in construction known as “Resilient Design”.

Resilient Design takes into account the effects of natural events and integrates building techniques that keep these effects from taking a significant toll on the building’s structural, electrical and design elements. There are certainly a few important characteristics of Resilient Design that might be relevant for California’s residential builders and homeowners, according to a recent Washington Post article.

The Resilient Design Institute has created a set of guiding principles and strategies to put the idea of more intuitive and informed design into practice. Those strategies include building with climate and weather conditions in mind, consider possible eventualities rather than rely on precedents that may not remain relevant, install a failsafe in case of power loss and of course use materials that can stand up to inclement weather conditions. There are also environmental considerations such as local, eco-friendly materials, reduced waste, energy-efficiency and water conservation.

Then, of course there’s the drought. In 2015, Governor Brown signed an executive order that aims to reduce water use in California cities. In order to achieve higher levels of water-efficiency, California authorities have had to implement new rules regarding landscape design in new construction. The intent is to reduce water needs in coming years as more homes emerge with a lawn of the size and composition that complies with the new state regulations.
The California drought affects residents in startling ways. For example, dry conditions have affected California’s hydroelectric power resources, thereby driving up electricity costs and negatively impacting the environment. Going forward, new construction will have to take precautions to improve energy-efficiency in order to prevent potentially expensive and burdensome circumstances for residents in the future.
As environmental, legislative, economic and social factors continue to drive us towards a greener future, the construction industry will no doubt be at the forefront. Each step is a measured one, and the industry, sensing the value of a green approach, will certainly be carefully assessing it as part of its overall strategy during the recovery.