Rain or Shine, I Want Money in My Pocket

I have been gathering my thoughts for a while now, trying to find a way to summarize what I have learned at Greenprints this year, and i think I found the perfect way to do it.

Architect Robert M. Cain AIA, opened up Greenprints with “Beyond a Better Box”: a presentation on his LEED certified residential project called RainShine.

rainshine2RainShine (left), a sustainable modern two-story home located in Decatur, GA, was built under the LEED for Homes Program Pilot Rating System. It has been rated the highest level for green architecture in the U.S. from USGBC: LEED Platinum. With 2800 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 3-1/2 baths and its high-tech systems, this property will consume 57% less energy for its daily operations than would a comparable home designed under the International Energy Conservation Code and have a need of 75% less City potable water. Now, that is just remarkable.

As I listened to the architect’s presentation on how he achieved the final design, his expectations and actual results, my mind wondered a bit into a world of questions and praises: Can people live up to these home’s expectations? Can the average american afford a sustainable home? How wonderful would it be if home builders (i.e: D.R. Horton) took Mr. Cain’s results as something to strive for. Maybe they would find a solution to make better homes at affordable prices?

Interesting enough I had the opportunity to ask this question directly to D.R.Horton at a Home and Garden Show in North Carolina. The employee was a bit disconcerted but proceeded to explain that they don’t have a department within the company that researches or designs green architecture. He alleges that most of the green aspects are now part of Code. As much as I want to believe him, transforming homes into efficient units is not only about using the right windows or low-flow fixtures, but about its actual design. From what I have seen, D.R. Horton is very far from it.

It made me think that, perhaps, there isn’t a demand. Well, demand is something incredibly relative. There was never a demand for an Ipad. People used to get by without it just fine, but Apple created the demand for it. Not only because Apple created a following of customers that rely on the quality of their products and designs, but because they sold the advantages one could have by owning an Ipad. Why can’t we do the same with our homes?

I am sure people would love to live in a “high-tech” home. It would be a conversational piece almost every time. Most blame it on costs, but RainShine cost only 50% more to be built than the average home, and its actual average energy cost per month saw an 85% improvement over code. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the benefits of this investment.

However, we can’t attribute these amazing numbers solely to design. Human factor plays a bigger role than most imagine. The owners of RainShine live consciously. They understand the benefit. But, can people live up to these efficient homes’ expectations? If we make a parallel with Reshaping Metropolitan America (Arthur C. Nelson’s book: know more here), we will be surprised to see that a behavioral change is already in effect. It might take a couple of generations and maybe another recession for a culture of waste to behave differently, but one can be sure it will occur.

To conclude my Greenprints review, I must add the session “Financing Partners Valuing Green: Meet the People with the Money”. J.P. Morgan, Fanny Mae and Enterprise Community where the guests presenting their case studies, objectives and services. Fanny Mae is financing for retrofits of multi-family properties and green projects. Enterprise Community provides solutions and financing for affordable housing and J.P.Morgan is developing sustainable multi-family projects in FL.

If you have read Smart Growth and the New American Dream, this piece of information is the cherry on the top. Isn’t Florida the american retirement destination? So, why is J.P.Morgan investing in sustainable condos in Florida? Why is Fanny Mae heavily investing in affordable housing, along with Enterprise? High retirement rates and increase of lower income population?

The next few decades will be decisive to the reshaping of America’s built environment. The numbers don’t lie, and the people with the money know how to read them. Now it is time we do the same. Whether it is improving our own property, thinking ahead of the market, or planning for our kids.

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