Thoughts about green building occur to me in the strangest of places--in this case it was my sister's bathroom. I couldn't help but compare the low-flow toilets in her house to the low-flow units my parents had installed in their home a few months ago. To put it bluntly, my sister's porcelain thrones chug along timidly while my parents' give a confidence-boosting whoosh every time. Granted, they aren't the same brand, but it still struck me what a difference a few years can make.
If you're trying to sell green building to reluctant buyers, the distinction between a chug and a whoosh can make all the difference. Many consumers resisting the call to green may not be doing so because they don't believe it's important; instead, I think some may just have been burned in the past. Though early iterations of many green building products were the pioneers without which we wouldn't be where we are today, they didn't always work in the way consumers were accustomed. Early versions of solar panels were often obtrusive and inefficient. Low-flow toilets wasted more water reflushing. Early CFLs gave off unfamiliar light. Today's buyers need your guidance to see how far these and other green building products have come.
Most manufacturers know that being green doesn't just mean having recycled content or saving water or energy; it also means good performance and a contribution to a more durable home whose products don't have to be replaced in a year.
Take EPA's WaterSense certification: Lav faucets complying with the standard must not only meet a flow rate requirement, but also a performance requirement. The soon-to-be-released showerhead label will follow a similar method. Solar panels are another great example. Not only are today's options getting more and more efficient than those of the past, they're also getting smaller, with some thin enough to stand in for roof shingles.
Like any industry in transition, many categories of green building products have a long way to go. But the leaps and bounds crossed in just the last few years are what make me believe that this time the green movement will stick. Higher energy costs and more science supporting climate change also are driving the message home, of course, but I think the willingness to get on board will continue to grow stronger as more and more homeowners realize that they can make green choices without having to sacrifice much, if any, of the performance and lifestyle attributes they crave. The eventual goal is that perhaps they won't notice at all.
Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.