Conservation--of energy, water, resources, and homeowners’ money--will drive green home building this year. Energy-efficient and low-water-use products, smaller homes, affordable design ideas, and denser neighborhoods will score big with homeowners and buyers. Here are six trends that will shape what clients want in 2011.

1. ENERGY EFFICIENCY
From net-zero-energy houses to deep energy retrofits to energy-conserving products, ideas that cater to consumers’ drive for ever-lower utility bills will take center stage.

Modular building is expected to attract attention from energy-conscious buyers this year. Factory-built homes from Preferred Building Systems are virtually air-tight and extremely well-insulated, achieving HERS ratings under 50.

Modular building is expected to attract attention from energy-conscious buyers this year. Factory-built homes from Preferred Building Systems are virtually air-tight and extremely well-insulated, achieving HERS ratings under 50.

With new home construction continuing to struggle out of its three-year-long slump, green remodeling is widely seen as the top building trend for 2011. Experts predict that more homeowners will take advantage of local and state incentives to weatherize and upgrade inefficient, leaky dwellings. “People are holding on to their homes and staying in them longer now,” says Kara Saul Rinaldi, executive director of the National Home Performance Council. “They are looking at their existing home and saying, ‘What can I do to make it more comfortable for me now?’”

For new construction, industry watchers predict that ultra-efficient building techniques such as the rigorous Passive House standard or net-zero-energy home designs will continue to gain momentum with environmentally conscious consumers. Passive House dwellings are so energy-efficient they require very little mechanical heating and cooling, even in extreme climates.

More buyers also will consider ultra-efficient modular dwellings such as those from Preferred Building Systems, which offers net-zero-energy and Passive House models.

Experts predict that solar water heating will be hot this year, and pre-packaged systems make the units easy for contractors to install, such as 
Rheem’s SRCC-labeled Solaraide passive solar water heating system that operates without pumps or controllers.
Experts predict that solar water heating will be hot this year, and pre-packaged systems make the units easy for contractors to install, such as Rheem’s SRCC-labeled Solaraide passive solar water heating system that operates without pumps or controllers.

“With computer-controlled cutting, they are able to build these homes so much more tight and precise than you can on a site-built home,” says Brent Ehrlich, products editor with BuildingGreen, publisher of Environmental Building News. Energy-conserving products should have a big year as well, especially solar water heaters. Some companies are offering pre-packaged units with all necessary components including panels, pumps, and super-insulated tanks with back-up electric heating elements, which should make them less intimidating to contractors, Ehrlich says.

In addition, heat-pump water heaters,  another growing category, he notes,  provide the potential to produce significantly more hot water per kilowatt-hour of electricity than traditional units.