The Belvedere community developed by Stonehaus features 700 EarthCraft-certified homes near downtown Charlottesville, Va.
The Belvedere community developed by Stonehaus features 700 EarthCraft-certified homes near downtown Charlottesville, Va.

In order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, the industry must evolve quickly to meet the challenges of our changing environment. Allison Ewing, AIA, principal at Charlottesville, Va.’s Hays+Ewing Design Studio views adaptive lessons in the natural world as a blueprint for success, and she’s homed in on passive building strategies to reach the evolutionary goal.

“We need to find solutions to the Vision 2020 benchmark that can easily be implemented at scale rather than one-off projects,” asserts Ewing. “To make real impacts in the home building industry, we must engage the developer-builder community where the top 10 builders are developing more than 20 percent of the market.”

Developer-builders are tough to sell on sustainability, however, as volatile market factors and first costs propel their decisions. Lifecycle benefits aren’t compelling for builders unless those costs can be justified in sales. The higher cost of green products is a deterrent for builders as well. Demand is needed to encourage the marketplace to develop competitively priced products. For example, in Europe more stringent codes spurred demand for materials that meet or exceed the Passivhaus energy performance criteria. As a result, triple-pane windows are now standard in Europe.

Green government regulations can push builders to comply, but a balance is needed as increased codes drive up building costs, making it difficult to compete with existing housing stock and rental properties. “Government codes need to rise in a steady progression so developers have time to adjust to new practices and still remain viable,” says Robert Hauser, president and CEO of Charlottesville-based developer and home builder Stonehaus.

Educated consumers are needed as well as the market is saturated with builders that casually promote their projects as green. “Realtors and consumers should understand the distinctions between greenwashing and green certifications,” says Hauser. “Then builders could leverage third-party certifications like EarthCraft to provide real credibility to informed customers,” he says.

It will take some time for active renewable energy measures to generate the market traction for a realistic return on investment, and this is where passive measures offer immediate opportunities. “Passive strategies such as community, massing, envelope design, and passive solar all offer lower first costs and this is what it will take to transform a profit-driven industry,” says Ewing.  “By looking to nature for strategies, clever developer-builders can provide more with less--and sell their units at a higher cost per square foot.”