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Building standards of the future

By Guest Author | June 9, 2016

Green construction is slowing gaining ground as a cornerstone of sustainable development in an era preoccupied by global warming and climate change. At the same time, voluntary certification programs like BREEAM and newcomer LEED that award points for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of green buildings are now achieving worldwide recognition as standards of architectural excellence. 

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Green building is becoming a major trend for the construction industry

Alternative energy

Non-conventional energy sources have become an attractive addition to new and existing property. Solar panels have now gone mainstream and present low-budget addition for homeowners and a cost-cutting solution for commercial investors. In fact, solar energy has reached grid parity in the US (cost of energy produced vs. retail utility price) and there are now over 1 million homes nationwide using photovoltaic panels, half of which are in California. Commercial property owners are also now able lease out roof space to solar farms, thus increasing the net operating income of their investment.


Solar panels are an affordable source of energy for real estate industry players

Other alternative energies like wind turbines are also growing in popularity. Texas, California and Iowa are currently the largest producers of wind power and in 2013, the US was already generating enough electricity to power 15.3 million homes. It may be hard to believe but turbines are now also entering the commercial real estate arena. Skyscrapers such as the Lighthouse in Dubai (UAE) and the CIS Tower in Manchester (UK) both have integrated wind turbines and solar panels that cut their energy costs by an estimated 65% and 10% respectively.

However, in light of the success of green energy, utility providers have successfully lobbied some states into deregulating the payment for excess solar power like in Nevada where rates paid to owners were recently slashed by 75%.

Water efficiency

New buildings are also starting to combine rain water collection and purification systems into their design. For example, outside water planning can include water-efficient landscaping (plants with low water needs) and collection systems for storm water, while inside recycling systems collect graywater that can be used for non-consumption needs like landscaping. Property with such technology can reduce water bills by 50%.


Water recycling systems can halve bills for property operators

Commercial property investors have also started integrating such systems into industrial, commercial and office designs. The Hearst Tower in New York City was the first to receive a gold LEED certification and has a 14,000 gallon tank in the basement that effectively halves its expenditures on this resource. This is actually topped by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that will save $118 million in energy costs over the next 75 years, in addition to using 60% less water than other buildings its size.

Nevertheless, graywater recycling has not been approved in every state so it’s important to consult local regulations. For example, it only became official in California in 2009.

Green roofs

Green lawns on the roofs of skyscrapers are now becoming commonplace but the idea actually emerged back in 1935 when a green observation deck was opened on the Rockefeller Center in New York City. These installations can reduce heating and cooling expenses by 25%, decrease storm water run-off and absorb carbon dioxide. At the same time, research shows that their lifespan is actually double that of traditional covering methods. Green roofs go hand in hand with water efficiency as rainwater is commonly filtered into a collection system.


Green roofs are not just decorative, they are extremely economical

The Hills at Vallco in Silicon Valley, once a failed shopping mall, has been given a new lease on life with a major renovation project that includes the world’s biggest green roof. Washington D.C. holds America’s record in this area after installing an additional 1.6 million sq ft in 2015 alone. Local policies in the capital actually include rebates of $7–15 per sq ft of green roof and additional credits on stormwater fees. Mexico City, one of the world’s most polluted capitals, spends about 8% of its annual budget on greening skyscrapers in an attempt to curb the current trend.

Building trends in the US show a marked preference for extensive coverage (six inches growing medium), as opposed to semi-intensive and intensive, due to structural loading capacity and lower installment costs.

Sustainable materials

Special hybrid building materials are also gaining in popularity as technology creates new ways of using natural materials. The number of multi-story wooden commercial and residential properties is growing thanks to new techniques that render the material more durable and resistant to variations in temperature and humidity. Lever Architecture and SHoP have recently been awarded $3 million after winning America’s first “Tallest Wood Building Prize”.


The world’s biggest wood structure is the Metropol Parasol in Seville (Spain)

The Lever Architecture design will add a 130-ft structure with 900,000 sq ft of mixed-use (retail, office, residential) units to the Portland skyline. On the other side of the country, SHoP will be giving Manhattan its biggest wood building too, as the design and construction industries lean further towards lumber eco-friendly design.

Homes of the future may be coated with a hydroceramic outer layer, which is a special gel that absorbs excess moisture and releases it whenever the temperature rises, thus contributing to insulation and energy efficiency as well as tackling humidity.


About the author: Discover what will add value to your property over the coming decade in this article by

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