Blueprint for Advancing High-Performance Homes: Even in Today's Harsh Housing Environment, High - Performance Homes Make Sense-For Residents, the Nation, and the Environment. Here Is a Plan for Promoting Them

By Turner, James H., Jr.; Vaughan, Ellen Larson | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Blueprint for Advancing High-Performance Homes: Even in Today's Harsh Housing Environment, High - Performance Homes Make Sense-For Residents, the Nation, and the Environment. Here Is a Plan for Promoting Them


Turner, James H., Jr., Vaughan, Ellen Larson, Issues in Science and Technology


Given the economic devastation caused by the housing industry collapse in the United States and the years remaining until full recovery, it may seem out of touch to be talking about meeting 21st-century needs through high-performance homes that can deliver comfort and well-being to the average homeowner at levels rarely reached before. Yet the housing problems that the nation faces are systemic and do not lend themselves to short-term fixes. Carbon emissions from the housing sector are at several times sustainability levels. Homes use excessive amounts of water. Average indoor air quality needs to be improved. There are safety and security problems. When homes do not meet the needs of elderly and handicapped people, medical costs increase. Homes are unaffordable to a growing segment of the population.

Furthermore, most homes, unlike electronics or cars, will be here decades from now, because they evolve more often than they are replaced. Thinking about homes holistically over their life cycles is the only way to reach their potential.

Basic knowledge of how to do this is not the problem. Since the 1970s, federally funded and private-sector research programs, along with overseas advancements, have improved understanding of most aspects of building performance. The basic science behind high-performance buildings is well understood, and a few top firms in architecture, engineering, and construction have created high-performance buildings, including homes that come close to economic, environmental, and social sustainability. The problem is moving this knowledge from larger and higher-priced buildings and the building elite to the broader market of moderately priced new home construction and retrofits, where costs are paramount and knowledge of high-performance principles is less prevalent.

Still, tough times are also innovative times, and when past ways of doing business were not working well, the nation and its people have traditionally looked for change. Today's economic pause is an ideal time to think about how to optimize the housing sector, by reducing costs through eliminating wasteful practices, by adopting best practices from manufacturing, and by unleashing the power of information technology. This is not an easy task, because the housing industry and the housing stock are quite diverse. But it is not an impossible task, and there are some clear reforms that can move the U.S. housing sector much of the way to achieving its potential.

What is high performance?

High performance is what people should expect from buildings, where we spend about 90% of our lives. The Whole Building Design Guide, a project of the federally chartered National Institute of Building Sciences, defines a high-performance building as being cost-effective over its entire life cycle, environmentally sustainable, safe, secure, functional, accessible, aesthetic, and productive (see www.wbdg.org).

For homes, achieving safety and security means withstanding foreseeable disasters. Functionality requires meeting residents' expectations and needs. Accessibility means meeting the needs of the elderly and disabled through universal design. Aesthetics relate to a home's desirability and ease of resale. Productivity depends on appropriate day lighting and a healthy indoor environment.

Cost-effectiveness is measured on a life-cycle basis, taking into account the initial purchase price, operational costs, improvements, and long-term maintenance and repairs. In high-performance construction or renovation, the initial design is done with future enhancement in mind. Building science dictates the most appropriate design, materials, technologies, and site orientation. Precise, cost-effective execution follows through engineering, construction, and operations. Once high performance is achieved, a home becomes as cost-effective to own as it is to purchase, energy costs are minimized if not eliminated, building performance is maximized, and the quality of life for building occupants is enhanced. …

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Blueprint for Advancing High-Performance Homes: Even in Today's Harsh Housing Environment, High - Performance Homes Make Sense-For Residents, the Nation, and the Environment. Here Is a Plan for Promoting Them
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