New technologies and changing social attitudes drive innovation.

By the year 2020, close to 20 percent of new construction in America will be green. About three-quarters of American builders and remodelers will be working on those green houses. And that’s just the bare minimum. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) both agree that demand for green homes is growing rapidly.

While building homes certified as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) costs more than building traditional homes, homebuyers are considering that extra cost — anywhere from one to six percent — as a worthwhile investment for a healthier, more environmentally friendly home. Plus, those extra costs can pay for themselves over time in energy savings.

Yet the question remains: in an era where homebuilding costs keep rising, why are consumers looking to spend more instead of seeking ways to trim costs?

Green Houses Add Value

Since green homes have become the wave of the future, they’ll be easier to sell. It’s expected that in the future, part of the home-buying decision may be calculating the cost of bringing a traditional home up to green standards. But even today, residential houses certified LEED sell for more than similar houses that aren’t certified. In California, the state with the most green houses in the country, consumers pay an average $17,000 extra for an environmentally friendly home.

Increasing the value of a home has always been a driving factor in home improvements. According to a study done by Dodge Data & Analytics in 2015, homeowners who are at least 55 years of age make up a significant percentage of the green home-buying public. And it makes sense. If you’re looking to increase the value of your home, what do you do after adding a bedroom or redoing the landscaping? Make the home more green.

Additionally, the Millennial generation, which is a growing home-buying population, is more interested in an earth-friendly house, making those sales easier as well. Energy efficiency translates into lower energy costs per month, a built-in savings off the average $180 a month energy bill homeowners pay. All the signs point toward a growing market for green homes across the country.

Green Houses Promote Healthy Living

More than 80 percent of residential homebuilders report that, regardless of the local market, consumers will pay more for a green home that is healthier. Particularly as the home-buying segment of the population ages, health and healthy living become more prominent concerns. The desire to live in a healthier environment, therefore, continues to push the green home movement.

Green houses are more than energy-efficient and sustainably built. According to Rick Fedrizzi, the president of USGBC,  “Homes touch practically every aspect of our lives.” LEED-certified residential designs not only increase energy efficiency, but they also increase the flow of fresh air, which decreases air-borne toxins. All this promotes a healthier environment indoors.

New Designs, New Technologies

Building or remodeling a green home requires using sustainable products and renewable energy sources, such as solar panels (another growing trend). But to certify for LEED, a home also has to take advantage of smart architectural designs and new technologies. Some examples include:

  • Green roofs: literally, plants on the roof that increase insulation and stabilize interior temperatures
  • Passive design: using the natural landscape and interior design to save energy
  • New technologies: heat pumps that are more energy efficient, not to mention solar and wind power breakthroughs

The premium costs for building green houses are shrinking as the market grows and as new technology develops. Furthermore, more builders are by necessity offering the option of green home building. These trends will likely continue, as demand sparks innovation.

Next Step: Net-Zero Green Houses

A net-zero house is one that doesn’t use any more energy than it can produce — either through solar power generation, wind power generation or energy conservation. The term “net-zero” refers to the amount of energy produced versus the amount consumed. Net-zero homes exist today, but price points have kept the concept out of reach for most consumers. But that will change in the future.

As solar technology continues to advance, you may see windowpanes, shingles and paint (or a transparent coating) that can generate power from the sun. These technologies will either augment or replace completely the bulky solar panels that today represent the primary products of the solar power industry. In the future, net-zero homes may give way to net-negative homes, which produce more energy than the home uses.

However the future unfolds, it’s certain that green houses will be part of the picture. It’s not inconceivable that all homes eventually will be retrofitted to use at least some of the new technology. So even if existing homes don’t qualify as LEED buildings, they will become more energy efficient. That makes the world a cleaner place and a home a healthier environment.