Mike Murphy

Around the holiday season, many people spend more time at the local retail mall than in their homes. They would probably much rather hunker down in their homes for the cold weather, and sip on some eggnog with family and friends, but the call of Black Friday and beyond keeps them on the go.

One might think that Old Man Winter would tend to force people into the more moderate and cozy climes, but actually, whether it be a house or building, there just aren’t as many creatures stirring indoors this time of year.

But houses and buildings are certainly at the forefront of discussion in the construction industry - all year round. Architects, engineers, contractors, home builders, energy conservation gurus, and legislators seem to have a heightened awareness of the importance of energy conservation, and the role that efficiently designed buildings play. But, there is still a lot that needs to be done.


The interest in constructing dwellings and buildings more efficiently seems to have been piqued in 2010. Organizations as varied as the National Association of Home Builders to Tree Huggers Anonymous have touted the importance of conservation measures and green building practices.

Efforts are afoot to extend tax credit incentives for new and existing buildings. Citing specific provisions, Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan called on Congress to “extend the tax credit for builders of energy-efficient new homes and for manufacturers of high-efficiency appliances.” She added, “Congress should also extend the tax credits for homeowners who make energy efficiency improvements to their existing homes and for purchasers of high-efficiency equipment, as well as the now-expired business credit for heavy hybrid and natural gas vehicles.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans living in energy-efficient homes saved $19 billion on their utility bills in 2008. It is expected that 2009 and 2010 have yielded similar results as many homeowners have jumped on that tax credit bandwagon - the one that rolls to a partial stop on Dec. 31, 2010.

However, on the new construction front, the results, though positive, are not as impressive. For example, in 2009, 37,506 homes qualified for the energy efficient new homes tax credit, representing only 6.7 percent of new homes constructed.

Newly built homes would seem to be no-brainers for energy efficiency. After all, wouldn’t all of America’s home builders buy into the movement? Well, not exactly.


“America’s 10 largest publicly traded homebuilders have started to improve their policies and practices relating to the environment and resources, but much progress remains to be achieved,” according to a major new study by Calvert Asset Management - one of the nation’s leaders in the field of sustainable and responsible investing. KB Home and Pulte were ranked as the top industry firms. Improvement from Calvert’s earlier 2008 “green homebuilder” report was noted for Meritage Homes, Toll Brothers, and Standard Pacific, while DR Horton and Ryland Group lost ground.

Titled “A Green Recovery for America’s Homebuilders? A Survey of Sustainable Practices by the Homebuilding Industry,” Calvert’s 2010 survey of major homebuilder sustainability notes: “Out of 42 [possible] points, the average total score was just over six points, or 15 percent. While all 10 homebuilders have made some effort to develop environmental policies or practices, or to offer environmental products, there is strong differentiation in the level of commitment to sustainability and the penetration of green homes in each company’s product mix. Without leading companies KB Home and Pulte Homes, the overall analytical performance of the industry in our study would have been far worse - scoring an average of less than 6 percent against key green data points.”

It is worth noting that every homebuilder reviewed for the Calvert analysis had some level of policy or program focused on curbing residential energy use. Homebuilders are generally moving in the right direction, but some are moving too slowly.

Residential new construction (RNC) has obviously lagged during the Great Recession. RNC is an important factor in the growth of the U.S. economy. As the current recovery continues, and housing begins to once again move forward, it would be nice to see that industry lead the way with energy conservation measures - on all fronts. There is a lot of room for improvement.

As the HVAC industry helps pull the economy forward, perhaps aligning itself with those construction companies that best utilize energy conservation practices would be another move in the right direction.

Sources: Alliance to Save Energy, Calvert Asset Management.

Publication date:12/20/2010