San Diego’s Building Industry Association played host to an outstanding and dynamic presentation earlier this morning on the topic of energy and the 2016 California building codes that went into effect at the beginning of this year.

The panelists included a great mix of building professionals and thought leaders that don’t merely speculate on the impact of green building — they live it:

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California will require that all residential housing comply with zero net energy requirements beginning in 2020. My own personal conversations with many of the builders in Southern California points to a real reluctance — if not outright denial, in some cases — about meeting those goals.

Patrick Sisson, writing for Curbed, reports that across North America, it is clear that some builders are bucking the status quo resulting in some rather positive news:

According to a new report by the Net-Zero Energy Coalition, while its still on the fringe, this type of sustainable construction is rapidly gaining popularity. In 2016, 33 percent more net-zero units were built across the U.S. and Canada than the previous year. The 8,023 new single-family and multifamily units will eliminate the equivalent of 16,406 cars and 77,929 tons of CO2 emissions each year, versus buildings that met code compliance.

The majority of the new buildings, 61 percent, were part of larger, multi-unit projects. The largest multi-unit project (663 units, completed and occupied) and the largest single-family project (350 units, in design) are both at the University of California Davis’s West Village, a huge residential project that’s expected to grow substantially in the coming years due to expansion.

It should come as no surprise to longtime green building professionals that UC Davis is leading the way. The school has been home to many of the most pioneering green building benchmarking and best practices research over the past several decades.

Denver Post’s Brian Eason writes:

Declaring that the measure “will help make our housing more affordable,” Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday signed into law one of the most hard-fought compromises of the 2017 session — a bill that will make it more difficult to sue builders for shoddy condo construction.

Business leaders for years have been seeking wholesale reforms to the state’s construction defects laws, blaming the state’s dormant condominium market on a legal environment that they say enables an excessive amount of lawsuits against developers. That, they argue, drives up insurance costs, leading developers to avoid building condos entirely in favor of rentals.

House Bill 1279, which took effect immediately when the governor signed it Tuesday, requires a majority of a condo complex’s unit owners — rather than just its homeowner association board — to consent to legal action against a developer for poor construction.

In a previous article at the Denver Post, various parties weighed in on the then-pending bill and the reasons why such legislation isn’t a panacea for creating more housing.

Financial Times’ Matthew Klein has proposed an interesting alternative theory about the skilled labor shortage in the US that has impacted all sectors of the construction industry, but especially the residential market.

He posits that by looking at homebuilding data in Japan, the implication is that the US isn’t facing a labor shortage so much as it is dealing with sub-par productivity. Despite the fact that Japan’s population is less than 40% of US population, only 14% more homes have been built in the US since 1992.

Surely an aging society without a reservoir of cheap (and often illegal) immigrant labour would have fewer builders as a share of the labour force than a relatively youthful and foreigner-friendly country such as the US. Unsurprisingly, there has been a glut of articles over the past few years warning of “labour shortages” due to the combination of aging and falling immigration rates, with the implication that this has been restraining construction and inflating house prices.

Reality is the other way around. Despite radically different demographics and essentially no immigration, Japan has consistently employed a much larger share of its workers in the construction industry than the US, although the share has dropped over time. Even at the peak of America’s housing bubble, only about 5.5 per cent of workers were employed in construction. In Japan last year, more than 7 per cent of employees worked in construction — and that’s a lot lower than in the early 2000s…

Another way of putting all of this is that America built about the same number of housing units in 2016 as in 1992, but somehow required about 46 per cent more people to do it. Japan built 31 per cent fewer houses in 2016 than in 1992, but its construction workforce had fallen by 19 per cent. Productivity deteriorated in both countries, but productivity fell much further in America than in Japan.

Garrett Huffish, writing for Digital Trends, reports that the first on-site 3D-printed residential home was built in Russia for about $10,134:

Printing the self-bearing walls, partitions, and building envelope took the machine 24 hours to complete. The final result is the first house printed as a whole with an area of 409 square feet.

Erecting the house during the coldest time of the year in Russia was no easy task. The concrete mixture used in the printing only sets right in temperatures above 5 degrees Celcius. Meanwhile, the outside temperature was sitting at minus-35 degrees Celcius. A simple solution was found by setting up a sealed tent around the construction site to keep it warm enough.

Here’s a video:

Learn more at Apis Cor’s website.

Housing shortages abound throughout the modern world, and in the UK, the situation is not much different than here in the US. Also not much different: substantial claims of defective construction due to cut corners in an effort to meet demand.

In fact, the country’s National House Building Council, which provides 10-year warranties covering most newly constructed homes, reportedly paid out £90-million (US$110,852,100) to homeowners in 2015-2016. According to the Guardian, this is nearly triple the amount paid to resolve claims from a decade before. Here’s more on the story:

This week the Guardian reported that Bovis is set to award people who live in some of its newbuild homes a total of £7m in compensation, in response to claims that houses have faulty plumbing or wiring, missing insulation, and other serious defects. Some people say they were offered money to move into homes that have not been completed. When the news broke, the Bovis share price fell by 10%, wiping £100m off its stock market value.

This is just one part of a bigger story of complaints about Britain’s construction giants – and what happens when the rush to build leads to corners being cut and houses left either unfinished or deeply defective. On social media there are hundreds-strong groups telling their personal stories: “The toilet leaked into the living room and when my plumber came to fix it he found the toilet had not been installed correctly”; “having my kitchen ripped out for the second time”; “no insulation in roof”; “mould growing all over the house … too dangerous too live in as I have asthma”.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on to build as many new homes as possible. Even if it is behind on its targets, the government still wants a million to have been put up by 2020. The year 2015 saw a big jump in completed builds: 142,890 homes were finished, a 20% year-on-year increase. Last year the number was put at more than 150,000.

Happy Friday, everyone! Today’s treat is a neat video that a builder made during the construction of his brother’s home.

The way he made this video is actually really cool. By programming a route for the drone, and then flying that exact route every day, Youtube user ChuckPPhotography then edited the video from around 32 to 34 of the passes together. The end result makes it look as if the entire home was constructed during a single pass of the drone.

My team and I have been working on something similar for our clients.

Check out the video below:

Hammer and Hand is a Portland, Oregon-based contractor specializing in high performance residential construction. Sam Hagerman, Skylar Swinford and Dan Whitmore, three of the green building experts at Hammer and Hand, put together their predictions for high performance residential construction in 2014. The entire article is worth the read.

Here is a summary:

  1. Focus will move beyond Net Zero Energy to Net Positive Energy buildings.
  2. Market mechanisms that reward energy conservation and renewable energy production will flourish.
  3. Building energy codes will move away from prescriptive rules toward performance-based measures.
  4. CO2 heat pumps will help transform heating and cooling performance.
  5. US-made high performance windows will continue to make high performance building easier here.
  6. Builders and designers of high performance homes will design ventilation systems with a focus on quality of ventilation rather than just quantity.
  7. The US-led move to make Passive House more climate-specific will improve performance at both micro and macro levels.
  8. Passive House competition will result in better software tools for high performance building practitioners.
  9. Europe’s push to eliminate thermal bridges in buildings will make high performance building more mainstream in the US, too.
  10. China’s interest in high performance building will propel US market.

Source: Hammer and Hand, via Regenerative Homes’ Stephen Bolling

Research funded by two industry organizations is underway at MIT to answer the following question:

Can residential construction using insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than current building practices?

A close-up of the ICF walls after the concrete...
Image via Wikipedia

Good question. In order to answer the multi-faceted question, it must be broken down into distinct components that can be isolated and tested using rigorous protocol. So that gives us two main categories: cost and environmental friendliness. Unfortunately, those categories require further analysis in order to make a fair comparison between ICF construction methods and current building practices, which for simplicity, we’ll assume means wood-frame construction with batt insulation and an exterior cladding of either stucco (most common here in the Southwest U.S.) or siding.

Cost

Let’s analyze this metric first. Does cost refer to the price of the material itself, the cost of the material plus the labor to install it, the total cost of a prototypical building using these methods/materials, or the total cost over time? I’m not sure. According to Lloyd Alter’s analysis at TreeHugger, based upon a research study conducted by the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) through the NAHB Research Center, Inc., the cost is much higher for ICFs than other methods. Specifically, unit-pricing and assembly-based methods from real-world contractors indicate that ICF construction increases costs by a factor of 38%.

The cost analysis was based on standards used by RSMeans for estimating construction costs. Unfortunately whereas RSMeans’ data comes from thousands of sources across the country for standard materials and methods, resulting in a more statistically valid estimated cost per unit, the study by PCA and NAHB included data from only sixteen contractors. As anyone in the industry knows, the cost of construction varies greatly depending on whether the end product is “merchant” grade or tract or production housing versus high-end custom construction. Since adoption of ICF methods and materials remain low, there isn’t going to be much good data required for production housing cost comparisons.

“Environmental Friendliness”

How is this term defined? According to an article by John Caulfield at Builder, an interim report released by MIT states that ICF construction, “demonstrates the potential energy savings due to the benefits of thermal mass, effective insulation, and reduced air infiltration.” In addition to the completed home’s energy usage, the report will also analyze the life-cycle performance of homes constructed with ICFs versus wood-framed homes. The difficulty here, as Lloyd Alter points out, is that the two primary components of insulated concrete forms – concrete and insulation – are not very environmentally friendly themselves. The styrofoam used for the forms is derived from petroleum, contains numerous toxic chemicals, and if exposed to fire, create extremely toxic smoke. Portland cement-based concrete requires a great deal of energy to manufacture, and the production releases