Build Local

What the green residential sector can learn from the eat local movement.

Thanks to the growth of the “eat local movement”, American farmer’s markets, in cities, college towns, and rural squares across the nation have been experiencing something of a prolonged renaissance. Critical urban spaces that had once languished in negligent oblivion or had been paved over for parking long ago, have reemerged as impromptu spaces for socialization, culture, and yes, food. Sales from these gatherings exceed 1 billion dollars annually as the number of these markets continues to trend upward at a brisk pace.

Much of this growth is the result of a seismic shift in consumer culture. Americans are increasingly seeking out foods that are produced in a way that yields fresher, healthier, and more sustainable products. The local food system offers real opportunities for seeing the real people, social relations, and physical conditions involved in the act of producing food. The more patrons are exposed to the realities of agribusiness and the food system, the more they are unsatisfied with existing norms and conditions. The process is as important as the product itself. And there is much to laud in these sentiments.

The home building industry can learn much from these trends and sentiments.

Build Local

The local food movement provides some interesting parallels to, and lessons for, the burgeoning green home movement. In many ways, the goals are very similar – an attention to the actual process of production in pursuit of a quality product, and careful management of environmental impacts. The modern green home fits neatly into that categorization. The parallels are too beneficial to leave unmentioned.

We eat local for health reasons. Green homes are purpose-built for indoor air quality and occupant comfort, with VOC-free materials and with the same health reasons in mind.

We eat local because we trust the quality products that specialty and boutique farmers provide. The best green homes are purpose-built for longevity and energy-efficient performance, typically by specialized eco-builders who are well-versed in their craft and engaged to each site and situation.

We eat local to promote sustainability and local economies. Building green typically involves minimizing the massive carbon cost of transportation. To that effect, a purpose-built green home utilizes local materials worked and fashioned by local craftsmen employed by local builders who know how to build a home in tune with their region’s unique climate conditions.

However, the act of building a home is arguably much more involved in scale, complexity, and impact than the act of say, growing a tomato. Environmentally speaking, home construction can have a huge, largely destructive, impact. And while foodies and other environmental activists are quick to point out the shortcomings of the agribusiness and food system process, few homeowners, builders, or architects are even aware of how the buildings they live in are potentially killing them and the environment.

According to the “Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)”: buildings are the number one contributor of greenhouse gases accounting for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions. The act of construction alone, excluding lifetime emission and emissions related to electrical consumption, is the third highest contributor of greenhouse gases behind only the petroleum and chemical industries – two industries that have an obviously contrasting relationship to the health of the environment. They also cited indoor pollution, via volatile organic compounds (VOC) in building materials and other indoor nasties as the fourth largest environmental threat to the entire country.

That’s pretty bad.

But like the slow shift of the consumer conscience in regards to what we eat, the green homes sector is displaying signs of what could be considered a revolution. Like any true revolution in the making, the green home movement begins in the collective consumer conscience.

Change Thinking to Change Behavior

An article by Yahoo! found that while Americans still clung to their hopes of one day owning a home, that home of theirs is increasingly looking more and more green, and less like the environmentally (and financially) disastrous McMansions of the pre-recession era. More than half of all respondents cited green or energy efficient features as a key aspect of their future home.

In fact, having a green home handily beat other traditional favorites including “having a waterfront view” (38 percent), having a beachfront property (27 percent), and living in a “stately mansion” (11 percent). That’s a pretty big deal for Americans who used to be enamored with everything “big” and wasteful, especially their homes.

In response, the green residential sector has been kicking into high gear. McGraw Construction projects the industry will balloon surpassing 200 billion dollars by 2016 and representing over half of all new construction. The much lauded eat local movement looks like a pea in comparison to the potential impact the relatively overlooked green building movement could have on a massive scale.

In the face of increasing globalization, and subsequent corporatization, of every sector of our modern economy, social movements, of which the green movement and local food movement are but two examples, have turned to localization as a solution to a host of problems. Green homes that are locally assembled and built, and designed for local conditions and climate, are on the cusp of doing to the housing industry what local foods have done to our eating habits – changed them for the better.

More and more homebuyers are demanding green features in their new homes, and builders of all sizes are obliged to meet that demand. One day, perhaps, future builders and homeowners alike will look back to this period as a renaissance of American home building driven by a new green consciousness more concerned with longevity, quality, and performance, rather than sheer size.

Build Local. Build Native.