“Sustainability” has, perhaps, become the biggest movement in the field of architecture and construction – transcending mere trend status. Today, increasingly affordable green technologies combined with generous federal and local subsidies have put owning a green home firmly within the reach of most middle-class Americans. In turn, a small but significant (considering today’s depressed housing market) spike in demand has seen builders, even national establishments such as D.R. Horten scrambling to exhibit their green credentials and offer sustainable alternatives or retrofit solutions. Of course this is old news in progressive cities like Austin, Texas where eco-builders such as Native have established businesses anchored on the demand for green housing.
Yet, despite the growing attention to the integration of eco-friendly materials and technologies into homes, little consideration is given to how the user or homeowner will affect the home’s performance. This is a huge industry oversight; without occupant compliance, meeting environmental performance goals is simply impossible. No green technology or technique will mitigate a window left open with the air-conditioning running. To help owners out, many ecobuilders today offer included services and equipment that make owning a green home a refreshing breeze.
While the homeowner cannot be expected to be a comprehensive building manager, digital monitoring technologies make it easy for the user to see what systems are installed, how they are performing, and where to apply any needed corrective measures. This engages the user and clues him or her in as to what exactly is going on in the house and how to go about improving energy savings. Native offers, as standard, web-based CES Smart Electrical Panels with all their houses, which allows for easy and comprehensive monitoring. These smart monitoring systems encourage the homeowner to be proactive about saving money and energy.
Transparency and Ease of Use
Most people who want eco-friendly homes are not industry experts and are certainly not familiar with the calculation and numbers associated with energy consumption. What occupants want to know is how their behavior is impacting the data and thereby how they can modify their behavior to improve efficiencies. For example, if a window has been accidentally left open while the air-conditioning is on, an effective interface will clue him or her in to that fact either through an alert or a summary of energy usage indicating massive energy waste. Some systems will even automatically self-adapt to changes in demand, time, and pricing-structure.
An eco-charrette is simply a meeting between the homeowner-to-be and the design team that enhances owner engagement with the project. Owners are prepped for what to expect in terms of real energy savings and how to occupy the home in a way that boosts those energy savings. Think of this technique as an orientation or a training of sorts in which owners are clued-in to the specifics of their green-home and how to occupy it most effectively.
Ultimately sustainability isn’t only about austerity or reducing energy consumption. Thus for ecobuilders this could mean emphasizing a nature-oriented lifestyle that encourages people to open the windows during times of good weather rather than air-condition 24/7. This could also mean offering home-buyers the option to choose nearby, locally-sourced materials to reduce both costs and transportation pollution.
Homeowner’s cannot be expected to occupy their homes in a way that is perfectly aligned with saving energy all the time. But, ecobuilders such as Native, are matching the great strides made in the adoption of green technologies by making them easier to understand and to operate.
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