Despite the current downturn in housing, the long-term prospects of green housing look promising.
Backing up that belief is a recent American Institute of Architects poll that indicated that a remarkable 91 percent of registered voters nationwide would pay more for a house if it has a reduced destructive impact on nature. Just exactly what constitutes a "green" house is up for interpretation, but anything that saves energy, and reduces waste and pollution qualifies. "No matter what the budget is, there's always something you can do that's green," says Alicia Ponce, a green-certified architect and principal in ap.MonArch LLP, Chicago. "I like to begin with something people can relate to, like appliances, lighting, and plumbing.
If a client wants to do more, we start talking about efficient air-conditioning, wind power, and solar power. Nearly every green improvement in a single-family home can also be retrofitted."
With energy prices rising almost daily, green homes won't go out of fashion any time soon, predicts Craig Schneider, a green-trained project manager with JB Architecture Group in Naperville, Illinois and a member of Arquitectos of Chicago, a society of Hispanic architects. In fact, the demand for green housing, both new and retrofits, is expected to grow dramatically. "Whether a consumer builds a green home to combat global warming or is a fan of cutting-edge architecture, the primary reason this construction method is here to stay is that it truly saves you money," he says.
Underscoring that statement is a report from the U.S. Green Building Association that estimates green housing designs can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year on energy costs alone. A study of Carsten Crossing, a community of green homes in Rocklin, California, outside Sacramento, shows that homeowners saved an average of $1,400 a year on utilities. Mr. Schneider adds that green homes oft en cost the same as standard homes to build, and many are eligible for tax incentives.
Hispanic homeowners, as well as Hispanic-owned construction companies, will likely benefit from the new, energy-conserving housing market, as well as help drive it. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that of the more than 29,000 Hispanic-owned firms with receipts of $1 million or more, nearly 30 percent operate in construction services. Although the home-solar industry is not heavily Hispanic, that fact is expected to change as state and local governments escalate incentives for solar and other alternative energy fi rms. Minority-owned businesses are expected to gain a share of those contracts.
Meanwhile, the green housing scene is evolving quickly, says Kevin deFreitas, a San Diego architect. Mr. deFreitas' own two-story green house, which he calls Casa Futura, was showcased last year by the San Diego Architectural Foundation as one of the most environmentally conscious homes in the city. Until recently, Mr. deFreitas says, green was equated with 'hippie' and conjured up visions of homes made of bottles and straw bales – the early versions of sustainable living.
"A lot of people thought you couldn't do a modern-looking environmentally sensitive house," he adds.
Ms. Ponce calls going green "a trickle-up factor" with immediate benefits to the wallet and long-term benefits to the environment. "If everyone contributes to this effort with their heart, it will make a difference," she says. Of course, the beauty of green construction is that while you may contribute to building an energy-saving home with your heart, part of your return will be in a different kind of green – the kind you can spend.
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