CenterPoint Home Energy Program
Monday, May 02, 2016

Snarl of codes and regulations

Snarl of codes and regulations 'ultimate inhibitor' to going green

By Kim Slowey | May 2, 2016 

According to a 2014 Dodge market forecast, 84% of homebuilders will have made green building a part of their repertoires by 2018, and, late last year, an industry analysis of Dodge data found that green building is doubling every three years. Homeowners also are jumping on board in an effort to realize the cost savings and health benefits of going green.

The green trend is so pervasive that construction industry building code influencers like the International Code CouncilAmerican Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning EngineersAmerican Institute of Architects; the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and theU.S. Green Building Council have come together to produce the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, the NGBS is the first residential green standard to get the nod from the American National Standards Institute, the organization that oversees the development of business and product standards across a wide range of industries.

Although the NGBS is not mandatory, it reflects the industry's desire to standardize green building, making it easier for builders and homeowners to make and implement environmentally friendly decisions during the building or renovation process. However, these new standards do not fall right in line with state, county, city and other building regulations around the country.

"The real issue is that local regulations are behind in development," said Alex Edwards, III, CEO of Sustainable Holdings Inc., a Texas developer of green home solutions. Regulation and code barriers, he said, are the "ultimate inhibitor" to green building.

Architect William J. Martin, spokesman for the American Institute of Architects-New Jersey and principal at WJM Architect, said there are three different "layers" of regulation when it comes to any type of building, green or otherwise.

  1. Homeowners' and condominium association regulations apply only to the relevant structures or housing developments.
  2. The next category is local zoning requirements — setbacks, height requirements — that apply to everyone in a specific jurisdiction. 
  3. Finally, there are local building codes, usually prescribed at the state level.

"The building codes have actually gotten a lot better in terms of removing things that would conflict with green design principles," Martin said.

However, Martin said there are still areas of the state code that don't address green building. "There's nothing in the (NJ) building codes that prevents the green roof, but when you put a green roof on a building, you need to make sure that the roof structure that supports that green roof is sufficient to carry the load of the roof material and the water than can accumulate," Martin said. That load is "significant," he said, and, since there's nothing specific in the code regarding green roofs, the building inspector checks the architect's plans against the construction when performing an inspection.

Another green building method that can come into conflict with state codes are alternative water collection methods, or rainwater harvesting. Some states encourage it, while some states regulate it stringently. Many Western states, home to some incredibly complex water rights laws, limit rainwater collection or, like Colorado until this week, completely prohibit it except under certain narrow conditions.

Yet another conflict is often created, Edwards said, when homeowners decide to "super-insulate" their homes. While this can save on energy costs, he said, a tighter building envelope also can restrict airflow and prevent the minimum ventilation that building codes require. These are calculations that HVAC contractors make and submit to the building department, so, Edwards said, it's important to get professionals involved with this kind of work.

Attorney Dan Chorost of Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C. echoed Edwards' advice and said less airflow means less fresh air, which can lead to an unhealthy interior environment. Reduced airflow, he said, can also lead to increased moisture and mold problems down the road.

Zoning regulations, Martin said, are adopted locally and create a set of conflicts. These rules, he said, vary from "municipality to municipality." Martin said a green building method he employs often is adding exterior insulation, which can be as much as a foot thick. This, he said, can interfere with zoning setback requirements, meaning that the design might have to give up interior space to comply. Martin said this is a "disincentive" for some owners to use exterior insulation, particularly if the building is multifamily and it means a reduction in rentable space.

Neverthless, homeowners' associations, Edwards said, are the usual suspects when it comes to conflicts around "aesthetically challenged" green building methods like solar energy, which often employs industrial-looking solar panels, or alternative water collection systems like rainwater harvesting, which might not fit in with the look of some neighborhoods. 

Chorost said the "sustainability versus aesthetics" argument is common when dealing with the hundreds of thousands of homeowners' associations in the U.S. "Some people entered into these agreements decades ago, never thinking about renewables. They've agreed to these rules that allow the association a veto right on anything aesthetically displeasing, which is a real problem," he said.

Typically, he said, homeowners' association members have to make a request for an "architectural review" for anything that deviates from association rules. The problem, however, is that instead of an architect making the decision, it's usually an association board with broad discretion and opinions that can change with the election of each new board member. 

Chorost said some states have enacted statutes from preventing a homeowner from "unduly blocking" solar panel installation but said homeowners' associations can still make it a difficult process.  

So is there a way to fight back against regulations that impede green building?

"The process varies by municipality," Edwards said, "however, builders or contractors that find their green building methods in conflict with building codes can apply for a variance and go before the planning commission or the controlling entity of the code." Edwards cautions that this process is by no means a slam-dunk, because the decision may rely on public comment or require a waiting period.

Of course, building codes vary so much from state to state, it's hard to nail down one single approach to dealing with all the codes across the U.S. Martin said each area of the country has different climate concerns and weather issues, be it Florida hurricanes or the arid environment of the desert regions, so using one set of green rules is almost impossible.  

Edwards said he believe the key to greater acceptance of green building methods, whether at the building department or homeowners' association level, is "education about why solar and other renewables make sense." In addition, millennials, he said, which have started to enter the homebuying market, will want these things included in their homes, increasing the demand for greener regulations.

As far as the NGBS, Martin said he has not studied it in detail but believes it will most likely come into play with state building codes eventually. "I would suspect that the principles in that code that make sense from a sustainable design standpoint … will be incorporated into a revised building code," he said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


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Monday, April 11, 2016

Indoor Air Pollution, Where Does It Come From?

   By Edward Neumann, Goodman Manufacturing

Great progress has been made in improving the comfort and quality of life in our homes. The Gulf Built Gulf Coast has been at the forefront in promoting the building of homes with features such as natural flooring materials, low VOC paints, and improved ventilation. These built in features add real value to the home and assist in promoting good health of their inhabitants.

When asked, a certified indoor environmentalist will tell you the best way to improve or preserve indoor environmental quality are a practice called “source control.” Source control simply means removing or better yet keeping potential sources of indoor pollution out of the home’s interior. It is much more effective to prevent pollution than it is to clean up after it has happened.

There are two sources of indoor pollution that are commonly over looked that can cause a great deal of damage to homes interior as well as adversely affecting the homes occupants. These two pollution sources are widely distributed and most people are shocked to learn the truth about them.

The first source of indoor pollution to be looked at today is candles. Candles are usually cylinders of a combustible material with a wick running up through them. People burn candles in their homes because they enjoy the soft light and pleasant fragrance they produce. Candles are however very destructive to your homes. When a candle burns, three main items are produced; one third of the candle by weight produces the light that we enjoy, one third of the candle’s weight is turned into heat and the remaining third of the candle produces some very nasty pollutants. These pollutants include carbon monoxide, benzene, and other chemicals that have been shown to be carcinogens. The soot particles produced by candles are small enough to penetrate deep into our lungs much like tobacco smoke. One pollutant is carbon black. Carbon black leaves the flame and spreads out into the home. It will then stick to the surfaces it contacts. Candle soot and carbon black will slowly but surely ruin the homes furniture, wall finishes, and flooring.

The second common source of indoor pollution is air fresheners! The most polluting air fresheners are the types that have a heat source. Some of these devices simply plug into an electrical outlet. These devices contain chemicals that are heated and then dispersed into the homes interior. Some of the chemicals contained in these devices are: benzyl alcohol, camphor, dichlorobenzene, formaldehyde, and phenol.

The answer to indoor odors is to first eliminate the source. Using an exhaust hood when cooking, placing lids on cleaning chemical containers, and promptly removing odor causing items from the homes interior are effective and safe ways to combat odors. The most effective odor fighter is fresh air. Opening doors and window for a short time will allow odors to get out of the homes interior.

Indoor pollution and air quality are important. Please do not burn candles in your home and avoid using any fragrance device that includes a heat source.


Monday, March 21, 2016

A New Approach to Saving Water

Posted by Sara Gutterman
Mar 17, 2016 9:53:16 AM

World Water Day is coming up on March 22.  The international day of observance is meant to bring light to water issues, which is nice in theory, but given the growing threat of droughts, floods, crumbling and toxic infrastructure, and rising sea levels, is water really receiving the attention it justifiably deserves?

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development created World Water Day in 1992 in an effort to set aside one day each year during which we recognize water quality and quantity issues. 

The day reminds us to celebrate the small victories—that modern infrastructure enables girls around the globe to attend school rather than spending their days collecting water from the river; that water enables us to have abundant food and thriving industry; and that more people than ever before, even in the most faraway places, have access to the gift of safe, clean drinking water. 

2016 World Water Day
But it is also a day to recognize our profound water challenges and to acknowledge that the road ahead is still long and arduous.  From the emergency drought conditions in California to the flooding in the Southeast to poisonous water in Flint, we’ve certainly seen firsthand how water tribulations can negatively impact lives and livelihoods. 

A USA Today Network investigation just identified “almost 2,000 water systems spanning all 50 states where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years. The water systems, which reported lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency standards, collectively supply water to 6 million people.”  And the terrifying reality is that these statistics are just the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg.   

Out of the litany of water challenges that we’re facing, many experts agree that rising sea levels, which could force up to 13 million Americans from their homes by the end of the century, is the most disconcerting.  Florida is ground zero in the battle against rising tides—nearly 6.5 million people are expected to be deluged as warmer sea and air temperatures make their costal lives impossible.

While there certainly seems to be a mind-boggling and quickly growing list of water challenges, the recently released Global Opportunity Report 2016 issued by DNV GL, the UN Global Compact, and Monday Morning offers some silver lining.  The report focuses on the development and implementation of “Smart Water Regulations”, which would develop a framework for appropriate pricing for the use of water, with the goal of incentivizing efficient use of the resource.  For as much as people panic at the thought of enhanced regulation, smart water regulation is arguably better than the status quo, which involves essentially no oversight of our current, and very wasteful, water use practices. 

No doubt, smart water regulations could facilitate water conservation in the US and across the globe.  According to Klaus Reichardt, CEO of Waterless Co., “The reality is, here in U.S. water has been essentially considered a “right” for more than a century.  You build a house or an office building, someone connects some pipes, and voilà, you have all the potable water you need at a very low price.  There is little thought given to things such as where that water is coming from; how much is available; how it is treated; where it is stored; how it is delivered; and most especially, how much it really costs to treat, store, deliver, and then remove it from the house or office building.”

With smart water regulation, we can not only utilize advanced technology to monitor our water quality and quantity, we can also can create a system in which water utilities have the ability to fine “water abusers” and adopt scaled pricing to appropriately reflect water usage (the first units of water are relatively inexpensive, but costs increase as consumption increases).  This model would enable us to raise funds that could be allocated towards the repair of our crumbling and toxic water infrastructure (translation: job creation!), and it would encourage sustainable, responsible, and effective management of our precious water resource.  

- See more at:

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

4 Solutions to the Labor Shortage

'Who can be the catalyst?' Forum explores roots of construction labor shortage, and 4 solutions

By Emily Peiffer | February 29, 2016

The C
onstruction industry has been dealing with its "elephant in the room" — or the skilled labor shortage — for years, and the conversation is getting louder as stakeholders search for solutions to the issue crippling stronger growth in the sector.

During HomeAdvisor's Insights Forum Friday, expert panelists addressed the complicated circumstances surrounding the labor shortage, as well as possible solutions. But as John Courson, president and CEO of the Home Builders Institute, noted, "We're sort of preaching to the choir here." The panelists said the conversation needs to advance beyond the industry to reach the general media, officials and others who can help drive significant change.

The current workforce situation

Between April 2006 and January 2011, the construction industry eliminated more than 40% of its work force, cutting nearly 2.3 million jobs. And most of those workers haven't returned. Companies are also struggling to attract millennial workers to careers in the trades that the aging workforce will soon leave behind. Industry groups have consistently warned that the construction industry needs to develop a plan to build up the worker pipeline.

In a September Associated General Contractors of America survey, 86% of contractors across the U.S. reported they were struggling to fill hourly craft jobs or salaried professional positions.

"New construction is always the escape valve when there's tight inventory"

"This is the number one issue for our contractor members," AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr said during the forum. "It's not just at the craft level. It's superintendents, estimators, etc."

And earlier this year, a HomeAdvisor survey found that 93% of industry respondents said the labor shortage is preventing their businesses from growing over the next year. Although half of respondents plan to hire one or more skilled workers in the next year, 76% said they believe it will be hard to find new employees.

Aside from the effect on construction companies, ramifications of the labor shortage have reached far into other sectors of the economy, including housing.

Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at, said the top issue standing in the way of potential homeowners purchasing a property is their inability to find a home that is affordable or one that meets their needs. This severe lack of inventory has pushed up home prices and priced many first-time buyers out of the market.

"New construction is always the escape valve when there's tight inventory," Smoke said during the forum. "There's no question we're not producing enough."

He added that when builders are asked why they aren't constructing more homes to keep up with demand, they almost always cite the availability and cost of labor. And, even more concerning, most expect the situation to get worse. "That is the obvious elephant in the room," he said.

Major factors contributing to the labor shortage

Lack of young people

The labor shortage conversation has been largely dominated by one issue: the lack of young people entering the industry. During the recession, the workers who fled the industry were disproportionately younger. "You had a complete exodus of people under 50," Smoke said.

Now, millennials often seek careers in the hot technology sector, even when they might earn a higher wage in construction, according to CNBC real estate reporter Diana Olick.

"When you look at the tech sector and young people's expectations, the Googles of this world … are just packed to the gills with 20-something workers making less than they would on the construction site, but thinking this is their ticket to being Mark Zuckerberg," she said.

Tara Sinclair, chief economist at, said one of the main obstacles to attracting millennial workers is the heightened pressure for young people to obtain a college degree, even if that isn't the best option for certain students. "People are making those career path plans at a very young age and aren't necessarily exploring those career options that might be a better fit for them… They're looking for long-term career paths. I think we want to show them it's not just a one-time thing," she said.

Misconceptions of careers in the trades

Along with the issue of reaching young people is the growing perception that careers in the trades aren't as respected as white-collar jobs, the panelists noted.

"We've got a culture... so focused on the promised land. The promised land is not to be a skilled worker"

"As a society, we have denigrated the nobility of the trades," Chris Terrill, CEO of HomeAdvisor, said. "Why shouldn't the trades be a good place to go? I think there's a perception that some of the trades is backbreaking. A huge part of it is using your mind. There are a lot of misperceptions."

Sandherr said those misconceptions are entrenched among students, parents and educators. "It's a cultural issue," he said. "There are few parents who think, 'I'd love if my kid would grow up to become a carpenter.' Our education system is skewed toward focusing kids toward college."

Mark Richardson, senior industry fellow with Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, added that the U.S. is "a country where it's all about moving to that next level. We've got a culture here so focused on the promised land. The promised land is not to be a skilled worker."

Dearth of women workers

The panelists also discussed the other major demographic void in the construction trades: women. Denise Dersin, editorial director for Professional Builder magazine, noted that women represent only 2.9% of trade workers in the U.S. "For women in the industry, they don't hear this could be interesting for them. They don't think about it being something they can think about doing," she said. "But there is work for these women. Women need to be encouraged to do this. This is a large population of people who could do this work."

However, the panelists added that there are factors holding women back from seeking jobs in the trades, including a lack of female mentors and role models in leadership positions, as well as harassment concerns on the job site.

Sandherr said some construction crews tend to have a "little bit of a high school locker room mentality" that could reach "borderline harassment." He said the AGC has tried to work with construction companies to help them understand the importance of creating a welcoming atmosphere for all workers.

Declining immigration

The U.S. construction industry has lost 570,000 Mexican-born workers since 2007, according to a September John Burns Real Estate Consulting report. A significant portion of the workers who returned to Mexico during the housing crisis have not come back to the U.S. due to heightened immigration controls and more job opportunities in Mexico, the report found.

"We need to have some type of legal status for these people"

In addition, a Zillow report last month found that 67.1% of surveyed housing experts believe construction labor costs will go up due to the decline of undocumented immigration in the U.S. In the survey, 30% of respondents cited the dwindling numbers of undocumented immigrants as the cause of the lack of inventory.

"During the recession, thousands of workers left the field or left the country," Olick said. "We all know illegal labor was a big part of the construction industry. They don't appear to be coming back. Is there something in immigration policy that should change that could bring back these workers?"

Sandherr added that immigration is one of the biggest problems contributing to the labor shortage. "You have a significant percentage of the industry that are foreign-born or may have come here illegally … We need to have some type of legal status for these people." He added that, due to workers' undocumented status, some employers are taking advantage of those workers, who are unable to report instances of misclassification or unfair wages.

Possible solutions


Panelists cited marketing efforts as one of the main methods that could combat the dearth of workers. "Homebuilders should get out there and market to young people," Olick said. "Say that it's technology, that it could be as glamorous as a tech job. There are a million great stories of innovation in construction. (Homebuilders are) so busy marketing to buyers, and especially millennial buyers. They should be interested in getting millennials interested in (jobs in) housing."

An obstacle hindering that kind of effort involves tackling some of the negative attitudes surrounding careers in the trades as well as the housing industry. "We’re talking about a marketing challenge around perception," said John McManus, editorial director of Hanley Wood’s Residential Group.

The industry should "make housing cool" and "sell the idea that building something... means something."

Sinclair suggested that wage increases for labor positions, as well as greater emphasis on opportunities for advancement in the industry, are crucial to reaching the elusive younger generation. The industry should try to "make housing cool" and "sell the idea that building something actually means something," she said.

She added that, due to the popularity of HGTV with women, marketing on that television channel could be an effective method for reaching potential women workers.

Smoke said he would like to see homebuilders and construction companies make pitches for shop classes in schools in the same way that musicians and the entertainment industry pitch the benefits of music classes. "A little bit of marketing can go a long way," he said. "A lot of people just think there's not an opportunity for them."

Education and training

Greater focus on educational initiatives and training programs could also make a major difference in the labor shortage, the panelists said.

Dersin noted that the U.S. has lost thousands of apprenticeship programs in the last decade. She suggested that states should focus on enhancing vocational training programs. "There has to be some institutional change to get new schools," she said.

Courson said his company has discovered the initiatives "have to be local." HBI has taken its pre-apprenticeship training program into secondary schools, and can then place the majority of those students immediately into the workforce after graduation.

"In terms of our education system, what are we doing in terms of where resources are being shifted?" said Ed DeMarco, senior fellow in residence with the Milken Institute's Center for Financial Markets. "There's such an emphasis on college prep and testing. It's shifted from vocational training and other skill development that took place in high schools a generation ago."

Immigration reform

Immigration policy has been a major topic of debate during the presidential race this year, and the panelists said it will have a direct impact on the labor shortage.

"Immigration could be the quick fix here," Dersin said. "If we could get temporary guest worker programs to get people who come in and out of the country to be able to go home, that would be huge."

Sandherr added that with immigration reform and a way to obtain legal status, these workers would be able to report instances of misclassification and unfair pay without the fear of deportation or legal recourse. That ability could then encourage others to enter the industry. "One of the ways to attract people and keep them in the industry is to pay them a decent wage," he said.

Collaboration toward a common goal

The panelists said that, with all of these individual solutions that could help remedy the labor crisis, two broader tactics could have a significant impact: collaboration and action.

"The industry will have to recognize that you just can't complain... you have to do something about it"

"The industry will have to recognize that you just can't complain about it, you have to do something about it," Sandherr said.

Courson said that, ideally, he would like to see the trade groups, construction companies, advocacy organizations, and all other stakeholders affected by the labor shortage join together to "form a grand coalition or collaboration to push this issue forward with legislators at all levels."

"No one of us can do it by ourselves. The need certainly is there," Courson said. "Who can be the catalyst to put this grand collaboration together so we can … carry this message forward? That's my vision, if we could ever pull that off."

Bottom of Form

Thursday, February 04, 2016

NAHB survey: Most popular home features for 2016

By Kim Slowey | February 4, 2016   

Dive Brief:

The National Association of Home Builders asked builders what features they plan to include in their 2016 single-family homes, and a master bedroom walk-in closet, a laundry room and a great room were the three most common answers.

Energy-saving features made the top 10 as well with low-e windows, Energy-Star rated appliances, programmable thermostats and Energy-Star rated windows. Nine-foot-plus first-floor ceilings, central kitchen islands and granite countertops also made the list.

The features builders are least likely to install in 2016 are cork flooring in main living areas, pet washing stations, laminate countertops and outdoor kitchens. Also not likely to make it into any builder sales brochures this year are media rooms, two-story foyers, two-story family rooms, sunrooms and outdoor fireplaces, according to the survey.

Dive Insight:

The number of energy-efficiency-related home features on the NAHB's list coincides with a growing trend in the residential sector toward a focus on green building. Although commercial construction has typically led the pack in green adoption, the residential sector is starting to catch up. And the reason for that change is driven not just by a desire to produce environmentally friendly structures, but by consumer demand, higher-quality results and lifecycle cost savings.

The beginning of the year always sees a plethora of top 10 and prediction lists about what will be hot in the year to come. Last month, the American Institute of Architects offered a variation on that trend and released its design trend predictions for the next decade.

The AIA said the key trends in the decade to come will be universal design, a healthy living environment, infill development with a focus on improved design, and kitchens that serve as the center of household activities.

One AIA long-term trend that seems to be in opposition to the NAHB list, at least for this year, involves outdoor spaces. Outdoor living features were losers in the NAHB survey, but the AIA predicted that the next decade will see "heavy emphasis and investment" in outdoor living spaces.

Granite countertops, open floor plans (similar to the great room), walk-in closets and high ceilings also made’s 2015 list of the most common features cited in their sales listings — demonstrating that many of these items are standards we can expect to see not only in 2016 but for many years to come.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Top 10 Trends to Watch in 2016

Now that 2015 has come and gone, construction professionals are focusing attention on the year ahead. Analysts predict 2016 will be a strong year for the industry, as Dodge Data & Analytics' 2016 Construction Outlook report predicted 6% growth, with the value of construction starts reaching an estimated $712 billion. 

We talked with experts from various sectors of the construction industry to find out their predictions for 2016. Their answers varied from new technology trends, to workforce concerns, to homebuyer preferences. But one common thread connected all of the experts: They have high hopes that 2016 will bring strong demand and booming business.

"I don’t think I could be any more optimistic for 2016," Bud LaRosa, chief business performance officer and chief financial officer for Tocci Building Companies, told Construction Dive. "These are truly the good times." 

Here are the top 10 trends to watch in 2016, according to the experts: 

1. Skilled labor shortage will continue to plague construction companies

The most commonly mentioned trend for 2016 was the continued effects of the skilled worker shortage. A significant portion of employees who left the industry during the recession never returned, and companies are still struggling to find workers at all levels to properly staff their teams. 

"The overwhelming, number one issue is access to skilled labor," Dominic Thasarathar, Autodesk's senior industry program manager for construction and natural resources, told Construction Dive. "So many people left the industry or were laid off, and now there's a real struggle to find the right people to staff the projects that are now coming online."

The overwhelming, number one issue is access to skilled labor. The labor crisis is not a new issue, and most experts predict it will continue well into 2016 and beyond, as the talent deficit will require multiple years to fill up again.

"Not only has the construction industry struggled to appeal to a younger, more technologically savvy workforce, but during the economic downturn, many companies opted not to bring in younger, newer talent," said Tom Menk, an assurance partner with BDO's national real estate and construction practice. "Now, that's causing struggles to fill that gap in the workforce, which is coupled with the need across industries for companies to replace retiring baby boomers."

Another significant concern: The slowdown in immigration has contributed to the already existing labor shortage, as reports have found many workers who returned to Mexico during the recession have not come back to the U.S. due to increased immigration controls and more job opportunities in Mexico. 

"I think politically, the environment against immigration has changed some of the workforce dynamics and made it difficult to staff a lot of the trades," LaRosa said. "I think that trend continues. I don't see that easing anytime in the next two to three years."

2. Prefab/offsite construction methods will become more popular 

Offsite — also known as modular or prefabricated — construction has been gaining ground as an alternative building method that offers the benefits of reduced construction time, less waste and possible cost savings. As companies struggle to staff job sites and stick to difficult schedules, many have started to turn to prefab as an option that offers more certainty.

"A lot of use of things like prefabrication, we expect that to be an accelerating trend next year," Thasarathar said.

Ron Antevy, president and CEO of e-Builder, told Construction Dive he has seen a growing use of prefab methods, especially in the healthcare sector.

"(Prefab) is up-and-coming. That's a way to save costs and speed up the time," he said. "Some of the larger owners out there are starting to realize there are efficiencies there, but you have to be doing a certain amount of volume for these kinds of strategies to pay off."

Wider implementation of offsite construction has been somewhat hindered by the design and construction culture, according to experts at the Offsite Construction Expo in September. They also cited the change in the traditional building process that comes with offsite methods as a deterrent for implementing the approach, as contractors and owners struggle to adapt to the varied timeline of decisions and building. Still, the additional certainty that comes with prefab could catalyze the growing trend in 2016.

3. Construction companies will be more cautious about project selection

The crippling recession and lingering labor shortage have spurred another trend among construction industry decision makers: Many are now being more cautious about the amount of new work they can handle, and about growing their companies.  

We as general contractors have become a lot more selective of the projects we pursue"(Companies) are not going to overeat. They're only taking the work they can handle," Chris Kennedy, vice president of Suffolk Construction, told Construction Dive. "It's different from the last boom, when people were signing up for work. Everybody still has those recent wounds. They're going to be a lot more cautious about growing a firm bigger than they can handle."

The labor shortage has left employers at all levels forced to take a closer look at the number and size of projects they can handle at once.

"We as general contractors have become a lot more selective of the projects we pursue," Chuck Taylor, director of operations for Englewood Construction, told Construction Dive. "I think the subcontractors are going to be in a very similar position."

4. BIM will become a necessity, and owner interest in the technology will grow

Building Information Modeling has been a growing trend for years, as it is no longer relegated to just the largest firms. Experts have said BIM provides tangible business benefits, no matter the level of implementation. Many have cited BIM's ability to provide more consistent, more accurate and less time-consuming project document generation. In addition, BIM users can expect better collaboration and coordination among the different parties involved in a project, according to industry users.

"It used to be a nice thing to have, and now it’s a necessity," LaRosa said. 

Jay Dacey, president of Integrated Builders, added, "In the bigger jobs, BIM is pretty much a staple right now."

Antevy said he has seen owner interest in BIM grow, as many are now requiring their contractors to utilize the technology.

"The owners have been hands-off as it relates to BIM. It has been for the contractors and designers, so we’re seeing owners start to get more interested in that," he said. "They're interested because there's data there that they can capture and capitalize on."

5. Green building will grow in commercial and residential sectors

Commercial construction has typically led the pack in green adoption, but the residential sector is starting to catch up. The growing trend in both sectors is driven not just by a desire to produce environmentally friendly structures, but by consumer demand, higher-quality results and lifecycle cost savings, according to experts at Greenbuild 2015.

Thasarathar said that with larger construction projects, companies are aiming for LEED certification, "even if it's not prescribed."

Dacey added that although developments outside of city centers tend to not prioritize LEED as much, "almost every building design incorporates green principles." He said he expects green building and LEED certification to continue growing in the coming years.

In the residential sector, green building currently accounts for 26-33% of the total residential market and has helped contribute to the industry's recovery after the recession, according to Dodge Data & Analytics

"I do think (green building) is a growing trend in response to demand," Robert Dietz, an economist with the National Association of Home Builders, told Construction Dive. He pointed to the aging in place movement as a driving force for that demand, as baby boomers are remodeling their current homes and seeking out ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce utility bills.

6. Jobsite accidents and criminal indictments on the rise

Last year, authorities across the U.S. pumped up efforts to seek out contractor misconduct and dish out severe punishment, including criminal charges, for violations and offenses from worker safety issues to corruption. Manhattan even launched the Construction Fraud Task Force in August to investigate "wrongdoing and unsafe practices" in construction, including fraud, bribery, extortion, money laundering, bid rigging, larceny and safety violations. A New York Times report in November also found that construction worker deaths are on the rise in New York City, and safety measures were inadequate on many of the construction sites where deaths occurred and that immigrantsrepresented a disproportionate percentage of those killed. 

This will lead to more entry level, unseasoned construction workers not appropriately trained. Experts predict this heightened focus on industry wrongdoing will continue into 2016, especially as OSHA will increase its fines this year for the first time since 1990.

Raymond T. Mellon, a senior partner at Zetlin & De Chiara, said he believes construction accidents will increase in New York City this year due to "a dilution of the trained and experienced work force as a result of the continuing red hot construction market." He added, "This will lead to more entry level, unseasoned construction workers not appropriately trained as to the work itself, as well as safety features, on worksites. Combine this with the entry of 'novice developers' who have a tendency to cut corners, and you have the potential for more accidents."

David Pfeffer, chair of the Construction Practice Group at Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, said he predicts there will be more criminal indictments in 2016 because officials "want to make an example." He added that although indictments this year with be the result of past practices, he believes the influx of cases will "help in the long-term future. It definitely has an effect... We have a very good construction industry here. They do listen. The bad contractors generally don't stick around."

7. Booming multifamily sector will slow down as single-family sector picks up steam

Industry analysts have largely agreed that the multifamily sector's hot streak will inevitably cool down, and that slowdown will likely occur in 2016. On the positive side, the single-family sector is expected to pick up steam and see a strong year. In its 2016 Construction Outlook, Dodge Data predicted single-family construction will see a 20% increase in starts this year, while multifamily is expected to post a 7% gain after several years of double-digit increases. 

"I expect the homebuilding sector will continue to show improvement. If anything happens on the multifamily side, I think it will probably level off. The upward slope for multifamily won't be as strong as for single-family," Alex Carrick, CMD's chief economist, told Construction Dive.

Still, single-family housing has a long way to go to return to pre-recession, "normal" levels. During a webinar in November, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said single-family construction is currently 53% back to what is considered "normal" levels, and should be 91% of the way there by the end of 2017. Multifamily, on the other hand, is already significantly higher than "normal" levels, currently 32% above the mark. Crowe said the multifamily sector is expected to slowdown in the next two years, coming in 9% higher than "normal" levels at the end of 2017.

8. Laser scanning technology will gain popularity 

Although BIM tends to dominate the construction technology narrative, experts pointed to another emerging technology that is having a significant impact on the industry: laser scanning. 3-D laser scanners can create a digital reproduction of the dimensions and positions of objects in a certain space, and then turn that information into a point cloud image. 

"Laser scanning I think has a lot of room to run. Not as many people are using it, but it's a great tool to measure more precisely than most conventional ways," LaRosa said. "What the laser scanner allows you to do is get millions of data points and put that into a building information model and provide much more information about conditions you couldn't get previously. Look for that to continue to grow certainly next year and for another five years."

Taylor added that laser technology allows contractors to precisely "define to the client where we had issues with the existing floor," and then make the necessary changes.

9. Remodeling will have a strong year, especially in the luxury market

Along with strength in the single-family market this year, experts also predict the remodeling sector will have a banner year in 2016.

Through all of the ups and downs, this is the first time I feel very comfortable

"We're encouraged by recent data that shows consumers have a strong desire to invest in their homes. In fact, survey respondents are indicating that growth in their home improvement spending is outpacing increases in their overall spending," Mike Horn, vice president of Lowe's ProServices, told Construction Dive. "The number of homeowners indicating that their home improvement spending increased has doubled since 2012. This trend underscores the great opportunity our professional contractors have to meet the needs of 75 million homeowners, in addition to the 5 million who relocate or move into a new home each year, across the country increasingly willing to engage in home improvement in 2016."

Bob Ernst, president of the Building & Remodeling Association of Greater Boston, said he projects significant growth in the remodeling sector this year.

"Through all of the ups and downs, this is the first time I feel very comfortable," he told Construction Dive.

Ernst emphasized the luxury market in particular as offering the most opportunity for remodelers. "At that market level, they’re spending money," he said. He noted, however, that the middle and lower markets haven't reached the demand level exhibited in luxury markets, as people in those markets are still struggling to save up enough money for their homes. "People serving primarily those markets might not have as rosy of an outlook," he said. 

10. Homebuyers will seek out simple, walkable communities

Last month, the American Institute of Architects released the results of its third-quarter Home Design Trends Survey and found that design elements such as access to public transportation, multi-generational housing, walkable neighborhoods and mixed-use facilities dominate homeowner preferences. "There has been a pronounced shift in driving habits over the last few years, with increasing numbers of people being far more interested walking and utilizing public transit options," AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a release. "With that is a desire for proximity to employment and commercial activities."

The AIA survey coincided with a National Association of Realtors survey over the summer that found walkable communities are growing in popularity among Americans of all ages, particularly millennials. Based on the results of the survey, the NAR advised developers aiming to reach the millennial demographic to consider building attached homes within walking distance of shops and restaurants and nearby public transportation. Baby boomers have reportedly expressed similar desires for their homes, as a Washington Post report in October found retiring baby boomers are downsizing and buying smaller homes in urban areas at twice the rate of millennials.

Jerry James, president of Edward R. James Homes, said he predicts baby boomers will continue to drive the new-home construction market this year. He agreed with the NAR and AIA predictions and said he believes boomers want "simplification" driven by a desire to live in locations that allow them to walk to nearby restaurants and shops. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Water 21st Century Gold

Water 21st Century Gold | Drilling Wells verses Rainwater Harvesting

 posted in: Water conservationWeatherization |  

Clean water and conservation continues to be one of the most significant challenges of the 21st Century. Without it life cannot exist.  Texas and many south-western regions have experienced severe drought conditions, with municipalities and homeowners struggling with unanticipated costs of drilling and redrilling existing wells.  Several municipalities have reported implementing Stage 4 Drought Water Conditions.

Alternative water sources and systems are fast becoming necessary to mitigate risk with health issues, sustainability, reliability and costs. Rainwater harvesting is not new-in fact, cisterns are one of the oldest water-system sources dating back centuries.  Rainwater harvesting is also the solution for groundwater contamination and drought conditions.

Rain produces superior water quality, it is softer than well water, void of minerals which build up and ruin appliances.    Rainwater harvesting systems typically conserve water and cost less to install and operate than a well.  Technological advancement and conservation mandates and tax credits adopted in many regions have made these systems a better economic choice than drilling a well.

Many states are adopting these alternative systems and changing antiquated legislature to allow rain water collection

For example, Texas is leading the pack with legislature implemented in the past decade supporting the adoption of sustainable water conservation.

  • 2003, HB 645 prohibited homeowners’ associations from implementing new covenants banning rainwater harvesting installations, but gave them the authority to develop and implement rules requiring homeowners to use certified companies to mitigate health and systems appropriately
  • 2005, the Texas Legislature established the Rainwater Harvesting Evaluation Committee and directed them to formulate recommendations for water quality standards, treatment methods, etc.  The Texas Water Development Board published the third edition of their Manual on Rainwater Harvesting general information and more; download report here;  2006 the Committee released their final report, which included four key findings. 

  • Tax credits are available through property tax exemptions (check with local municipality tax authority); Sales taxes exemptions are also available in certain states

A complete rainwater harvesting system for a typical single-family home will generally cost between $8,000 and $10,000 and can range upwards $20,000 depending on size of system roof size, and other factors.  Alternatively, a well can cost $10,000 upwards to over $100,000 depending on depth, rock formations and other factors-and tax –sales credits aren’t available.


Fannie Mae allows rainwater harvesting systems if there is a back-up system or way to truck in water; one comparable property is available in the area (this may be changing in the future since comparing financial risk for wells verses rainwater (see chart below) is more favorable for rainwater; and potability tests are implemented. Most lenders don’t know the rules, and typically say no to homeowners wanting to finance their homes with rainwater systems; especially when they are the only source of water.  (See for lender resources)

Monday, November 16, 2015

90% of Homes are Under-Insulated!

Study: 90% of US Homes are Under Insulated

A new report from the North American Insulation Manufacturers' Association (NAIMA) claims that the vast majority of US homes are under-insulated when compared against standards in the 2006 IECC. According to NAIMA, 90% percent of single-family residential dwellings fail to meet proper standards, wasting energy and money and decreasing comfort. In fact, the report goes on the say that if all homes were updated to meet 2012 code complaince, electricity use in the US would drop by 5% and gas consumption by more than 10%.

The study was conducted to help show how increased insulation across the US housing sector reduces energy usage and cuts carbon emissions. Curt Rich, president and CEO of NAIMA, brought to light the importance of the report findings at this time of year, saying "
The fall is when many homeowners around the country begin thinking about home improvements to increase comfort and reduce their energy bills as temperatures drop come winter. Research like this should reinforce our message to homeowners, and to policymakers, that added insulation has real and significant benefits.”

Even summer cooling technologies, like LO/MIT spray-on attic radiant heat barrier, can be a great addition in the fall to make homes more energy efficient. Summer A/C bills are still fresh in people's minds, but the busyness of summer schedules, vacations, etc. can make the fall a great time for installers to sell jobs. The majority of America's home are under-insulated.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Solar Costs Keep Dropping


Price of Solar Energy in the United States Has Fallen to 5¢/kWh on Average

Berkeley Lab study reveals 70% decline in PPA prices since 2009

News Release Jon Weiner 510-486-4014 • SEPTEMBER 30, 2015


Solar energy pricing is at an all-time low, according to a new report released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Driven by lower installed costs, improved project performance, and a race to build projects ahead of a reduction in a key federal incentive, utility-scale solar project developers have been negotiating power sales agreements with utilities at prices averaging just 5¢/kWh. These prices reflect receipt of the 30% federal investment tax credit, which is scheduled to decline to 10% after 2016, and would be higher if not for that incentive. By comparison, average wholesale electricity prices across the United States ranged from 3 to 6 cents/kWh in 2014, depending on the region.

Key findings from Berkeley Lab’s latest “Utility-Scale Solar” report – which each year draws upon large volumes of empirical data to identify key trends in project costs, performance, and pricing among ground-mounted solar projects larger than 5 megawatts (MW) – include the following:

Installed project costs have fallen by more than 50% since 2009. Median up-front project costs have dropped from around $6.3/W in 2009 to $3.1/W for projects completed in 2014. Some projects built in 2014 were priced as low as $2/W, and the 20th percentile of the sample declined sharply from $3.2/W in 2013 to $2.3/W in 2014. (All numbers are reported in AC watts and 2014 dollars.)

Newer solar projects generate electricity more efficiently. Projects completed in 2013 performed at an average capacity factor of 29.4% (in AC terms) in 2014 – a notable improvement over the 26.3% and 24.5% average 2014 capacity factors realized by projects built in 2012 and 2011, respectively. This improvement among more-recent project vintages is due to a combination of several trends: newer projects have been sited in better solar resource areas on average, and have increasingly oversized the solar collector field and/or employed tracking technology to increase energy capture.

Solar power purchase agreement prices have fallen to new lows, making solar an increasingly cost-competitive option for utilities. The improvements in up-front installed costs and capacity factors mentioned above have helped to drive power purchase agreement (PPA) prices to new lows, with PPAs now regularly being signed at prices of 5 cents/kWh or less. Particularly in the Southwest where the solar resource is strongest, there appears to be a deep market at these low prices, as evidenced by several recent utility solicitations for solar energy that have been heavily oversubscribed, with many of the unsuccessful projects offering prices similar to the winning projects. Declining PPA prices have also made utility-scale solar increasingly competitive outside of the traditional stronghold of the Southwest, with recent contract announcements in states like Arkansas (at ~5 cents/kWh) and Alabama (at ~6 cents/kWh) that have not previously seen much solar development.

A strong pipeline of projects under development reflects utility-scale solar’s increasing competitiveness. There were nearly 45,000 MW of solar capacity making their way through various interconnection queues across the country at the end of 2014 – more than five times the installed capacity base at the time. In another sign of a broadening market, much of the new solar capacity that entered these queues in 2014 is located in regions outside of California and the Southwest, such as Texas and the Southeast. Though not all of the capacity in these queues will ultimately be built, presumably most of those projects that are able to proceed will try to reach commercial operation prior to 2017, when the 30% federal investment tax credit is scheduled to decline to 10%. This looming deadline suggests a frenzied pace of construction over the next 15 months – as well as a wealth of new data to analyze in future editions of this report.

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more,

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

Additional Information: The full report (“Utility-Scale Solar 2014”), a PowerPoint briefing that summarizes the report, and an Excel workbook that contains much of the data presented in the report, can all be downloaded from: In addition, a webinarcovering key findings will be held at 2 PM eastern on Wednesday, September 30. To register for the webinar, please visit:

Technical contacts: Mark Bolinger (603-795-4937) and Joachim Seel (510-486-5087)