Greets y’all!  So I’m hanging out in Milwaukee right now, gearing up for my second speaking gig of the day at the NARI Home Improvement Show… I am excited to share my new presentation of the year, Smart Design Trends for 2011.  I cover a lot of ground in it, from ambitious projects in Hawaii to new technologies in home energy monitoring programs.  So, being the information age I thought it valuable to pop the presentation online for the world to see… so without further adieu, here’s what got for ya… enjoy!  And if you have any questions on it, please post them in the comment section below… thanks!

For those who didn’t make it to the show, here’s a quick transcript of my talking points that correspond to the slides above:

So check this out… A bunch of amazing things are happening right now!  Buildings are producing more energy than they use, that are not connected to municipal water systems, that grow much of its own food, that are made from beautiful and healthy materials, etc.   A reported 750,000 homes in America are said to be off the grid!  This is not a group that is moving out to the country to live in a commune… these are people just like you and I who have decided to take better control of their own futures.

What was once impossible is now normal.  And what we deem impossible today will be a new normal tomorrow.  Let’s build a new normal.

What will this new normal look like?  If we look at what’s happening from a larger lens, it’s not hard to figure out where we need to go, and then find a direct path on how to get there.

The world is much different than it was a generation ago… it is highly interconnected and digital, and information is much more accessible than ever before.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that the decisions that are made in one part of the world affect those in distant lands.  We are no longer a bunch of different tribes, but one single people sharing the planet… and our planet is no longer feeling so large…

We are now seeing it as if it were an island, with resources we rely on being quite finite.  Simplifying the system to basic terms, think of our relationship with the planet as a funnel… the planet’s resources that we use are dwindling, and peoples needs for them are going up… this primitively shows us that our current ways are ultimately not sustainable… the longer the resources are used, the less available they will be, and therefore cost more money.  So to avoid not only ecological but also economic repercussions, we need to do our best to avoid the walls of this funnel.

This is why I’m excited to share this seminar with you, because the tools that we already have in existence today are enough to eliminate our negative impacts on the planet and each other.   The only thing that’s missing is you and I collectively understanding and adopting these concepts.  I’ll highlight a handful of these trends over the next 30 minutes or so… here’s how they’ll break down, k?

  • Building Trends
  • Technology
  • Healthy Homes
  • Standards

Building Trends: Small, Green, Urban and Affordable

People of all ages are now saying that they aren’t as interested in owning a big house will all sorts of toys and gadgets to maintain, but are preferring to live in more active neighborhoods that have various stores and activities readily available… basically walkability.  This translates to creative density, which includes beautiful infill projects built on 20′ lots like the Euclid Avenue House in Toronto.

Urban and green doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive.  Advancements in green building projects have shown that costs can be brought down to incredibly low levels.  One thing I really like to emphasize is that green isn’t so much about selecting a bunch of different products for a home, rather it is a different process.  Being mindful of the home as a system and focusing on minimizing its impacts will drive the creative process to eliminate excesses, which translates to lower costs.  Postgreen Developers in Philadelphia recently completed the 2010 US Green Building Council’s Home of the Year, which is a LEED Platinum certified structure built with a 100k budget.  Now that is some serious green savings!

Technology: Energy Efficiency is Getting Mainstream

Along the lines of affordability, there are many amazing programs out there that are making sustainability initiatives much more cost effective.  Solar panels are the perfect example here… yes, traditional purchasing of panels can be incredibly expensive, often near $20,000 sticker price for a handful of panels, but new leasing programs have been developed to make PV much more accessible.  In Minneapolis, I got my buddy Ross set up with Solarflow Energy, who lease PV panels to homeowners and businesses in the Twin Cities.  Ross put $1,000 down and pays $32 a month to reap the benefits of 10 panels on his roof… for the first time, solar has become truly accessible to those with minimal budgets!

Another trend for homeowners is energy monitoring systems.  The one I’m most excited about right now is Earth Aid, a website that pulls data from your utility bills of the past year, uses them as a baseline, then pays you real world dollars and reward incentives by any energy savings off of the baseline.  You a Starbucks addict?  Well, now you have the option of getting your cuppa java for free every day if you save a certain amount of energy at home… pretty cool!

Other tools like the Onzo home monitoring sensor allow you to see in real time how much energy is being used in your abode.  Running your plasma screen TV, your three fridges and that tanning bed in the basement at the same time?  You’ll think twice when you see the wattage being drawn from the wall! Interestingly, it has been shown that when an energy monitoring tool is installed in a home, the household saves about 15% off of their utility bill… knowledge is power!

We’re also seeing a trend in home energy performance scoring.  This may sound like a foreign concept to many, but it makes a whole lot of sense.  When we buy a car, we know exactly how many miles per gallon it has been tested to get.  When we purchase a home however, which is a much larger investment, we are often left in the dark as to how it performs.  A home energy performance score does just this by testing how well a home uses energy, giving it a specific number on a set scale.  If a family is shopping for homes and sees one that would run $7,000 a year to heat and cool vs. one that is $2,000, this would most likely influence their decision of which to buy.  This concept is actually in the process of being mandated in Washington state and Oregon, which would require all homes being sold to display a home energy score… pretty cool!

On a more technological front, energy savings are abundant when looking into the future.  Lightbulbs are the perfect example here of short term vs long term economics.  In the graph above, I show how incandescent bulbs cost vs compact fluorescent and the LED options.  The final breakdown is astounding… over the 60,000 hours of expected life of an LED bulb, its overall cost of purchase plus energy usage will be about $117 dollars.  CFL is around $210 and incandescent is, get this… $901 dollars!  Keep in mind this is one socket!

Healthy Home:  Basics for a Healthy Home

When it comes to improving the environmental quality inside of our homes, many easy and basic strategies can be applied.  For starters, more and more people are looking to hard surface flooring than carpeting, which collects dust, dirt and other gross things over the years.  Surfaces like bamboo, cork, marmoleum and FSC certified woods are green and easy to clean… can’t beat that!

We are also seeing the Zero-VOC paints become much more readily available… these are paints that are virtually odorless, eliminating all of the harmful chemicals that give normal paint that ‘paint smell’… not good for our health!  Furthermore, even beyond air quality, we can look to natural light as a way to improve our indoor environments.  The SolaTube is a fantastic product that brings natural light into the heart of homes, which has been proven to be very important for human health.

Even products for the home are getting on board the health train… A counter surface called ECO by Cosentino is made of 75% recycled material and is held together by corn resins of all things!  It has been certified by Cradle to Cradle, meaning it is completely recyclable and biodegradable at the end of its life… pretty cool!

Building Standards:  Green, Green and more Green

So yeah, the building economy has not been the greatest the past several years, but not many know that throughout these tough times, green building has still been picking up speed.  Many are recognizing the inherent benefits of promoting energy efficiency, health and resource conservation within the built environment.  California for example has released the CalGreen program, the first statewide green building standard that is above and beyond national code.  Cali is often a trendsetter on initiatives like this, so chances are we will be seeing more and more states set higher building standards.

On a more voluntary basis, programs like LEED have been spawning some of the greenest projects in the world.  It has helped to show that green homes are attractive, affordable and accessible when developed appropriately… all good!

But even beyond LEED lies the Living Building Challenge, an ambitious building standard that is taking showing the impossible is now very much possible.  This challenge requires a building to be virtually impact free, creating as much energy as it uses, managing all water on site, eliminating chemicals and carcinogens from building materials, and incorporating ideals of beauty and equity.  It truly is inspiring!  Just this past year, the first three projects were certified under the Living Building Institute, showing that our current capabilities may be much higher than many of us know.

So, winding this thing down… The future is now possible.  Everything we need to create thriving buildings and communities are here.  Again, let’s think about the funnel, that resources are dwindling while more people are needing them… when we see the world this way, we recognize that yes, the challenges we face are unprecedented, but a wise dude once said that challenges are hidden opportunities.  We have the opportunity to provide ideas and solutions to the present and future issues that we face.  With this proactive attitude, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

Let’s build a new normal!