Innovation

Will the Boomers change city living?

Will the Boomers change city living?

One of the best things about talking to a sustainable development advisor like Jim Heid is the fact that he can synthesize the best goals and ideals of the sustainable development community with the best practices of the building community. His practical approach to creating solutions is as fresh as the vision he describes for responsible land development.

This week, Jim takes on the discussion of the suburbs with a look at how the Boomer generation will look toward their retirement. Not all of the Boomers, some 80 million strong, are going to stay in the towns where they raised their families. There are a number of 50- and 60-somethings who will move back to the urban core, attracted by culture, walkability, and that younger, hipper vibe that comes of city living. Because the Boomers’ children are often no longer in school, they can make their buying decision based more on lifestyle than on the API scores of the school district.

The other group most inclined to be a part of the revitalization of America’s cities is the Millennial generation, also some 80 million strong. Because this group is putting off marriage and family life into their 30s, they are choosing city addresses, whether as renters or owners. The question, Jim says, is what happens when they become parents of school age children? Do they go to the suburbs for better schools and more open space?

To read more about Jim’s activities at UrbanGreen, go to www.urbangreen.net.

Are cities cannibalizing each other for jobs and housing?

Are cities cannibalizing each other for jobs and housing?

Jim Heid, the founder of Urban Green, wants to see California move toward a shared vision of regionalism—but is pragmatic enough to know that he’s not going to be seeing a movement away from the autonomy of cities any time soon.

The Real Story caught up with Jim at the Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference in San Francisco. In an interview from the exhibit hall, Jim talked about the difficulties of bringing SB 375 into popular governance, given the decidedly non-cooperative nature of many towns and cities all over California.

In a cash-strapped state like ours, Jim reasons that a move to embrace regional planning would create a higher efficiency of the limited dollars we have. In his interview with The Real Story, he talks about the success of regionalism in the Commonwealth countries, like the UK. It is clear that Jim is not a silo kind of guy. Urban Green is all about working in an integrative manner with the result of providing positive contributions to people and place. He has taken on an enormous task, advising both the developer community and government agencies with the positive goal of high quality development for the broader market.

Download this conversation here, or on iTunes.

Sustainable or attainable?

Sustainable or attainable?

The Pacific Coast Builders Conference has long taken the helm in the conversation about trends and innovation for the building industry. At the 2011 show a few weeks ago, that discussion was in high gear, fueled by a collaboration with West Coast Green, a conference on green innovation for the build environment. We were able to sit down with Jim Heid of Urban Green to get an update on sustainable communities.

As an advisor to the development industry, Jim sees the economic downturn as both a help and a hindrance to sustainable building practices. On the one hand, developers have had more time to explore sustainable approaches that don’t cost more. On the other hand, cost remains a factor—and consumers are not demanding sustainable features.

It seems logical that projects stalled by the recession might be rethought to be more sustainable. But there’s a big roadblock. According to Jim, the expense of another run through the regulatory process is keeping old-school design approaches in play.

Our conversation with Jim will be posted in four segments. Be sure to log on next week for Part 2.

Green a.k.a. healthy

Green a.k.a. healthy

It’s interesting that even people who aren’t interested in a “green” home seem to be interested in a “healthy” home. When KB Home designed and built its Net Zero Concept Home, products that promoted a healthier living environment were key. You can download the webinar called “The Quest for a Net Zero and LEED Platinum Home”, at  www.greenexpo365.com/kbwebinar/index.html.

With so many solutions in place from the technology and building sciences consultants, the Martha Stewart team took on the task of making the home feel appealing and enhance its healthy attributes. Low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and carpeting prevent “off-gassing” into the home’s environment. The extensive use of hard surfaces, both on the floors and in the kitchen, enhanced the cleanliness of the home. The Martha Stewart team showed tiled floors with area rugs, often in recycled materials, as a way to promote a healthier home.

Surprising sources for green products

Surprising sources for green products

Perhaps among the surprises in “The Quest for a Net Zero and LEED Platinum Home” webinar was that most of the products used inside and outside the home were purchased from the traditional builder materials sources and not special green boutiques, keeping purchasing prices in line with expectations for a production home. Both Jacob Atalla from KB Home and Boyce Thompson from Builder Magazine expressed hope that the leading manufacturers continue to create more products and green solutions, to offer builders more choices.

The first round of must-haves for the home included low-e windows and doors, effective insulation, an airtight, concrete block shell, energy-efficient HVAC, sealed ductwork and Energy Star qualified appliances—nothing too revolutionary there. Once KB rolled up its corporate sleeves, more specific changes came to the table, like sealing the attic with expanding foam, to achieve an R-21 rating and lessen the heat load. Although they specified a smaller HVAC system for energy savings, they added a whole-house humidification system and an energy recovery ventilator. Solar went from passive (cool roof tiles) to active status, with its hot water system. Sun tunnels (the new name for skylights) and high-efficiency propane fireplaces all came into the energy-efficiency equation.

As the KB team considered the extra savings that could come from the human factor, they added movable wireless light switches, equipped with radio technology, occupancy sensors to turn lights off and on, and an energy management system with real time data.

Our commentary on the webinar continues next week, so be sure to log on.

Leaders in thought and action

Leaders in thought and action

The Real Story recently participated in a Green Expo 365 webinar called “The Quest for a Net Zero and LEED Platinum Home”, which you can download at www.greenexpo365.com/kbwebinar/index.html.

Without sounding like a commercial for KB Home, I was impressed to see that its statistical record on sustainability makes it the Number One “green” builder in the country, with more than 60,000 Energy Star qualified homes built since 2000. The EPA has given the company an award for “Sustained Excellence”; Calvert Investments gave KB Home top honors in green building in two consecutive polls. Yet top management was looking for a higher level of commitment to sustainability, and decided to study sustainability at the lifestyle level, and not just the technical features. So they enlisted Martha Stewart to envision people living in the homes, using the high-tech features and incorporating greener lifestyle habits into the equation.

First and very important, they presented some market research that shows the Catch 22 for homebuilders when they look at green building: people say they want it, but few are willing to pay more for it. Interestingly, 95.28% of the people surveyed indicated “I want a home built with products to preserve indoor air environment”—not a home that is high in overall “green-ness”, and not built to save the planet. Indoor air quality seems to be one of the biggest emerging hot buttons among the consumers, who are worried about their children’s health AND that of their parents. Features that demonstrably improve indoor air quality ALONE look like they would be a driver of consumer interest; KB decided to go well beyond that.

Log on next week, as our commentary on this webinar continues.