2020 promises to be a momentous year for all of us in the building industry. We’re gazing into the crystal ball, via some expert opinions, to see just what residential building trends will help shape a new decade of high-performance construction.
On-Site Residential Building Trends
A focus on air sealing. The primary component of an energy-efficient building is air sealing. “Learning to say, ‘buildings need to dry’ rather than ‘buildings need to breathe’ will help to bring the need for air sealing into the industry’s awareness,” says Bill Robinson, building envelope specialist and owner of Train2Build. And awareness is the first step in bringing about change.
Better air sealing means addressing air barriers. As builders reach for increased building performance they will seek materials that provide a continuous air barrier with the most efficient methods, according to Robinson. Liquid applied and self-adhering weather-resistive barriers (WRB) will become more available and be used more often. The upshot of this is to reduce or eliminate mechanically applied WRBs and fasteners.
Double-Sided Tape becomes a viable option for attaching common housewrap allowing for the elimination, or at least the reduction, of mechanical fasteners.
New construction on the rise. All signs point to an uptick in new home inventory in 2020. As Doug Duncan, chief economist and senior vice president at Fannie Mae explains, “We now expect single-family housing starts and sales of new homes to increase substantially, aided by a large uptick in new construction as builders work to replenish inventories drawn down by the recent surge in new home sales activity.”
More prefabrication. Prefab is a clear trend because of two things: technology improvements and skilled labor shortages, explains Dr. Roderick Jackson, laboratory program manager for buildings-related research at NREL.
While prefabrication is happening to improve productivity, we also need to ask how prefab can help the building be more efficient and dynamic.
New retrofit solutions. According to Dr. Jackson, we’re seeing advancements in thinner insulation panels for continuous exterior insulation with a lower profile. Equipment, particularly in water heating and refrigeration, continues to improve, which will help as older units are replaced by newer, more efficient “smart” units.
“That being said,” Jackson notes, “We’re still challenged, and have to be really aggressive, to find existing building envelope solutions.”
Augmented Reality. Construction World says that although virtual reality has been an emerging trend over the past few years, augmented reality will take over. This is the ability to visualize the real world through a camera lens. For those companies who can afford to start using it now, it’ll revolutionize how they project and build things. This is a trend that will grow much bigger in the next few years. In fact, many people believe that instead of using safety goggles, we’ll start planning and plotting sites before we even break ground.
Renewable energy like solar panels and wind power continues remaking the residential energy market. California recently mandated solar panels on all new homes starting in 2020. While you won’t probably see that kind of sustainability bullishness from other states just yet, homeowners and homebuyers are very interested in homes that use less energy and water. There is also an increasing demand for systems that manage power consumption. These home energy management systems monitor and adjust factors affecting energy use to lower the bills and reduce wear and tear on HVAC equipment.
A bigger mix supplying our energy. With the rising use of solar (both mass-scale and individual), wind, and other renewables, the grid mix will look different.
Considering Alternative Grids. Research labs that shape the industry are starting to see the necessity of not just energy efficiency regarding a single home, but efficiency of when power is needed in buildings and how that power is provided. “Our long-standing focus has been taking a single building and making it as efficient as possible; how the power flowed to the building from the grid wasn’t a consideration,” explains Dr. Jackson. “As the make-up of the grid changes and adapts to a mix of sources, including solar and wind, if we don’t change how buildings use energy, we’ll miss an opportunity. For example, if your neighborhood relies mostly on solar energy generation, that’s a time-variant generation source. So, how can buildings change to better harness their grid.
Integration becomes a watch-word. What is Jackson most excited about? “Innovation through integration.”
Introducing dynamic buildings. “Our big picture is understanding how buildings interact with the grid,” says Jackson. “This encompasses not just consumption, but goes beyond to evaluate how we provide services and how buildings can interact dynamically in a way that makes the whole system better.” Future buildings will have to understand and have self-awareness of the needs of occupants and the grid. DOE’s Smart Neighborhoods in Georgia and Alabama are early testing grounds for this paradigm.
Dynamic buildings means adaptive equipment. The US Department of Energy is already conducting work on dynamic load and generation response for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and for water heating in individual homes. They will then evaluate how load management in a single home impacts its community.
Adaptive equipment means integrated equipment.HVAC and other companies are looking at being proactive and examining extreme circumstances to better plan how to use power and to minimize total use. We need to ask, “How can my HVAC or water heating use its controls to allow me to have greater control over when I use power?” Jackson feels that peak load and demand response approaches are not as forward-looking as we need them to be.
Energy efficiency, meet energy storage. There has been a lot of interest and activity centered around storage for renewable energy, but the conversation has usually drifted to batteries. Jackson hopes that, by developing thermal storage, the industry can create a complement for batteries, or reduce the need for battery storage. Buildings use a lot of thermal energy within their overall mix. In the past, thermal storage was used more to create energy savings. Now, if we start to use it as a complement to battery storage, the properties and dynamics of thermal storage have to change as well. It requires us to rethink thermal storage.
More training. As programs and certifications like Ready for Net Zero, Passive House, Energy Star 3.0, and others grow in popularity, there will be an increasing quest for training, materials, and certifiers to meet the need, says Bill Robinson.
Thermal storage. If products currently in initial development with the DOE are an indicator, the future means imagining new products at the cutting edge. Buildings will have new science and opportunities to leverage.
Thermal storage is one of these opportunities. Unlike current strategies, where we draw shades on western windows during the summer, to minimize solar gain, or open those same windows during winter to capture passive heating, can we have a thermal switch that turns on and off? Can thermal storage move beyond passive? Developers are busy rethinking how we store energy in the envelope.
New energy targets. Traditionally, our focus has been to rely on energy within an individual building, without time sensitivity, and to focus on minimizing the energy consumption over the year for that building. Because the grid doesn’t actually operate like that, we’re starting to see a resolution to rethink metrics and targets beyond this overall annualized target.
The rise of composites. Composite technology and materials, from mass plywood panels to new adhesives, will continue to enhance their market share.
Outside influence. Look to materials and techniques from outside industries — like aeronautical and automotive — to weigh in on solving some of the great home performance challenges, from bolstering envelope performance to adding technology into everyday things.