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Differentiation Strategy: EcoBroker, GreenHomesForSale, Etc.

Hawaiiprefab Applications for building permits have slowed down, some projects have been tosssed, and interest rates are inching higher. Homes sales will be ugly, to use the headline of one news article. All the while, real estate agents are scampering, trying to drum up business and continue the high life. I’m not a real estate agent, but from what I understand, the good ones make real good money and the bad ones make good money, so it hasn’t been that bad of a market…until, the Fed started to cool things off. Enter: EcoBrokers, GreenHomesForSale.com, and differentiation.

I noticed two articles on the same day about EcoBrokers, one on USGBC website and the other on MarketWatch. Becoming an Ecobroker means differentiating yourself from hundreds of other run-of-the-mill real estate agents, and it’s smart business. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the 2005 green building market ($7.4 Billion) is expected to reach from $19 to $38 billion by 2010. The tipping point, or the point where more green homes are built than non-green homes, is supposed to be in around 2007.

According to the MarketWatch article, buyers are interested more in the energy-saving, cost-cutting, sustainable features than the "save the earth" rhetoric (go figure!). And while features can vary from home to home (read: there will be a green standards war just like the current standards war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray), these EcoBrokers are going to have a leg up in explaining to purchasers and sellers the best ways to market homes. Certification for EcoBrokers will cover topics such as energy-efficiency ratings, asbestos, VOCs and lead paint, and indoor air quality.

Even more interesting, at the website, www.ecobroker.com, there is a designation guarantee that says the following: "Earn the EcoBroker designation, and apply the marketing and sales skills you learn. During the first year of your designation, you will increase your personal commission income, or we will refund 100% of your designation fee." From what I understand, the costs are $395, so that should be money well spent. The market is heading that direction (as the NAHB quote urges), so it’s smart to get in early.

Hawaiiprefab2 Another website is www.greenhomesforsale.com. I like the concept; it’s kind of a DIY-type place, and looks like it can be an attractive place for home listing as the listings increase. I looked at some of the listings and they can hardly be considered green (McKinney, Texas home), but it’s a good start. I found a prefab in Hawaii, that I know I’m gonna dream about tonight–if only money was sustainable on my backyard tree!

What I don’t understand about this website, however, is why they don’t invest some money in design and get rid of all those convoluted google ads, etc., sticking up all over the place like a bunch of weeds. It’s hard to take a website serious with all those cheap pay-per-click ads all over the place…my recommendation: pick a strategy for cash generation and stick with it–drive that strategy home. Looks like it costs about $60 to list for 3 months, so stick it out while your making your way down the long tail of sales.

Overall, I digg the future of what’s going on in the green real estate industry. It would be a smart move for real estate agents to get on this and learn the jargon. As the demand for green homes increase, those that can’t speak the jargon will be left trying to catch up. And might I suggest, as a parting note, since buyers are interested in the cost-benefits of green, the jargon includes being able to calculate payback periods, breakevens, inflation, and discounted cash flows, etc.

LivingHomes Combines Style + Sustainability

Livinghomes

LivingHomes Founder Steve Glenn has knocked the socks off the eco-conscious world with his modern homes that emphasize beauty + environment.  As I’ve been thinking about how I want to blog about this company, I’ve noticed a flurry of posts and press releases regarding this Ray Kappe-designed abode that was just awarded LEED-H Platinum.  It’s such an incredible home, with that undeniable confluence of modern and sustainability.  Hard to beat that. 

This is the first residential building to receive the USGBC’s Platinum LEED-H rating and it’s raising the bar for residential construction: zero energy, zero water, zero waste, zero carbon, and zero emissions. LivingHomes received a total of 91 out of a total possible 109 points, to barely skirt past the 90 point threshold required to obtain a Platinum rating.  It will be 80% more efficient than similar sized home and was constructed with 75% less waste than a traditional one.

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Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China

Pearl River Tower This is the architectural rendering of a building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; it is planned to be 71 stories, 2.2 million square feet, and have a "net" zero-energy footprint. The building is designed to use wind turbines, radiant slabs, microturbines, geothermal heat sinks, ventilated facades, waterless urinals, integrated photovoltaics, condensate recovery, and daylight responsive controls. I first noticed mention of this incredible project in an article of Architectural Record Magazine.

According to Roger Frechette, director of MEP Sustainable Engineering at SOM, Chicago, the building’s facade was designed "to accelerate the wind as it moved through the opening in the building." Power potential is the cube of wind velocity, and SOM initially estimated that the design would increase wind velocity to 1.5 times ambient wind speeds. Actually, models tested wind speeds of up to 2.5 times ambient wind speeds in some cases. In translation: the building design could generate power 15 times greater than a "freestanding" turbine.

According to a PR Newswire article, groundbreaking is set for July 2006 (which I’m not sure if this happened or not) and occupancy in fall 2009. In addition to the wind energy concept, the building will be designed with avant-garde solar technology to capture solar rays for conversion into energy.

So what are the benefits of a modern, sustainable commercial office building? First, the building looks amazing! Second, it can be an experiment and model for future buildings. Third, buildings that are built to be sustainable, or energy independent, are better. They are not dependent on the grid. They aren’t levered to the cost of grid energy (such as the price of coal, nuclear energy, or even other alternative sources provided into the grid). They leave a lighter footprint on the earth and its atmosphere–zero energy buildings are the epitome of natural resource frugality. Fourth, it can be healthier to live in. Fifth, it will create attention and draw tenants for publicity and other reasons. Sixth, the operating costs of this type of building are optimized and likely to be minimal when compared to non-sustainable buildings. Etc. Etc.

This building is a step in the right direction for commercial building design. I hope more and more buidings of this caliber can be transplanted all over the United States. Through sustainable design, countries can place themselves in a position to be less reliant on natural resource providing countries. As we’ve seen with the oil situation, that can be a big-time jam. Sustainable building–commercial and residential–is the road we should be taking.

Extra Links:
+World Architecture News

+Business Week/Architectural Record

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