With the world’s attention on COVID-19 issues for the first part of 2020, many events have been slighted even though they may have long range implications. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the major long-range concern was the issue of climate change and its environmental impact. For decades, construction and architecture has had a focus on environmentally sustainable building: Going Green.
The Green Movement has been granted new energy with the publication of the 2020 Edition of the ICC-700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS) which was approved by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and is available for public use. Developed over the past three years, this latest installment expands the scope of applicable building occupancies, keeps abreast of new technologies, and advances the benchmark for residential projects designed and built for high performance.
COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis has impacted residential and commercial building even while states—with the exception of Michigan, New York, and New Jersey—have declared construction an essential business. In addition, construction projects in many parts of the U.S. were slowed as states adopted work rules—such as social distancing—that added to the time needed to complete jobs. The pandemic has also played a key role in causing construction-grade lumber to increase in price. A number of lumber producers have temporarily or permanently ceased operations, reducing lumber supplies as fewer homes were completed and renovation activity fell off.
Building materials suppliers and distributors did see solid sales growth in April due to seasonality and construction professionals stockpiling materials for future use, but primarily sales were supported by homeowners engaging in DIY (do-it-yourself) projects, such as building decks and fences, renovating rooms, and installing shelving.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic hardship across all sectors. Job losses in March, for example, contributed to a decline in U.S. median income and housing affordability according to the NAHB (National Assn. of Home Builders)/Wells Fargo HOI (Housing Opportunity Index).
The Index shows only 61.3% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of January and end of March were affordable to families earning an adjusted U.S. median income of $72,900. This income level is down from $75,500 in the fourth quarter of 2019 when 63.2% of homes sold were considered affordable.
For homebuilders, home technologies have been a competitive advantage to helping sell new homes. Now, the incorporation of smart-home technology is becoming more important than ever before, according to some recently released research.
A new report points to the importance of incorporating smart-home technology into new home projects. LexisNexis Risk Solutions released an insurance claims study revealing that in-line water shutoff systems correlate with a decrease in water claims events by 96%.
When built, housing is usually priced and sold or rented at a rate in line with the local community. Upper income areas get higher priced housing while mid-level areas get a broader range of pricing commensurate with the full range of incomes there. A better understanding of the nature of housing affordability is more important than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the finances of millions of Americans, a factor that will change the availability of workforce housing.
Another factor enters the equation as an area ages and buildings age with it: filtering. A recent study by the NMHC (National Multifamily Housing Council) Research Foundation, an in-depth analysis of apartment filtering—the aging and obsolescence that produces naturally-occurring affordable rental homes—found that in past decades the substantial flow of new construction, largely targeted to middle- and higher-income groups, enabled the filtering process to operate and create affordable housing opportunities for low-income households.
The IoT (Internet of Things) and the smart-building movement both depend on electricity to power them. As the world recognizes the future impact of climate change on all things, electricity generation takes a prominent role in mitigating the potential disaster. Moving away from fossil fuel powered generation is one approach; increasing the efficiency of the home is another. Today’s new homes are often FEHs (fully electrified houses) that include space heating, water heating, and cooking electrified through the use of air source heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and induction cooking methods to reduce energy use. These technologies are rapidly becoming more cost-effective and more reliable than fossil fuel systems.
Multifamily buildings are a mainstay of American housing. Whether in cities, suburbs or exurbs, apartments are growing in number as well as in value. Robust investment and available capital drove another strong year for the industry in 2019, as demonstrated by the NMHC (National Multifamily Housing Council ’s) just released 2020 NMHC 50, the ranking of the nation's largest apartment owners, managers, developers, builders, and syndicators. Before the outbreak of COVID-19 and the related economic weakening, the sector’s fundamentals were as healthy as they had been in years. While there will be significant uncertainty in the days to come, NMHC highlights the apartment industry continuous high demand and that it is well-positioned to return to growth following the pandemic.
Contractors report green practices hat promoting energy efficiency are most commonly used in homes: 91% of homebuilders use energy-efficient approaches, and 69% do so on the majority of their projects. These practices may include the use of LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances and right-sized, highly efficient HVAC systems. Ninety-seven percent of builders doing more than 50% of their projects green report using energy efficiency practices on more than 75% of their projects; 88% mention a tight building envelope and 61% use high-performance ventilation.
No one expects Manhattan luxury homes to be cheap; they wouldn’t be luxury then. But these homes, which make up the top 20% of the market, have seen their prices fall to the lowest level since 2013. According to the final 2019 StreetEasy Market Report, homes had to be priced at or above $3.8 million to qualify as luxury—a 6.1% drop from the top threshold in the previous year. This drop in the luxury threshold indicates that many sellers have finally begun to accept lower prices in order to stand out amid the growing surplus of high-end homes. Even as price levels fell in the fourth quarter, luxury inventory expanded 12.2% over the previous year, with 4,354 homes for sale above the $3.8 million threshold.
Artificial intelligence is no longer a dream, but simply not yet the nightmare that some have predicted. Although the term AI—otherwise known as artificial intelligence—is used in many different areas, it doesn’t really have an agreed upon definition. Some use AI to describe AGI (artificial general intelligence), an intelligence capable of completing a wide range of tasks like human intelligence, while others use AI to describe narrow AI, an AI that can perform a single task or a few tasks with high competence.