High-Performance Home: Energy Efficient is Only a Good Start

This virtual presentation discusses how there’s much more to a high-performance home than energy efficiency.


If you ask someone not in our industry what sustainability or green building means to them, they’re likely to have thoughts about energy efficiency or solar panels or maybe EVs. You can’t really blame them. They’re much more likely to hear about energy efficiency programs through their utility, or they might have a neighbor who has a PV system installed on their roof or an EV in the garage. The financial benefits of reducing one’s energy bills are real. Depending on where you live, shaving 20-25% off your energy bill will probably save you more money than if you reduced your water bill by the same percentage. And then there’s those federal tax credits[MC2]  for heat pumps, weatherization improvements and EnergyStar Homes certification from the Inflation Reduction Act.

However, like the title of this Housing 2.0 seminar states, there’s much more to a high-performance home than energy efficiency. I may be biased because I work in the water efficiency space quite a bit, but water conservation and/or water efficiency is downright vital in some parts of this country. In the West, some places are facing the stark prospects of a future where some form of water reuse system will be needed in order to allow development to continue. We’ve already seen moratoriums enacted in Utah and Arizona in the past 5 years. To be blunt, you can’t build a net-zero energy home if you can’t even get a permit to build in the first place.


More and more people are getting up to speed with the energy-water nexus. (Summary: it takes water to produce energy, and energy to pump & treat water.) The two are intertwined. When I gave a brief water presentation to an energy efficiency audience about 5.5 years ago, I gave a slightly deeper overview of the energy-water nexus and challenged the 300 or so people in the room to consider that maybe water was more important than energy. I was met with a lot of blank stares back then, but I don’t think that would be the case now… and that’s a great thing.

Resiliency is another facet of high-performance homes. With the planet warming and storms getting more severe, this is going to be an increasingly important aspect of new construction in nearly all corners of the U.S. While some state-level politicians were engaged in climate debates, they must have been too distracted to notice the very real damage that was happening to coastal homes in their states. One industry that was paying attention: the insurance industry. Some insurance companies have stopped offering coverage in Florida, California and Louisiana . That doesn’t fall in the category of moratoriums, but it’s just as halting of a decision.

Hurricane Ian homes surrounded by water adobe stock

Once the COVID pandemic really took hold in March 2020, one aspect of high performance homes had its day in the spotlight: indoor air quality, or IAQ. This wasn’t the first time that IAQ had been top of mind for many homeowners (VOCs, black mold), but it was certainly back in the collective consciousness of those who were trying to avoid COVID or who were already suffering from some form of auto-immune disease and were under heightened risk.

Finally, as we building increasingly more efficient homes, sustainability experts continue to hone in on other ways to save energy or reduce carbon footprints. One way is through smart products like thermostats, leak detection systems, appliances, lighting, etc. Smart design should not be overlooked, either. This extends to everything from ductwork to plumbing.