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Luxury real estate has always been an “early adopter” of innovative design technologies, and its evolution has ramifications for the entire real estate industry. That’s why it’s so fascinating to watch the development of sustainable design. The luxury segment drives the deployment of new features initially out of reach of most other market segments but ultimately makes these elements more cost-effective for the broader market.
The integration of sustainable solutions into top-of-the-line architecture creates guideposts for the world to follow. For example, the LEED for Homes certification started as a unique designation for truly exceptional sustainable design. It’s now a standard approximated by most building codes nationwide.
As a luxury real estate professional, I find it fascinating to watch the integration of new sustainable design features in the luxury segment. They provide a glimpse of what the future holds.
Sustainable design: Where are we now?
Sustainable design traces back to vernacular architecture, centered around endurance, comfort, and intuitive alignment with the site and setting. Vernacular building emphasizes fundamentals, including local materials and craftsmanship, with sustainable features such as natural ventilation, passive cooling, strategically placed windows, and building orientation to maximize sunlight during the colder seasons.
Since the 1960s, architecture has increasingly incorporated systems and materials that can enhance a home’s efficiency while reducing its environmental impact. This includes everything from the embrace of LED lighting to the inclusion of green roofs, rainwater harvesting, solar arrays, and geothermal pumps.
Now, biophilic design and the generation of renewable power are in demand. While photovoltaic installations still result in an additional upfront cost, homeowners see the appeal of producing their own clean energy, such as nearly limitless fuel to power their electric vehicles, warm their heated floors, and illuminate their garden walkways.
But what’s next in the world of sustainable design? Which features have the potential to differentiate leading luxury homes now and become indispensable later? Here are three that I’m especially excited about.
1. High-performance glass
From a sustainability perspective, high-performance glass — also known as energy-efficient glass — is emerging as a leading technology, with manufacturers achieving increasingly impressive R-values through tighter sealing and vacuum methods. At the same time, smart glass, which can adjust its transparency and opacity, has gained a greater range of options at lower costs.
In terms of systems and integrated design, both high-performance and smart glass are potential game changers — their applicability is ubiquitous. I consider them among the highest-impact innovations of the near future.
2. Renewable power and battery storage
Previously, it could be difficult to make an economic case for living off-grid. Homeowners often opted to remain connected — relying on the grid sometimes, and selling power back when they generated an excess. Now, the increasing ease and economic feasibility of home battery integration with renewable power generation are enabling another level of eco-friendly, grid-disconnected living.
This holds great implications for remote site settings, eco-lodging, and eco-tourism. By extension, it’s an important development for luxury resort markets, where “sustainability” isn’t just concerned with environmental impact or energy efficiency, but with the home’s capacity to be enjoyed.
3. Holistic integration of health and home
Red light therapy, oxygen therapy, infrared saunas — some call these technologies luxury “biohacking” — but interest in these elements indicates a broader, more holistic understanding of how properties impact their occupants’ physical and psychological well-being.
Today, sustainable design incorporates features such as these, as well as low-tech solutions such as spaces for meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation practices. Indoor air quality is also a nascent aspect of property sustainability.
Staying ahead of trends in sustainability
Luxury real estate professionals who want to stay on top of green building innovation may want to keep an eye on the technologies being endorsed and financed by climate-oriented investment funds and private equity investors.
If you keep your finger on the pulse in these areas — and maintain open lines of communication within your company and network — you’ll be well-positioned to respond as sustainable design awareness continues to expand.
Tom focuses on buyer and investor representation, especially top-tier residential, multi-use, and income properties in resort markets. He advises on considerations critical to evaluating high-value properties and assets, and focuses on executing sustainable strategies. He has received regional NAHB “green homebuilder” recognition, executed the planning of a prospective Clinton Climate Initiative master-planned community, and served on the committee that created the LEED-Neighborhood Development standard. In addition, the Florida Solar Energy Center recognized him for developing a “Smart Community Model,” enabling the assessment of a “net-zero” master-planned community. Formerly a vice president with Jones Lang LaSalle and CS First Boston, he has an undergraduate degree from the University of Denver and an MBA from the University of Chicago.