Top 8 Social Benefits of High Performance Building

The unsung community benefits of high performance building in Portland and Seattle…

Hammer & Hand has become both a practitioner and partisan of high performance building in Portland and Seattle in recent years – everything from home performance retrofits on one end of the spectrum to super-efficient Passive House buildings on the other. (Find out more about our home performance services here).

The reason for this evolution at H&H?  High performance building brings new levels of comfort, health and durability to homes and businesses, three things core to our raison d’etre as a builder and remodeler.

Of course there are broader benefits as well.  High performance building brings lots of big environmental wins, like increased indoor air quality and environmental safety, longer building lifespan, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution, reduced demand for new power plants, etc.

These green bennies get plenty of play here at Hammer & Hand and out in the world.  But when we in the industry trumpet the benefits of high performance building, the social ones often get short-shrift – partly because we’re focused on the direct benefits that high performance building brings to clients (rightly, I’d submit), and partly because the larger environmental benefits are so obvious.  But the social benefits are no less real or less compelling.

So here’s to a little love for the social side of high performance building…

Top 8 Social Benefits of High Performance Building

  1. Equitable Access to Safe Temperatures:  High performance homes (both new and retrofitted) have much narrower temperature variability than conventional buildings.  Low-income occupants therefore have easier access to safe temperatures, especially in winter.  A modest expenditure in heating will bring most of these homes into a safe and comfortable range.
  2. Financial Sustainability:  High performance buildings are more financially sustainable in an ongoing way for occupants because energy bills are small and have less month-to-month fluctuation.  And less energy use means less vulnerability to ever-rising energy costs.
  3. Healthier, Safer Occupants:  Home performance assessments uncover potential hazards to health and safety (e.g. back drafting gas water heaters, insufficient ventilation, mold and mildew-causing moisture build-up, etc.).  Both home energy retrofits and high performance new construction greatly reduce the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, toxic indoor air, mold-born illness, etc.
  4. Vibrant Communities:  Home energy remodels, Passive House retrofits, and infill Passive House and zero energy structures all represent major reinvestments in existing communities and the existing built environment.  This inward focus of investment slows sprawl and supports a vibrant urban core with fair access to opportunity, slowed or reversed concentration of poverty, and increased viability of equitable, alternative transportation.  Transforming the energy performance of our buildings helps fuel a virtuous cycle that supports a healthy and sustainable city.
  5. Family Wage Jobs:  High performance building and energy retrofits employ highly skilled craftspeople and technicians, which supports family wage jobs.
  6. Homegrown Economic Development:  The support of vibrant communities and family wage jobs ripples out into the community in the form of local, homegrown economic development.  Because it is at the micro-scale, this contribution to a city’s economic development builds a more diverse and sustainable economy.
  7. Energy Independence and Security:  The more that we reduce the energy consumption of our buildings, the less reliant we are on fossil fuels and foreign sources of energy.  Ultimately, this increased independence and security supports peace and prosperity here and abroad.
  8. Averted Environmental Degradation, Averted Social Costs:  Environmental degradation, in the form of climate change, air pollution and loss of farm and forestland, has big social costs.  So the avoidance of this degradation brings significant social and community benefit.


Have I missed any?  Please add to the list below in the comments section.  Thanks!

– Zack (Connect with me at +ZacharySemke)

P.S.  Here’s Scott | Edwards Architecture’s rendering of our latest high performance building project, the Pumpkin Ridge Passive House, selected as a demonstration super-efficient home by Northwest ENERGY STAR®:

Super-efficient home, being built by Portland/Seattle builder Hammer & Hand. Back to Field Notes