Is Your Listing Really “Green”?

By Erik Fowler

This is the second article in a series designed to help you make sense of the green landscape as a real estate professional. In the last article, we covered the big picture – defining “green,” concepts of sustainability and what it means to be green (read it here). Here, we examine green homes and real estate.


Essentially, green homes (or buildings) strive to integrate into the environment, use sustainable design and construction concepts, and have a positive impact on occupant health and comfort.

They achieve this by considering the home in two fundamental ways:

1. A system of interconnected parts that all affect each other (much like our natural environment);
2. A lifecycle—the design, building, maintenance/operation and demolition.

For example, consider how home design affects window choices, which affects lighting, which affects the heating/cooling system, which then affects energy consumption, which affects planet resources, pollution and, ultimately, potential climate change. Get the idea?


Nearly all green homes consider the following key components essential to green building and remodeling:

1. Design and size: Good site design and just large enough, as opposed to larger is better.
2. Community connectivity: Located close to work, school, recreation and other basics.
3. Energy and water efficiency: At least 15 percent or more efficient than others.
4. Material selections: Use of some recycled and/or reclaimed products.
5. Indoor air quality: Limiting use of materials with potential toxic effects and increased ventilation.

You can research any one of these from the U.S. Green Building Council Web site or simply earn your GREEN designation from the National Association of REALTORS®, where each of these is covered in detail with case studies.


Consider that when remodeling your home, you can have a significant impact on energy efficiency and therefore utility bills—which in turn affects air pollution and your environment—simply by making your home more energy efficient.

For instance, adding more blown insulation (such as cellulose), ensuring a correctly sized and annually serviced HVAC system, and sealing doors, windows and leaks with weather-stripping and caulking, can all save as much as 15 percent on utility bills, according to many experts (when compared  to similar homes).

Include an Energy Star refrigerator, programmable digital thermostat, CFL or LED lights (instead of incandescent bulbs) and double-paned insulated windows, and you should see 30 percent to 50 percent greater energy efficiency!

Not only does this save on utility costs, but it also means less coal is extracted and burned to create your electricity, which results in better air quality and less greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly half of all U.S. electricity comes from power plants that burn coal, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.


When you consider the lifecycle costs and total costs of ownership when owning and operating a home over time—not just the initial sales price or upfront cost of an energy efficient upgrade—then payback could be immediate. This is often the case with a new Energy Star Qualified home where the lower utility bill offsets the slightly higher sales price and mortgage payment.

For an older home remodel or energy upgrade, the payback could be in a few years, depending on extent of upgrades and the current-plus-projected utility bills. The best strategy to correctly identify the highest return on investment for a particular home is to get an energy audit performed by a qualified professional. Many local energy raters will assess your home for a fee. Visit the RESNET Web site for details on how to find one.


Although greening homes is a topic too big for one article, some other green home remodeling features include these and other practices:

  • Recycling demolition waste to avoid landfill;
  • Using sustainably harvested wood labeled “FSC” (Forest Stewardship Council);
  • Using countertops made of recycled content such as terrazzo;
  • Using a rainwater harvesting system for landscape irrigation and to reduce storm water runoff;
  • Switching to low-flow water fixtures and toilets;
  • Using low-carbon concrete;
  • Planting deciduous shade trees;
  • Using low-VOC paints and finishes (volatile organic compounds);
  • Using formaldehyde-free interior products in interior paint, carpet and adhesives, etc.


We discussed one component—energy—in detail because energy efficiency is the largest single component of a green home (but certainly not all of the consideration). I encourage you to spend some time on the Web sites listed below and check back with us as we cover Green Buyers and Sellers, Listing and Selling Green, and Green Certifications and Rating Systems in upcoming articles.

Web Resources:


  • Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies (For Dummies, 2007), by Eric Corey Freed
  • Green Building A to Z: Understanding the Language of Green Building (New Society Publishers, 2007), by Jerry Yudelson
Erik Fowler

Erik Fowler

About the Author: Erik Fowler is a Realtor® with Greenwood King Properties in Houston, Texas, with 10 years of residential real estate experience. He is a national member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a board member of the Houston Chapter, an instructor for GREEN (National Association of REALTORS®), and a certified Eco-Broker®.  He maintains a green building and sustainable growth consultancy working with select organizations, builders and brokers (and home owners) to create value and market leadership through energy efficiency and green building practices. He has made a lifelong commitment to sustainability, environmental stewardship, and smart growth; and he speaks and writes regularly on these topics. E-mail him at:

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Great article!!!

  2. I have a couple of things to comment on. Remember, that the people who grow trees for a living are not an enemy. I grow timber and farm, and the supplements and pest control materials we as an industry have become extremely eco-friendly. We use natural enemies of cotton and soybeans, and seek to make our tree farms a habitat for wildlife by adding food plant sources and compatible hardwood/pine combinations. My wife and I have also worked with the Miss. Dept. of Natural Resources to carve out 110 acres for pure wildlife habitat. Take the time to speak toa farmer face to face and you will be amazed at how farming has changed. We live here ,too.

  3. Fantastic Information! I suggested to a prospective builder in 2007 to “go green” in order to stand out and be the only one in the county to build a subdivision that was green. He said it was too expensive. The subdivision is now only a vision.

    The cost of “going green” will be tolerated by those who wish to:
    1. do their best in assisting mother earth,
    2. lower their maintenance costs & efforts, and
    3. ultimately save on their utility bills.

    Blessings to the author for a well written article. It’s definitely one for the files!

    Debbie Day Peck

    Referral Realtor for Ken Day, Jr,
    The Pinnacle Group of
    Keller Williams-Select Partners
    Canton, Geogia

  4. Lisa Alexander

    Great the realtors are finally on board….overdue…I’m a Certified EcoBroker, member of USGBC and a LEED AP as well as NAR of course…I’m also a wrtier whose been writing green articles for years and am concerned with your articles which are just a page out of the USGBC’s web-site and I don’t feel you are giving credited to them it appears you came up with much of this on your own…Triple bottom line is a power point on USGBC…you list the five tenants of green building in another article that is the 5 categories of LEED certification…etc.. etc…none of this is orignal and could be considered copyright infringement.

  5. Erik,

    What great timing for this article! I had just finished writing about the “top five criteria for finding a great real estate investment” and then read your article.

    Number two on your list of 5 key green home components is Community Connectivity, which happens to be the basis for finding an excellent real estate investment.

    So of course I jumped right on this article with my own commentary.

    Thanks for writing this Green Real Estate series on! Looking forward to the next post!

    Jen Grauer

  6. As Realtors work with listing clients to get homes ready for market, keep in mind that many professional stagers can offer advice and direction on “greening” homes.

  7. It is an excellent article and ideas that responsible citizens would practise. As I just finished my GREEN designation classes in Albany, NY, it truly summarize the informatiion provided and enhanced my knowledge. I’ll continue to advocate for more green features to our clients to sustain our environment. Please write more. Thank you.

  8. db

    Great article. As an eco-conscientious Realtor in Los Angeles, I have remodeled my own home that fits into your perameters of ‘green’. The one problem I have with a lot of listings that are being promoted as ‘green’ is that there is no real standard other than LEED and many are just ‘greenwashing’ their listings.

    I’m interested in hearing discussions from people to hear what they think the standard should be when labeling something ‘green’. After all, there are a lot of people out there doing it, but perhaps not doing it right.

    Any thoughts? Follow me on Twitter at westsidedb

  9. I totally agree! I think people are abusing the term “green.” It is like a new marketing ploy to grab the markets attention while the marketers are simply using the term because it is in vogue or fashion right now.

    I think there should be some clear standars set forth for the entire industry to use as a benchmark.

    Jonathan Kostyra, Broker
    Greenville SC

  10. Here’s an idea for really staging a home to be green. I’m an EcoBroker agent and I created Ready, Set, Green Homes to help sellers of homes that aren’t green…yet!…to reach green buyers. I realized there was a real void addressing retrofiting existing homes. The goal of the program is to help more buyers make their homes more energy efficient after closing. Newly built green homes are great but they are unrealistic for the vast majority of buyers out there. Realtors can be a real catalyst for good change on our planet by supporting interest in more energy efficient homes. Here’s a link on my blog to a video recap of the program. Happy to talk more if anyone is interested: Making Green Affordable –

  11. Dear Erik-
    I have to agree with some of the things in this article. There are many things that make a house green. For those who believe that Greenwashing in real estate is wrong, you have an attitude proplem. I know homes that are over 100yrs. old and are greener than some non-green 3yr. old homes. A well built home is the first step to purchasing a green home or at least making it green. On the way to becoming green, there are many layers that have to be addresses before the property can be determined truly green. And who determines that? The USGBC? NAR? NAHB? Yes and no. If your 100yr. old house has the same design, efficiency and function as a newly built NAHB Green Home, is it green? You bet. Is it certified? NO.
    There are levels of green that we are trying to accomplish with todays housing market. The competetive nature of the sellers should see green traits in a homes design as a great selling point. They deserve the extra marketing because it’s easier to sell a house that is energy efficient or at least has the greater potential to be greener.

    I wanted to know. How green is my house? Even though I haven’t remodeled, done any construction, or even painted. Just how green was the material, design, and management systems in my house? I went to LEED courses. They couldn’t tell me. I went to NAHB Green Verifier Program and Energy Star. They couldn’t tell me how green is my existing house. So I looked at all of the common factors of green construction from design to material use and came up with the Green Assessment Potential Score.
    With a 77 question test and an algorithm point system, I can GAPscore any house and see what level air, energy, water, land, and sustainability it has. My house scored a 27 out of a possible 100. My house is not green. It’s blue. Try the test on any certified green home and it should score 70 or better. Send me what you think through the contact us link. This is a brand new site and we are fixing things to make it easier to use. I hope it’s worth your time.

    Better yet, try it on your house.

    Real Estate Pros need to understand that a home owner has to take steps to becoming greener or the house will be torn down to become a LEED home the next time it sells. Where is the sustainability in that? To tear down a perfectly good structure just to build a new one. And how much carbon is released into the air from that energy loss? Tons and tons and tons.

    I like USGBC and NAHB and applaude their influences on new construction. But there’s alot more green going on out there now and from the past. Most of it was from architects and builders that did it before green was cool. The question is: “where are they now?” It’s possible that out of the 110 million plus homes in the US and less than .09% of those are “certified” green, there is another estimated 4% that are green and haven’t been verified.

    Thank you for bringing a green article to those who really need to know this stuff.
    I wish it were on the front page instead of buried in the design section.

    Steve Pohlman
    Oak Park, IL

  12. I think the Green trend to build homes that are 15%-30% more efficient than conventional construction is already old news. Many people haven’t heard of Zero Energy Homes, but they are beginning to pop up all over the country, and I’m here to tell you that you can get into one for roughly the same cost as buying a conventionally built home, if you Do It Yourself. Its easy with a BuilderCoach, and our web based software that automates most of the bidding and project management process for you. Let show you how.