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.
WHAT IS A “GREEN” HOME?
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?
5 KEY COMPONENTS
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 DO YOU GET A RETURN ON INVESTMENT?
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.
OTHER REMODELING FEATURES
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.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
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.
- 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
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: email@example.com.