When looking for new home the best way is to look for a home that holds some type of regional or national certification. While there are many builders out there not all build to these current practices, but may claim that their homes are "Green". Keep in mind a certification holds the builder to a building level and requires third party verification to prove that a home is green. Without that anything a builder may tell you is hearsay. A newly built home must meet minimum state and local "standards or codes". Simply buying a home that meets the standards is not really enough these days. Buying a home is a big investment and if you plan on keeping your purchase for a long time or want a good return on resale value you want a home that is going to demand a premium. Just like when you buy a car there is the base car no frills car, middle of the road car, the car that is fully equipped, and now more recently a hybrid option of the same model car. There is an argument out there that you are paying a premium for the hybrid option and the cost of that premium does not justify getting a hybrid. Some have the same perception about green homes. The “premium” does not justify the payout in return. For a home these perceptions are false. Green built homes do show a return if you pick the right features. If you can't get a certified home or want to update your current home make sure you pick the features that are going to have the best rate of return. Here is a quick rundown on which areas to focus on in you home purchase or rehab.
HVAC/Insulation & Air Quality/ Low or No VOC Paints: Having what we consider a “tight” Heating Ventilation and Air condition system teamed with a soy based spray foam will help you increase home efficiency and decrease equipment costs. When a home has sealed ductwork and good insulation you can reduce the size of mechanical equipment such as A/C nits and heaters. By having the correct fit system usually means you can get a smaller system that can save you money. In turn that money can be used for other money saving green features. Having the correct fitted mechanical system will also prolong the life of your equipment. If your mechanical equipment is over or undersized this creates stress on the systems and leads to frequent repairs and inefficient performance.
Since we are talking about mechanical systems it feels natural and easy to add on air filtration. An air filtration system will make sure the air quality in you home is healthy. On average most homes have more pollutants inside than outside your home. Keeping the air clean will help with allergies and other air borne health issues. Along with the home filtration making sure the builder is using paints, stains, and carpets that have zero to no VOC (Volatile Organic Compound). Typically the affects of VOC’s are not seen immediately, but over a life time they and can start to develop chronic illness or fatigue over a prolong exposure. Having clean indoor air will make your home a healthy place to live.
Energy Efficient Windows/Bulbs/Appliances: If you are buying a home having energy efficient windows are an easy add on and should be standard. If you are upgrading you existing windows to energy efficient window, it probably the least cost efficient upgrade for your rate of return on investment. You best dollar spent would be on insulation. If your windows are broken or you have the funds it still is a worthy upgrade.
Bulbs play a big role in your electricity costs. CFL’s have been the go to item in the bulb category. More recently LED bulbs are hitting the market in a wider available bulb types and lower entry cost. LED bulbs typically are going to cost more up front, but in the overall life of the bulb it will save you hundreds per bulb. One LED bulb will last anywhere from 15-25 years.
Energy efficient appliances will help on your electric and water bills. The amount of water used in high efficiency washers are much less that of the wash machines built just 7 years ago. Look for an Energy Star logo on the appliance and you can’t go wrong.
Sustainable yards: Having your yard work for you, means you won’t be working hard in your yard. Most of the time the landscaping is one of the last items you think about or put extra money into when buying a home. Having a sustainable yard that is in tune with your local ecosystem puts less strain on daily, weekly, and yearly maintenance. Many sustainable yards require no or little up keep. Using grey water from a cistern to maintain your yard will save you on your monthly water bill.
Water Conservation: Cisterns are great! Using rainwater for yard irrigation or filtered grey water for non-consumable/cleansing activities will save greatly on your water bill. Cisterns come in all types of shapes and sizes and can easily be hidden.
Alternative Energy-Wind/Solar: Alternative energy is great, but the cost and return on investment is a longer period of time. Solar panels or you may hear the term pv are mostly considered a luxury green item. If you are looking for a “net zero” or “off grid” home, solar is typically the way to achieve this. A net zero home is a home that does not pull energy from the local power company. In some cases a net zero home may produce enough energy that it actually feeds energy back into the grid. Depending on your location you may receive money back, but more likely a credit to be issued to your account. In the months you are not feeding the grid you then have reserves built up on your account to apply to that months of high-energy expenditure. Wind is starting to be a viable alternative energy for residential homes with new products coming into the market. Like in some solar situations and surrounding areas you neighbors may not appreciate your energy efficient products. Most neighbors don’t like to look at solar panels or large wind turbine. The choice of using alternative energy largely depends on you geo location, architecture, neighbor hood and financial commitment.
Is there a wrong green feature? I would say no, but you want to be wise on with your funds and make sure that you truly are getting what you pay for in your home. This is an exciting time and the green movement is finally in a good stage of adoption. Everyone’s combined effort in making smart green choices will not go unnoticed, allowing future generations to enjoy a cleaner environment.