Green House Hunting

By Lindsay Brecheisen | July 2, 2017

When browsing home listings you’ll often come across the terms luxurious, spacious and stunning used to describe a home’s appealing attributes, but what about green? Green has become one of the most marketable colors in real estate, and no, not homes painted the verdant shade, but ones that incorporate environmentally conscious features. According to a report from the U.S. Green Building Council, by 2018 the green housing market will represent about 40 percent of the overall market and 84 percent of all residential construction will have energy-efficient and sustainable features. Clearly, the demand for green homes is rapidly growing, but what exactly is a green home? Gil Vaughan, a local realtor, certified Eco Broker and chairman of the Triad Green Building Council of North Carolina, defines a green home as:

“Any home that meets or exceeds an Energy Star Rating of 5+, and has other features that increase the health, sustainability, comfort, energy efficiency and eco-friendliness that a home should attain.”

Green homes include many features related to energy efficiency, water conservation, environmentally friendly building materials and techniques, and human and environmental health. With construction and buildings contributing to a tremendous amount of the United States’ resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and the global energy use, the demand has increased for sustainable alternatives in both the commercial and residential divisions. This demand has allowed green homes to become progressively more appealing and profitable for homebuyers and the international construction market in general.

Advantages of Green

There are several benefits associated with green homes. Not only does going green save you money in the long run, it preserves natural resources efficiently and reduces the impact on the environment. An added advantage is that these benefits can all be achieved without compromising your comfort or daily routine.

Green is Cost-Effective

  • Reducing daily and annual costs. An energy efficient home consumes significantly less energy and water than a standard home. Green home building or updates can reduce gas and power bills up to 30 percent and conserve thousands of gallons of water a year.
  • Durability and higher performance. Energy-efficient and sustainable products are typically more durable due to the technology and innovation they utilize. In addition, they tend to be developed from higher quality materials, decreasing the need for future repairs.
  • Healthier living. Many green homes are built with ecologically friendly materials and proper insulation which improves air quality, resulting in a healthier living environment and fewer sick days!
  • Incentives. Local, state and federal governments offer incentives and tax breaks for building an LEED-certified home or adding green features.
  • Cheaper insurance and mortgage rates. Many insurance and mortgage companies now offer policy discounts for green homes and discounted loan rates for green homebuyers.

Green Benefits the Environment

  • Reducing CO2 emissions. The commercial and residential sector accounts for around 12 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Simply reducing the amount of energy consumed in households can help reduce that amount. Energy efficient homes have up to 34 percent lower CO2 emissions.
  • Water Conservation. Water-efficient plumbing and bath fixtures can greatly reduce the amount of water used by the household. Water-conserving irrigation systems can save up to 50 percent of the water typically consumed for landscaping.
  •  Renewable Energy. Homes that generate some of their energy needs from renewable energy sources, such as solar and geothermal, help reduce the dependence on conventional energy sources.

Going Green

Whether you are looking to build a home, starting the hunt for a new one or simply updating your current home, going green is an exciting endeavor. However, with new products, building techniques and technologies constantly hitting the market, it’s easy to find yourself lost in what to search for.

Here is a quick and simple checklist to ensure a home is energy-efficient and sustainable:

  • ENERGY STAR® appliances—refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.
  • Updated thermostat system and smart energy technology
  • Sealed windows and doors—check for air leaks
  • High performance or triple-paned glass windows
  • Low-flow fixtures—showerheads, faucets and toilets
  • Attics and walls with proper insulation, including a closed crawl space
  • Tankless water heater—tankless, or demand water heaters, provide hot water more efficiently than conventional storage tank water heaters that have a high rate of wasted heat. Demand water heaters typically have a longer lifespan and lower operating and energy costs.
  • Energy and water-efficient landscaping
  • Bonus: Renewable energy systems such as solar panels or a geothermal system
  • Bonus: Electric vehicle charging station installed or proper outlet available

Other considerations when house hunting:

  • Review past heating, cooling and water bills. You can easily obtain past power and water bills from the local utility and compare them to other homes of the same size.
  • Go beyond the typical home inspection. Standard home inspections consider a degree of green factors, but many inspectors will go beyond the standard measures and perform an inspection more specific to energy efficiency and sustainability.
  • Have an energy audit conducted. If the home has had one done recently, ask to see the results.
  • Confirm local zoning laws. If you plan to install renewable energy features such as solar or geothermal systems, check to see if the local energy companies have a net metering system in place so any energy generated can be sold back to the grid.

Beware of Greenwashing

Many of today’s homebuyers are now looking exclusively at green home options. With the popularity of green features, realtors and sellers want to offer energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes. Considering that most green homes sell at higher prices, sellers may present a home to be greener than it actually is. One of the most important steps to green house hunting is to review the official certifications of a home. To ensure a home is meeting green requirements, there are many recognized organizations that provide proper certification to indicate a home is environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. These organizations include:

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): A rating system developed by the United States Green Building Council for the environmental performance of a building. LEED-certified buildings have 34 percent lower CO2 emissions, consume 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water.

ENERGY STAR®: Created by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, ENERGY STAR is a program and international standard to certify products as energy-efficient.

National Green Building Standard: A residential green building standard, the first of its kind to undergo the full consensus process and receive approval from the American National Standard Institute.

WaterSense: Sponsored by the EPA, it is both a label for water-efficient products and a resource for water conservation.

Home Energy Rating System (HERS): A system used to inspect and calculate a home’s energy performance.

Green at the Local Level

North Carolinians are excelling in many aspects of green homes. In a national study conducted in 2016 by the North Carolina Building Performance Association, North Carolina was ranked in the top five states for “energy efficient, green and high performance construction volume and saturation.”

Source: ENERGY STAR

However, North Carolina still faces some challenges. Local realtors have revealed that most homebuyers are still more concerned with finding a “flashy” home over a green home. When asked about the local green housing market in 2017, Vaughan says, “We [the Triad Green Building Council] have a tremendous challenge of educating the consumers and the builders of the advantages of building green homes. I believe that we will continue to lag behind other areas because of the lack of ‘buy-in’ from our builders and consumers.” He also adds that the standard local building codes are very close to the ENERGY STAR standards, which makes it difficult to convince builders to spend the money on the certification process.

The Future is Green

Despite the current standings of green homes in North Carolina, local realtors are optimistic and confident that the North Carolina green housing market will experience exponential growth in the coming years. The growth of green homes is not an overnight process, it coincides with increased awareness and education of our impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, resource consumption and energy usage. With countless resources and limitless options, going green is getting easier by the day. Regardless of whether you are building, shopping for or updating a home, consider going green and enjoying the many perks.