For today’s sophisticated homebuyers, things like clawfoot tubs, pedestal sinks, beadboard trim and wide rocking chair porches are the coolest. There’s just something about the character of houses built almost a century ago that draws people to them like magnets. As for the day-to-day maintenance of those homes, however, only 21st century state-of-the-art will do, thank you. Most want a home that looks charming, but that also functions well – where they can live comfortably, aesthetically and affordably and, where they can live – well, ‘green’.
Increasing interest and demand for green living has been fueled by economic and environmental concerns. But how do we evaluate eco-friendly design? Green building is still relatively new, and the majority don’t know how it can positively affect their lives or their homes. Nearly everyone wants a green home, but few know the first thing about how to find and evaluate one. That is until now.
First it is important to note that a green-built home is built like every other home. The difference is that the builder has taken extra precaution to use sustainable materials and techniques that improve the air quality inside of the home and that reduce the amount of energy required to operate the home. The builder also takes steps to ensure that the home contributes positively to the outdoors environment.
Arts and Crafts
Atlanta’s artsy Reynoldstown neighborhood is home to an eclectic mix of Bungalows, Shotguns, Craftsman Cottages, Lofts and Moderns, Reynoldstown now boasts a growing population of certified green homes as new construction replaces some of the older inventory.
Bungalows are so interesting and you can have loads of fun with them. The Art Deco movement inspired bold colors and inventive design like tall baseboards, tall doors, decorative molding and picture perfect baths. In fact, the Bungalow’s inherent design makes it naturally suited for green building. Let’s take a walk through a typical energy efficient construction and identify the features we should look for when shopping for a green-built home.
One of the best ways to reduce a home’s energy consumption is to reduce its size. So, one simple thing you can do, if you want to live greener is to look for a smaller house. Just think about it – smaller homes use less of everything. If enough thought is put into a home’s planning and design, then a smaller home can look and feel more spacious than it actually is. And sure, you get a little less space. But you gain that back in efficient use of each room, utility savings, comfort, charm and aesthetic appeal.
Healthy Air in There
All open air spaces from the tiniest to the obvious should be sealed, as even the tiniest of air leaks can cause more damage than you know. Sealing areas like windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, attics, floors, walls, light fixtures and outlets will tighten the building envelope, reduce energy consumption and keep out the bad air. More importantly, it keeps out the bugs. The ladies of the home will appreciate that.
Be wary, if you walk into a house and see wall-to-wall carpeting, as carpet tends to trap dust mites. If a house has carpeting installed, it does not necessarily mean it is not a green-built house, because builders have a right to choose which green features to incorporate into their design. There are different levels of green building. Just remember that if a home has carpeting, you are going to have more dust to contend with and that will likewise reduce the air quality inside of your home.
Though it won’t be obvious to the eye, you should always ask what type of paint was used on the walls. You want a non-toxic paint where no chemicals were used. Paint made with no volatile organic compounds (no VOC) or low VOC works best.
Another feature that will improve a home’s air quality and create a healthier living environment is having a detached garage. People don’t realize that by purchasing a home with a garage that is detached from the house, you avoid possible exhaust emissions that can enter the home from the garage and contaminate the air you breathe in your home.
One of the most impressive green features a home can have is a product called Techshield, which looks like an ordinary piece of plywood with aluminum foil on one side. This plywood is called OSB board, which is an engineered wood panel. The aluminum side provides a radiant barrier which is laid along the roof line. It is designed to reflect the sun’s warmth and thereby reduces the amount of natural sun heat entering the home. It will certainly keep the living areas cooler and the HVAC costs lower, and should save the homeowner hundreds of dollars in Atlanta’s sweltering summers.
In fact, you may not need to turn the air conditioning on at all during some of the summer days. That’s how good it is. On a performance scale, it definitely gets an A+ and a letter of referral.
Buyers hoping to invest in a green home should also look for things like a wood burning fireplace which can be used to cost-effectively heat the home during the winter months. Other basic items which will help you operate your home more efficiently are ceiling fans, compact fluorescent lights, low flow faucets and shower heads, low flush toilets, programmable thermostats, insulation on pipes leading to the hot water heater (or a tankless water heater), a heat pump or other high efficiency system, higher than normal insulation in the attic and laundry room, as well as in the ceiling, floor and wall cavities, and low E windows and doors.
Also, be sure to ask what the home’s HERS Rating is. HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System. It is determined after an analysis of the home’s construction plans and on-site inspections, and after tests for leakiness in the ducts and leakiness in the home are conducted. Each point below 100 scored by the home corresponds to a 1% reduction in energy consumption. A HERS rating of 76 means the house is 24% more efficient than the standard HERS reference home.
Exterior Green Benefits
Living green means choosing a healthier lifestyle. That means the eco-friendly benefits of your home do not stop at the back door. They carry on outdoors. If a home is Intown, and close to a variety of amenities – libraries, parks and other entertainment – and it has the advantage of easy access to the expressway and all parts of the city – and if it’s walk-friendly – close to dining and public transit – then the home provides extra green benefits. Exterior green points are awarded, because it saves the homeowner the cost of gas and reduces environmental emissions. The more places you can walk to from your home, the better.
Use It Again
If the yard has a smaller footprint than what you would typically find, there is less grass to cut and less water needed to make the landscaping thrive. By recycling leftover materials on site during the construction process, the home reduces waste, enriches the soil and sends a lot less to the landfills.
Take Our Word For It
All green homes will not contain each and every one of these items. As mentioned earlier, builders have the right to choose which green items they will incorporate into a home’s design. But if a home is truly green, it will contain a good number of these items. Some homes will even contain much more extensive greening like solar panels, geothermal energy, and even green rooftops. There are many more green features to choose from depending on how far up the green tree (and money tree) you want to travel.
Any home constructed according to Energy Star guidelines and certified by independent third party inspection and testing programs like Earthcraft House or LEEDS will provide the homeowner with immediate savings. Reduced energy bills and water savings are a doubly attractive benefit for home buyers in today’s economy.
If you are not certain whether or not a home meets the official green test, be sure to ask to see the stamp of approval from a third party certification program like EARTHCRAFT House or LEEDS. They have already done the work for you and determined that the home in question is certified green.
The next time you go looking at homes, take this checklist with you. If you are lucky enough to find a place that attracts your eye and fits your needs, and it also happens to be green built, snatch it up and be proud to call it ‘home’. As an extra bonus, you will enjoy substantial energy and utility savings and will also enjoy a healthier daily living environment. Be prepared to pay a little bit extra up front for your green home. There are some added costs involved in making a home energy efficient. But those costs are mitigated by utility savings, energy tax credits, and fewer visits to the doctor. In the long run – you win!