Green Homes: The Beauty and the Beast

By Christine Thompson Barbour | Energy, Green Buildings & Architecture, Green Real Estate

We know that making our homes green makes sense. Not only do we stop wasting so much money on utility bills, we positively impact our health and do our part to reduce our footprint on the planet. There’s also the potential for the increased value of green homes and a lower default risk.  Most importantly, we surround ourselves with comfort – the very definition of home. So, why don’t we make our homes greener?

Basic Building Blocks for Green Homes 

Let me back up a bit and state that I think green homes start with energy efficiency and end with behavior, or how you live in your home. Energy efficiency is both a measurable proxy for green and one of the basic building blocks for meeting the above goals. You begin by making your home energy efficient – walls, windows, HVAC, etc. Use green products and materials to construct, remodel, and finish your home, and then you can incorporate renewable energy to make your home truly sustainable.  It ends with your behavior, which is easily measurable by tracking your utility bill, using plug-in monitoring gadgets, or using an app on your smart phone.

Carl Franklin Homes Green Extreme Zero Energy Ready Retrofit, DOE Housing Innovation Awards.

Foam insulated walls. Green extreme retrofit. Image via Carl Franklin Homes & Green Extreme Homes.

Building Energy Efficient Homes

Green is pretty straightforward in new homes. Many people assume their homes are energy efficient, according to recent studies.  And it’s true that with the increasing adoption of building energy codes, new homes are reasonably energy efficient.  Many production builders market their homes using the RESNET HERS Index.

This allows potential buyers to compare the modeled energy usage of a home that has not been lived in (as in, no utility bills) with that of other homes.  There are a number of certification programs for builders who want to differentiate their homes beyond codes such as ENERGY STAR, LEED for Homes, the Energy Department’s Zero Energy Ready Home, and Passive House.

Yet, most of us live in homes that have been around for well over 20 years.  You might have experienced drafts behind the utility outlet, or excessively hot or cold rooms in one area of your home. We’re smart people.  We know that if we air-sealed and added more insulation in the attic, put foam gaskets in the outlets, replaced our lights with LEDs, and/or upgraded our heating and cooling system, we’d see the benefits, including increased comfort.  So, again, why don’t we make our homes greener?

Carl Franklin Homes Green Extreme Zero Energy Ready Retrofit, DOE Housing Innovation Awards.

Green Homes: Affordable extreme retrofit. Image via Carl Franklin Homes & Green Extreme Homes.

Real Estate Specialized Knowledge

When we purchase existing homes, we have a lot to consider. We look for location, neighborhood, size, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms we need, maybe the style of the house and the curb appeal, and of course, the price.  It can be overwhelming.  There are enough decisions to make as it is. If you’re looking at competing homes, you might take the one with the nicer kitchen or the fantastic laundry room.

Curb Appeal

There are real estate professionals who can help us find green homes.  It’s a growing field, but there are not currently enough experts to make green a part of the equation for the average home sale.  Plus, let’s be honest, it’s an HGTV world.  Buyers expect fabulous, updated homes with curb appeal.  We see them on TV and we want them.

Home Staging

The measures that make our homes green or energy efficient are more like the Beast in the tale Beauty and the Beast – they’re really wonderful deep down if you can get past the fact that they don’t deliver instant visual gratification. When you’re selling your home, that instant visual appeal is important, which is why many agents suggest home staging to bring out the Beauty of the home.

Home Inspections

In addition to staging, sellers in our market outside of Washington, D.C., have recently been doing pre-sale home inspections so they could understand what might help their home sell faster and at a higher price.  Although each inspector would certainly find different things, the seller can anticipate what repairs a homebuyer would want, and then make decisions on where to use their resources to get their home sold.

Energy Audits

Now you have a pre-inspections and staging, or if not, you have staging advice from your savvy real estate agent on how to make your home look fresh. And what if those pre-home inspections and staging advice included energy audits?  What if you could tie all that together and, for instance, get shiny new ENERGY STAR appliances in your upgraded kitchen? How about new ENERGY STAR windows and doors that increase your home’s curb appeal?

Maybe you’d get federal tax credits or local utility rebates to help offset the cost of your attractive, comfortable green home. Maybe you could even get the home air sealed, add insulation in the attic, and can give potential buyers Home Energy Scores that would help them compare your home to less energy efficient homes on the market.

Health and Savings

Now you have everything you need to have your real estate professionals include all the green and energy efficient information in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and in the Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum, giving differentiation to the seller and a higher potential for an appropriately appraised home to the buyer. Of course, the buyer also benefits throughout their ownership by way of energy savings, health and comfort.

So, why not green your home? Would you consider combining the Beauty of refreshing or staging your home and the Beast – the wonderful benefits of greening your home that lie behind that scary face?

Featured Image: Shafraaz and Serena Kaba’s Near Net-Zero Home. Image via Green Energy Futures.

About The Author

Christine Thompson Barbour
Christine Thompson Barbour, a senior consultant with Newport Partners, has over 20 years experience in market research, residential energy efficiency program development, and marketing and communications. She enjoys designing innovative market research studies to get to the core issues. While moderating focus groups, facilitating meetings, and conducting interviews, Christine creates a comfortable environment, actively engages participants, and develops relationships. She identifies and builds upon participant strengths in order to gather pertinent information and through critical analysis develops effective strategies for product and program development and deployment. Christine is a certified Public Meeting Facilitator with the National Charrette Institute and a trained focus group moderator (RIVA). Christine is a graduate of Smith College, and has a Master of Regional Planning degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.