Where To Go for More Information
”There are many contractors who say they do green but don’t know what they’re doing,” says Johnson. To make sure that you’re not getting a builder who’s ”green” on the concept:
Contact a local or regional green building group. These organizations can be found here. They can connect you with environmental architects and builders and inform you about techniques that work well in your climate, as well as tax credits offered in your area.
Ask contractors about the criteria the follow Then request a copy of the guidelines to make sure you know what you’re in for. The U.S. Green Building Council, whose LEED rating is the gold standard for commercial green building, plans to launch a residential rating program this summer.
Meanwhile, the NAHB publishes guidelines (available at nahb.org, under Publications) that cover everything from lot preparation to water conservation; many local organizations also rate homes on a checklist of practices.
Ask to see examples of their work And talk to the homeowners to see how happy they are with the results. Most are eager to show off their home’s earth-friendly features.
Why Go Green?
Homeowners and buyers have all kinds of reasons, although these, alone and in combination, tend to be the most common:
You can save energy – and money given the astronomical rise in fuel prices in the past few years, it’s no surprise that energy efficiency is the top reason consumers choose green building these days.
Traditionally constructed homes, while far more energy-efficient than those built in past decades, can still squander a mind-boggling amount of fossil fuel. The typical house loses 15 percent to 20 percent of its heat or air-conditioning leakage from ducts alone, according to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Energy-conscious construction can significantly reduce that waste. Some of the savings come from materials that provide extra thermal resistance, such as straw-bale construction and insulated concrete forms. More can come from designs that maximize exposure to winter sun and minimize summer heat.
Green builders and remodelers also favor energy-efficient appliances and water-conserving fixtures. Energy savings from all these techniques usually pay for their higher up-front costs in two to seven years, says Elliot Johnson, an Austin architect specializing in this type of design.
Solar power is a different story. Alex Wilson, author of ”Your Green Home,” explains that panels are expensive to install and take years to recoup their costs in electricity savings. ”If you’ve done everything else you can to conserve energy, then it makes sense to look into generating your own power.”
You can save your lungs compared with outdoor air, indoor air can be two to five times more polluted, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A major cause: volatile organic compounds (VOCs) commonly found in paints, stains and glues. When these products dry, they release chemicals and continue to do so for years. This can exacerbate allergies and asthma, and cause headaches and nausea.
As a preventive measure, some homeowners opt for ”low VOC” paint, natural stains and formaldehyde-free glue, which generally cost a few dollars more per container.
Providing adequate ventilation can also improve air quality. ”Years ago the air would turn over naturally because houses were so poorly insulated, but today houses are so tightly sealed that you need to circulate fresh air”.
One solution: adding a mechanical ventilation system, which can run between $500 and $2,000.
You can help save the planet The final reason you might choose this type of construction is less practical and more philosophical: You want to leave the smallest footprint you can on the planet.
That means planning construction to minimize the waste of building materials; reducing water consumption by adding low-volume toilets or rainwater filtration systems; and working with products that are sustainable (wool carpeting, bamboo flooring, cotton insulation) or recycled (salvaged wood, steel made with reused rebar, insulation made from paper products).
Will Green Construction Methods Pay Off?
If you were to build a house as green as you possibly could, it might cost you 20 percent to 30 percent more than traditional construction. But that would imply an extreme sense of environmental duty.
There are also some significant tax credits available on the state and federal level that may help pay for improvements. You can claim a credit of up to $500 on your 1040 for installing energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs, boilers and air conditioners, for example. (Log on to ase.org and click on Consumers for more on this.)
Before you invest in these, however, you might want to consider whether your monthly utility savings and any tax breaks will pay for the added cost in a reasonable amount of time. Assuming a $400,000 house with a 6.5 percent, 30-year fixed-rate loan and $80,000 down, your monthly payment would be $2,022. Add $10,000 of energy-efficient features to that and your payment goes to $2,085.
For you to cover the higher mortgage payment and recoup the up-front costs in seven years, your monthly energy savings would have to be $182. Add $20,000 and your payment goes to $2,149 – and you’d need to save $365 monthly.
In terms of resale value, green homes have come a long way. These days most do not telegraph their eco-friendly features; from the outside they look like any other house on the block. You won’t necessarily get a huge premium for your abode’s environmentalism, says John Bredemeyer, president of appraisal company Realcorp in Omaha, ”but it will likely sell at the upper end of the range and quicker,” as it will have something more going for it than an equivalent traditional construction.