Green Home Buying Guide
The folks at Total Mortgage Services LLC put together this basic guide to green home buying, and thought it would be a good fit for our website. We agree!
The Total Guide: Green Home Buying
As the dominant species on this planet, human beings owe a duty of care to future generations to preserve and protect our environment to the best of our ability. We understand that it’s tough to make time to save the environment when we hold full time jobs, raise families, and attempt to maintain some sort of a social life. However, it is very possible to live a green life without major sacrifice.
Through green home buying and renovations, anyone can transform their home into an energy efficient, money saving machine. The green home was designed to minimize environmental footprints, while still preserving a comfortable and healthy indoor living environment.
A Win-Win Situation
With all of the variables considered, it’s initially more energy efficient to purchase an existing home. This is the case because it preserves natural resources that would be needed to build a new home. In addition, you would avoid disturbing the preexisting neighborhood with construction. On the flip side, building a new, energy efficient home, would allow you to focus on specific green features that would fit your lifestyle. While a green home often costs more money up front, the money that you’ll save over time in utilities will be substantial. With both your wallet and the environment benefiting from owning a green home, there are still decisions that need to be made, in order to make sure that a green home is the right home for you.
Traditionally Americans have believed that “bigger is better.” Recently we have started to reexamine this belief. Take a step back and consider how the layout of your home fits your needs. Do you really need all of that open, unused space? A well designed, smaller home will help you to save money by cutting down on your utility bills, as well as save energy that would otherwise be going to waste.
Your lifestyle, finances, and job will have a significant impact on where you decide to live. If you live for the social scene, quick and easy access to restaurants, shops, sporting events, may cause you to choose a city rather than a rural area. This will help to prevent the excess use of your automobile, and its emissions of green house gases. In addition to your lifestyle, you will also want to research the state of the housing market in the area where you are looking to live. This can help to give you an idea of the current costs, and future worth of your house.
Home Site & Landscaping
If you’re planning on building a new home, the exact site and orientation are very important. You might choose to orient thermally efficient windows to the south for maximum solar gain in the winter, with overhangs to keep out the summer sun. Or, you may opt to retain the surrounding trees and vegetation so as to minimize the impact you have on the surrounding environment. Keeping trees, especially those to the south and west of the home, will help to provide natural shade on hot summer days. You may also want to consider looking into site irrigation to help preserve the water quality of your property. Rain gardens are useful for keeping your property healthy and recycling the use of water.
It’s common sense that reducing the water flow in and out of your home will help save you money and ensure that there is enough water for other people and wildlife. You can do this by using Energy Star rated washers, and low flow shower and faucet heads. High efficiency, dual flush toilets only use 1.28 gallons of water per flush, so they are another product to consider when building your green home.
Homes that waste energy also waste money. Energy efficient homes will be well insulated and nearly airtight. Energy Star rated heat equipment, appliances, and light fixtures will help as well. Efficient gas and electric hot water heaters will curtail energy costs as well as the expulsion of greenhouse gases. Nationwide, energy use is responsible for over 20% of CO2 emissions, so while you’re saving money you will also be saving the environment.
Healthy Indoor Living
You always want to feel comfortable in your home. Moisture problems can be solved with foundation waterproofing, grading that slopes away from the house, and installing proper flashing around the windows and doors. A well ventilated home will keep the moisture levels below that which produces mold. Another tip to consider is to use carpeting selectively. Carpets trap dust, dander, and other pollutants that can be harmful to you and your family.
The Energy Rating System
Energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly homes and appliances are rated in Washington using one of three methods. If a home or appliance isn’t certified then it won’t necessarily save you any money in utilities, in taxes, or use less energy.
- Built Green - This is a Residential Green Building Program with a rating criterion for single-family homes, condominiums, remodeled homes, and housing developments. The ratings range from two to five stars. To attain a four or five star rating, the home needs to be audited by a third party.
- Energy Star - This is an initiative that improves the energy efficiency of new homes. In order to be Energy Star approved, the home or appliance must be tested by a third party.
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - LEED is a national green building certification system that addresses single-family homes, town houses, and larger condo buildings. LEED certifies buildings for new construction. Third party certifiers award LEED ratings of certified, silver, gold, and platinum.
Useful Tips & Terms for Green Homebuyers
There are numerous options to consider when tinkering with the layout of your home in order to make it greener. Here are a few possible green adjustments to consider as you’re building or remodeling your home.
- Advanced House Framing - This is otherwise known as optimum value engineering. When you’re building a house with a wooden frame, this method uses only the required amount of lumber, which results in less waste and use of resources. This is possible because installation material is used in place of the lumber in certain places. The installation material also helps to make the house more energy efficient.
- Drip Irrigation - This is a watering system that consists of underground tubes with holes placed at strategic intervals for the maximum hydration of gardens and flowerbeds. Miniscule amounts of water are lost to evaporation because this system allows for the water to get right to the roots of the vegetation. This method is also an efficient replacement for the common sprinkler.
- Green Roofing - Green roofing replaces the shingles on your roof with soil and plants. This type of roof is only viable on smaller, single-family homes, but it provides superior installation, absorbs harmful CO2 chemicals and creates oxygen.
- Pervious Concrete - Unlike standard concrete, pervious concrete is so porous that rainwater passes right through it so it can become ground water, rather than wasted water that runs off into a sewer.
- Solar Electricity Generation (Photovoltaics) - This is an approach that employs an array of photovoltaic modules on the roof or on a ground rack to convert solar energy into electricity. With the proper climate and array, all of the needs of a home with lower to moderate energy usage may be supplied by the sun. Building-Integrated Photovoltaic modules are designed to also serve as shingles. Battery backup can be added for instant power during blackouts.
- Solar Heating Systems - Solar thermal collectors can be mounted on the roof or on a ground rack, and can both pre-heat domestic hot water and circulate hot water to in-floor radiant heating systems. Each room can be an individually controlled "zone," and many systems are controlled by smart thermostats or even via the internet. Solar hot air systems are available for existing homes that were not oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating through Low-E windows.
- Wind Turbines - If you live in an open and windy area, a wind turbine could be an option. While they are relatively expensive and require proper zoning permission, wind turbines (at a location with a good wind resource) can help to lower the cost of your energy bills as well as decrease your dependency on traditional sources of electricity. Battery backup can be added for instant power during blackouts. Most wind systems are "hybrids" that also include solar electric generation.
- Daylighting - This is a low tech method of strategically placing windows, skylights, and light tubes throughout your home so that you can maximize the amount of natural light, and minimize the amount of artificial light in your home.
- Low E-Windows - Low E-Windows are appropriate for any climate. They are coated with layers of microscopic metallic oxide that provide excellent insulation. The outer panels of the window prevent heat from entering the home in warmer climates, and the inner panels trap heat in the home if you live in a colder climate.
- Compact Fluorescent and LED light bulbs - These light bulbs last up to ten times longer, use 85% less energy, and generate 90% less heat than standard light bulbs. The only downside to these bulbs is that they contain small traces of mercury in them, so they could be dangerous if broken and there are young children in the house. Additionally, there may be long-term disposal issues with CFLs. These same issues also exist for traditional flourescent lights, which are also extremely efficient. The new LED bulbs are about as efficient as CFLs, with none of the mercury hazards, but are more expensive.
- Energy Efficient Mortgages - If you are interested in purchasing or building an energy efficient home, then you may be able to qualify for an energy efficient mortgage. This special type of mortgage allows you to credit energy efficient features of the home to the actual mortgage. This could help reduce your loan payments while cutting your impact on the environment.
One final thing to consider when you are searching or preparing to build your green home is hiring a green realtor. These specialty realtors have experience in dealing with everything we discussed in this guide. A competent green realtor will also conduct an energy audit of your home, so that you will know what areas need adjustments.
When you go green, everyone wins. It seems that the one major reason why more people don’t participate in greener living, is because humans in general, are creatures of habit. We are accustomed to doing things a certain way, and we either fear change or have a difficult time finding the benefits of changing. By switching over to a greener lifestyle, you can save your hard earned money for something other than hefty utility bills, and that is something worth changing for.