What to look for in a Green Home

What to look for in a Green Home

How do you define a ‘green’ home?
If want to buy a green home, the first thing you should do is ask yourself why, says David Bergman, who teaches green architecture at Parsons The New School for Design in New York and wrote the book "Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide."

"It's an important question because people tend to buy a green home for one of three reasons, and while each of those reasons overlap somewhat, they do determine what the buyer really means by green."

According to Bergman, green can be as simple as saving on energy costs, which means buyers will want to focus on energy-efficient appliances, weatherproof windows and good insulation.

Alternatively, some buyers define green in personal health terms, so they want a home that uses nontoxic materials. For these buyers, even seemingly innocuous carpeting is a big deal, because carpets can be a nightmare for people with allergies.

Last, some buyers define green as contributing to a sustainable future. For those buyers, Bergman says, it's often important to look for building materials that are locally sourced and sustainable.

If you're serious about looking at green homes, you should work with an agent who sells green, Turner says.

"There are a lot of little things you'll see in a green home that are different," Turner says. "So it's helpful to have an agent who's worked in that part of the market."

Referrals are one of the best ways to find an agent who specializes in green. But it's not the only way, according to Turner, who advises buyers to look for green real estate tours in their area.

"I got up to speed on green by spending several years in a group that toured local green homes," Turner says. "The group was free and open to Realtors as well as the general public."

It's also possible to find a broker or real estate agent with green certification. Earth Advantage is one popular certification authority. But it's important to remember that there isn't a standardized national certification. Plenty of brokers know green, even if they don't have the credentials. Likewise, it's important to research the certifying authority, because the mere presence of a certificate doesn't necessarily mean the real estate agent is an expert.

Look for the signs of a green home
Are you looking at a truly green home? Finding the answer could be more complex than you might think.

According to Bergman, buyers can usually tell quite a bit about a home just by looking at the appliances (Energy Star is a big plus), the windows (double pane), and the heating and air-conditioning system. But to learn about the insulation -- which can make a big difference on the utility bill -- buyers will often have to ask or rely on an energy audit, which could run about $500.

"Asking to see past utility bills is an option," Bergman says, "but the bill won't tell you everything you need to know about energy efficiency because human behavior is such a big factor."

Likewise, it's a good idea for buyers to ask about documentation on green features. But they shouldn't be surprised or dissuaded if the seller can't provide paperwork.

"The certification process for a lot of green features may not be standardized yet, but if it's there, it's a good idea to use it," Turner says.

Discern the home’s relation to the land
One often-overlooked aspect of buying a green home is the property, says Cassy Aoyagi, owner of FormLA Landscaping in Los Angeles.

"A green home isn't just a green structure, it's a home that makes the best use of the land," Aoyagi says. "Asking simple questions like which direction the home is oriented toward can tell you a lot about the home's green credentials."

The house's orientation determines how much sun exposure it gets, which affects heating and air-conditioning use. Likewise, it's important to understand the prevailing winds, because they affect the temperature inside the home.

Outside, Aoyagi says buyers should also pay attention to the landscaping. If it's dominated by non-native plants, that should raise alarms for green buyers.

"In some parts of the country, water is a serious issue, so non-native plants are going to raise your costs and make it harder to be green," Aoyagi says. "But no matter where you are, there's always the issue of maintenance, which costs money and uses energy. Sustainable landscaping is about understanding how to pick plants and trees that don't need the same maintenance as a lawn."


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Dated: April 23rd 2013
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