Why Buy A Green Home
Green Homes cost more... I will never recoup the higher costs in energy savings... Local builders here are not building green yet... Green is a west-coast thing...
I know the arguments for not pursuing a green home when it comes time to buy your Charlotte home. What you need to know is the answers to these statements have changed in the last few years. Green certified homes like Energy Star are being built all over the Charlotte region, and many builders have started certifying ALL their new homes. In many cases, you will pay little if any extra to have a green home. And the energy savings are real and the payback times reasonable. Most new home builders selling certified green homes have them tested for energy efficiency before you close and provide the results to you.
The best place to start to familiarize yourself with energy-efficient construction is with the available green building certification programs. There are six widely recognized certification programs that you will run across in the Charlotte market. Each has it's own focus but all offer buyers an opportunity to buy a green home with the comfort of knowing the construction met strict standards:
EnergyStar is by far the most widely utilized program by area builders. To earn this certification, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are typically 20-30% more efficient than standard homes. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) packages and Lighting packages can also be available in some instances.
EarthCraft is a residential green building program started by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association in partnership with Southface. Homes with this certification have spread throughout the southeast, including Charlotte. This program serves as a blueprint for energy- and resource -efficient homes.
The Environments For Living certification provides a rigorous set of requirements for home builders, treating the home as a "system of systems" that work together, with limited guarantees on comfort and heating/cooling energy use. It's Certified Green program adds even more benefits in areas like indoor environmental quality and indoor water conservation.
LEED for Homes is a rating system that promotes the design and construction of high-performance green homes. They use less energy, water and natural resources, create less waste, and are more durable and comfortable for occupants that standard construction.
Through the National Green Building Program, the National Association of Home Builders has set a standard to help its members move the practice of green building into the mainstream. Energy efficiency, water and resource conservation, sustainable or recycled products, and indoor air quality addressed in this certification.
The NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program provides a certificate for homes meeting "green home guidelines" built by builders who practice sustainable, high performance building strategies making the home a comfortable, healthy and affordable place that reduces energy and water usage, promotes renewable energy use and helps protect the land where the home is built.
Home energy ratings are performed on new and existing homes to evaluate each home's energy performance. They are also performed on new homes to verify qualification for all the green certification programs above. Existing homes may benefit from energy ratings by identifying cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements for the home before or after purchase. The results of the tests are scored from 0-100 in the Home Energy Rating System (HERS). The lower the score, the more energy efficient the home will be... EnergyStar homes must score at least an 85 in Charlotte's climate zone. Test methods include a "blower door" test, a HVAC duct test to determine if they leak air, and optionally infra red photography techniques.
Additionally, home energy ratings are utilized by many financial institutions to qualify homes for energy-efficient mortgages. If you are serious about saving money on energy bills and indoor air quality, working with a qualified home energy rater to get your own audit performed before a purchase is essential.
Solar may be the first thing people identify with green or renewable. Using energy from the sun to raise the efficiency of a home's systems and r utility bills is becoming increasingly popular. Solar technologies are finding their place in green homes for sale in the Charlotte area. They come in two flavors: active systems and passive techniques.
The most utilized active solar application is to heat domestic water. Solar water heating systems include storage tanks and solar collectors. To read more about solar water heating, use this Dept. of Energy site. To learn about available incentive and rebate programs, check this database as well as this EPA site. Active solar applications do not stop at heating water. Although less prevalent in the Charlotte area, they include smart roofs that incorporate photovoltaics and space heating and cooling systems to maintain whole-house temperatures. Visit this site by the American Solar Energy Society to learn more.
The main elements of simple passive solar design in a green home in Charlotte would include a unobstructed southern exposure for a broad side of the home, the proper types and size of windows in that side, and oversized eaves above these windows calculated to block summer sun but allow winter sun. Optimal passive solar designs can shave significant costs from heating and cooling bills.
Passive solar designs are easiest to implement at the planning and design stages of a new home. However, existing buildings may be quite easy to retrofit with passive solar improvements.
There is no "cookie-cutter" or "one-size-fits-all" solution to passive solar design, as good solutions will be tailored to specific latitudes. A design that works well in Minnesota is not a design that would work well here in Charlotte. Roof overhangs, for example, are designed specifically for your latitude mindful of prevailing wind direction and other climatic features specific to location.
Although Solar may grab the headlines, Geothermal heating systems probably represent the most exciting opportunity to make homes green, save real money long-term, increase indoor comfort, and change the way we heat and cools homes in this country of any technology out there. In new green home construction, they should always be considered if they suite the building plan. We are even seeing some in the Charlotte area in conventional resale home situations.
They take advantage of the earth's nearly constant temperature, around 60 degrees below the frost line in the Charlotte area, to heat and cool buildings. They work by pumping water and a refrigerant under the ground to be heated or cooled by the earth and then pumped back through piping in the house. In the winter, the earth is used as a heat source, and in the summer as a heat sink. These systems are effective in any climate. The systems pollute less than traditional fuel-burning systems and are about three times more efficient. They are also more efficient than conventional heat pumps because water can transfer a greater amount of heat than air. Geothermal system components can last up to 50 years since parts are installed indoors or underground instead of outdoors.
Geothermal systems reduce the probability of a fire or carbon monoxide leak in a home because they do not require any combustion. Another huge benefit is the reduction of pollution. According to the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium, geothermal systems reduce CO2 emissions by about 1.1 million metric tons over 20 years, which is "the equivalent of converting about 58,700 cars to zero-emission vehicles, or planting more than 120,000 acres of trees." Geothermal systems have the EPA ENERGY STAR® label, which not only indicates that using these systems benefits the health of our planet, but also that there may be incentives associated with installing the system, such as tax benefits or lower mortgages. Geothermal systems are also better at controlling relative humidity in buildings compared with other systems.And Geothermal systems are very popular among people who have used them. In fact, 95 percent of people who have installed these systems would recommend them to others.
Don't forget to properly control the green systems in your home for peak savings, comfort and convenience. Did you know that properly using a programmable thermostat in your home is one of the easiest ways you can save energy and money? An EnergyStar-qualified programmable thermostat helps make it easy for you to save by offering four pre-programmed settings to regulate your home's temperature in both summer and winter... when you are asleep or away.
The average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills; nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. Homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings. The pre-programmed settings are intended to deliver savings without sacrificing comfort.
Most everyone knows that you can save energy by turning off lights when they're not needed. But sometimes we forget or don't notice that we've left lights on. Lighting controls can be used to automatically turn lights on and off as needed, preventing energy waste. Some Charlotte green builders use a systems approach to lighting including dimmers, motion sensors, occupancy sensors, photosensors and timers. Even more elaborate systems integrate HVAC, lighting, irrigation, home theatre and other home systems into one centralized system.
The performance of insulation in all areas of the home in preventing heat gain and loss through R-value is still a core element in green buildings. Newer technologies have added moisture control, effective sound insulation, and superior air leak control to the mix of capabilities. One of these catching on in the Charlotte market for green homes is Icynene. A 100% water-blown, expanding foam, it provides superior R-values and a continuous moisture barrier. Not to be confused with the old foam insulation products of the past like urea formaldehyde that caused problems with off-gasing of potentially irritating fumes, Icynene is healthy, safe and green.
Other good products out there like blown recycled cellulose insulation are good to know about and look for. Newer weatherstripping techniques and the R-value of other siding and roofing materials are also important. All can potentially improve the indoor air quality, comfort, and utility cost of your next home.
Windows and doors work hand-in-hand with your home's insulation to provide a proper thermal envelope. While both are important considerations, windows are of special concern as you have more square footage of them on your home's exterior than you do door space. Typical walls in homes are insulated to a level of R-11 to R-19, yet a single pane of standard glass has an insulating value of about R-1. In other words, heat can leak out of, or into, a building about 11 to 19 times more easily through glass than through the wall. This is why your grandparents insisted on installing "storm" windows for the winter - to boost window-insulating value to R-2, or perhaps R-2.5 with a good seal and tightly trapped air between the panes.
In the Charlotte area, green builders are using energy-efficient windows with specially developed E-glass, making them much more effective at keeping heat and cold where you want them. Argon gas and special coatings are also used. Most progressive window manufacturers offer several lines of energy efficient glass with "R" values in excess of R-4. New designs still in laboratory development promise R-values of 10 or more. There are also EnergyStar rated windows that can be used in the construction of that green building program.
Did you know that double-hung windows are among the least energy efficient but most often used in residential construction? Charlotte green builders are experimenting with awning and casement styles that do a better job of sealing out air leaks. They are also consulting with architects to help orient windows with seasonal sun exposure in mind, taking advantage of passive solar benefits to further boast the home's energy efficiency.
Because of the area's expansive clay soils and relatively high water tables in many places, you will find that crawl spaces dominate the home foundation landscape in the Charlotte area. But almost all leave the dirt floor uncovered and vent the foundation walls to the outside. This is a recipe for moisture problems, mold, wood rot and an environment that invites wood-destroying pests! It can also be a major contributor to low indoor air quality (IAQ) and higher heating and cooling bills. Gallons of moisture each day can rise through the home making it uncomfortable and unhealthy.
Today's green home will insulate and "encapsulate" the crawl space, covering the crawl floor with durable poly and sealing it along the foundation walls, up the support piers, and around any floor penetrations. When proper insulation and/or conditioning air from the HVAC system are added to the mix, you have a healthy and energy efficient solution that keeps humidity low, denies mold the chance to grow, lowers utility bills, and can increase indoor air quality. Try this site on sealed crawls for more helpful info. The Dept. of Energy also maintains this site on the subject.
In additional to not loosing your conditioned air to the outside and to lowering your utility bills, one of the other goals of green construction is to raise the indoor air quality of your home. The main point to stress when considering Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in today's green homes centers around the number of times an hour you "turn" or recycle the home's indoor air through the ventilation system. Ideally, you introduce outside air in the process. Controlling moisture while doing this is the key to controlling both mold and dust mites, neither of which do well below 50% relative humidity.
One of the best green construction practices of the day in relation to IAQ includes adding an energy-recovery ventilator (ERV) to the homes ventilation system to recover energy from conditioned air from the inside, saving on heating or cooling costs while you introduce unconditioned outside air. These devices also exchange moisture, keeping more inside in the winter when indoor humidity has a tendency to drop, and removing moisture during the summer.
HEPA filtering of conditioned air is even staring to make it's way into some green home construction, offering the highest air filtration rates of any technology. The EnergyStar green building certification program now offers an IAQ package and many Charlotte builders are on board.
While considering IAQ, let's spend a moment on low-VOC materials inside the home. Recent EPA studies estimate indoor air quality to be 3 to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air largely caused by toxic emissions of paints and finishes known as volatile organic compounds (VOC's). Paint manufacturers realized the need to develop paint that contains lower VOC yet maintain high levels of performance and durability ultimately causing less of an impact on air quality then higher VOC paints.
The use of low-VOC materials and techniques to reduce "off-gassing" or the release of harmful fumes from building products are becoming more common in the Charlotte green housing market. Materials of concern are not limited to paints, but include carpets, caulks, sealants, and adhesives. Using the proper products from the start, allowing time for carpets to air-out before installation, and proper home ventilation are keys when considering indoor air quality.
Artificial lighting consumes almost 15% of a household's electricity use. Use of new lighting technologies can reduce lighting energy use in homes by 50%–75%. Adoption of new lighting technologies is central in today's green construction and Charlotte area builders are following the trend.
Chief among these are compact florescent lights (CFL's). They are very energy efficient, last a long time, have come down a lot in price, and many carry an EnergyStar rating. Some new homes are incorporating lighting control systems with sensors or timers to automate and further reduce energy usage.
Another interesting and effective product popping up in Charlotte homes are Solatubes. These light pipes that conduct sunlight from rooftop collectors offer one of the easiest and most affordable ways to bring daylight into windowless rooms that need more light. Don't forget natural daylighting... Charlotte green builders are also consulting with architects to maximize year-round daylighting opportunities.
It is said that water could be the next oil... a scarce resource in the future with higher prices to match. Look no further than the tiered water pricing strategy of Char-Meck Utilities instituted since the 2007 drought as evidence. If you irrigate your lawn or have a family with higher usage patterns, it makes since to incorporate water conservation into your next Charlotte green home.
Some of the green certification programs in new homes address water usage and a few are popping here in the Charlotte market. In new and existing construction, it makes since to look for low-flow shower heads... they can save up to $265 a year. Dishwashers that use less water or are EnergyStar rated, low-flow toilets, aerators in any water faucet, new front-load clothes washers, rain barrels... all of these can add up to significant water usage and utility cost reductions.
Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping, designed to conserve water, with slow-growing drought-tolerant plants. Xeriscapes generally require less fertilization, pesticides, and irrigation as compared to more traditional landscaping. The slower growing plants used require less maintenance, saving time and energy and producing less waste in the form of clippings. These create the additional benefit of saving the homeowner money as well. Some Charlotte green builders are incorporating these landscaping techniques from the start or will accommodate your requests during the new construction process.
Other landscaping issues to consider are strategically placed trees for shade or windbreaks as well as traditional buffers. Smaller lawn areas in relation to total lot size can also lower maintenance costs and environmental impact.
There may even be green financing available for your home purchase or upgrades! Energy-efficient mortgages (EEM's) are a beneficial, if not under-utilized, way for consumers to finance their green home purchases in the Charlotte market. Energy-efficient financing programs require that the borrower have an energy rating on the home they intend to buy. A rating typically involves an inspection by a professional energy rater who is certified under a nationally or state accredited home energy rating system (HERS). Homes with Energy Star or other green certified building programs may also qualify buyers for the benefits of these financing programs.
If you have questions on these subjects or if green is an area of interest in your home purchase, then contact me to discuss available options in the Charlotte market. You can also request to have green home listings sent to you via email to start to get a feel for what is available in your price range. As one of the areas first certified EcoBrokers, I am here to help with your next green real estate transaction.