August 3, 2009 – Vol.14 No.20
BUY OR BUILD YOUR DREAM GREEN HOME NOW.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
In the U.S., home sales are up a fraction over last month, but way down compared with last year. Prices have ticked up a bit, according to news reports, but are still down compared with a few years ago. The real estate market may have hit bottom, but it’s probably too soon to tell. Unemployment is still on the rise. If people don’t have jobs they won’t be buying houses real soon. And the outlook isn’t great: towards the end of the year the $8000 tax credit for first time home-buyers expires. This will cut into sales at a time of the year when home sales are slow anyway.
Still, with unemployment at nearly 10 percent, 90 percent are employed and if they feel secure in their jobs it’s a great time to buy a new home or even have one built. It’s also a great time to build a green home. (Given the long-term problems with conventional energy and its impact on the planet, is there any other type of home to build?)
Here are some thoughts on buying or building a greener domicile:
--- Moving to a smaller home should cut your energy consumption whether the home is older, built in recent decades, or brand new. Less interior space means less interior space to heat or cool. There would certainly be some exceptions to this rule – a very old, poorly insulated cottage could gobble up more energy than a new McMansion – but for the most part, smaller means less energy required;
--- When buying an existing home careful attention must be made to insulation, windows, doors, heating and cooling equipment. Moving to a newer home generally means less energy consumed. Insulation in newer homes, say those built in the last few decades, is far superior to what was installed prior to the 1970’s or so. Further, originally installed windows, doors, heating and cooling systems are more efficient in newer homes than in old. However, an older home could have had renovations and energy improvements that could surpass those in the newer home. Do some investigation. Hire an expert if necessary;
--- Where a home is planted relative to its community center and public transit directly affects overall energy consumption. One of the best ways to cut energy consumption and its environmental impacts mean leaving the car in the driveway and walking. Being able to walk or bicycle to stores, to restaurants, or to mass transit connections should make a noticeable dent in overall energy consumption.
The real estate search website Zillow includes a Walk Score (tm) rating for many of the listed properties. According to that service, “Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle—not how pretty the area is for walking.” Walk Score is a number between 0 and 100. Ratings go from car-dependant to highly-walkable in a range of 1 - 100. The highest scores are a Walkers' Paradise. The site also gives a map view of available, walkable services;
--- There are certainly large numbers of homes on the market: new, existing and those in foreclosure. So it may seem silly to build a new house with so many bargains available. However, few, it’s safe to say, are really green homes, so that means building your own. The slowness in the home market also means slowness in the unimproved property market. The same bargains available for homes should translate into bargains for buildable lots. Real estate listings available through multiple listing services may not list lots for for sale. Check websites like Craigslist, Zillow, Foreclosure.com, major bank websites and local newspapers (even on the web). But in the end you may just have to visit communities and drive around a bit and look for “For Sale” signs;
--- If new is the choice, consider a modular home over a stick-built, built-on-site home. In style and design, modular homes have advanced considerably since the days when modular homes were travel trailers with their wheels taken off. Now it’s hard to tell the difference between modular and built-on-site. Considering greenness and build quality, modular homes might win out over stick-built.
A browse of modular homes on the web showed that nearly all modular home manufacturers of wooden homes offered green credentials such as thicker than standard walls for high insulation values. Further, since they have to be shipped on bumpy roadways at high speeds, modular homes must be tough, too. Most modular homes are available fully completed on the inside: There can be no cracking of walls and ceilings as they make their way down the turnpike. They must be strong;
--- A new home, modular or stick built, can be built with the most highly energy efficient systems you are willing to pay for. It can also be built with a renewable energy system, wind or solar, for instance. Paying for these systems as part of the construction of the house also means including them in your mortgage: At least part of your energy bill will be in your mortgage payment.
While you’ll be paying interest, perhaps over thirty years for these systems, you’ll also be earning money from reduced energy bills. Currently there are also excellent incentives through the Feds for renewable energy systems. Many states have them as well. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE);
--- Alternative energy-efficient construction methods can also be considered, and there is a wide variety of those available, ranging from steel-framed homes to straw bale construction to SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel Systems) to geodesic domes and more. There is no shortage of information on the web as well in libraries, book and magazine stores about alternative construction. Check first with the local building department to see how local building codes apply and whether or not the department has had prior experience with any particular method;
--- Hiring an architect may not be necessary to design your dream green home. There are literally thousands of home plans available for purchase on the web. If you can’t find the perfect home after endless evenings of searching, many of the plans can be altered for a fee. Most plans seem to be available as CAD (computer aided drafting) files that can then be altered by others for more fees and possibly reengineering expenses. (To save money it’s better to stick with a store-bought plan and put up with design faults; nothing is perfect.)
Two home plan websites come to mind, HomePlans.com and Hometta. HomePlans offers thousands of plans ranging from traditional to contemporary. If cutting edge modern design is your desire, check out Hometta. Hometta, based in Houston, Texas, describes itself as “a collaborative of designers, architects, builders, writers and editors, who have banded together to rethink and improve the way residential architecture is designed and delivered today.” Some pretty wild stuff at the site; some of the homes have an emphasis on greenness.
An overvalued real estate market combined with some unregulated financial markets, along with a spike in oil prices brought on the current economic problems. It seems appropriate that low energy homes could be one of the many ways to return to financial strength both on a personal level as well as nationally and globally. For those secure enough to to take the leap to a greener home, the time seems to be now.
Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)
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