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Green Simplified

Article highlights:

- How to get started with a green a home
- Three major green building programs
- Cost benefits of an energy-efficient home

Getting Started

With more than 70 green building programs in the United States, choosing the one is quite simple: Choose the one that is right for you. Each program offers different levels of eco-friendly building that appeal to people of varying incomes. But before you get started, it may help to answer a very basic question: What makes a home environmentally friendly and energy-efficient?

A newly constructed green home should start with design. It encompasses the home's size, lot orientation, land development, use of its surroundings and waste generated during construction. Renovations and remodeled homes, however, are more likely to begin with size concerns and building materials. Green homes are resource-efficient, generating less construction waste and are often constructed from recycled materials. These specialized homes opt for water and energy efficiency, further reducing your utility bills. The indoor air quality in a green home is typically healthier than that of a traditionally built home. And finally, green homes are easier to operate because they run more efficiently. Where do I start?

The first item on the agenda to going green is to select an architect and or builder certified as a green expert by a relevant agency. Think of it in terms of choosing a laundry detergent: No matter what color the bottle and the price, what matters is that it performs its duty. This professional will work with you to determine how you want to develop a green lifestyle. It entails more than just installing green products and using green building systems.

Ask yourself, what green practices appeal to you most. Do you want to focus on energy efficiency and water savings or eco-friendly building and design practices? Are you more concerned with indoor air quality and native landscaping? If you can't forego your daily 20-minute showers, choose options like low-flow plumbing fixtures and tankless water heaters. The former minimizes the number of gallons pumped out on a per-minute basis; the latter don't require frequent turnover to provide hot water, and a homeowner doesn't have to wait for the water to heat up to simply wash her hands.

The major players

The three major green building programs available in the U.S. are: the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) new green home building program and the government-sponsored ENERGY STAR® program. The guidelines of these programs apply to new construction and existing homes. The major programs offer numerous categories with sliding scales in which the certified professional earns points. The more points you earn, the deeper your shade of green.

Take for example the NAHB program, which offers three levels of eco-friendly building depending on how many total points you earn: bronze, silver and gold. Each level comprises seven categories:

  • Lot design, preparation and development, between 8 and 12 points
  • Resource efficiency, 44 to 77 points
  • Energy efficiency, 37 to 100 points
  • Water efficiency, 6 to 19 points
  • Indoor environmental quality, 32 to 72 points
  • Operation, maintenance and homeowner education, 7 to 9 points
  • Global impact, 3 to 6 points

The certified professional then accumulates an additional 100 points spread among the categories. Inventiveness is highly rewarded.

Green vs. traditional

One of the most common myths of green building is that it's always more expensive. That's not necessarily true. It may cost more upfront, but the paybacks have repeatedly been proven. Having the home certified as green by a third-party verifier may indeed raise the cost, but Realtors are increasingly recommending their clients do so for the increased resale value. For instance, in the St. Louis and Seattle areas, MLS listings now say whether a home is LEED-certified, because Realtors have found that buyers want green; therefore, green houses sell for more. Green is the new black when it comes to home owning.

A study released earlier this year by McGraw-Hill Construction and the U.S. Green Building Council found that 56 percent of those surveyed who had bought green homes earn less than $75,000 per year and 30 percent earn less than $50,000. The median price of green homes in the survey was $239,000, while 30 percent of the green homes cost less than $200,000. More than 50 percent of green homes cost "about the same" as a comparable non-green home, and 20 percent cost less, according to the findings in the survey.

It's also imperative to consider the savings on monthly utility bills as well as local, state and federal tax incentives that defray at least part of the cost, especially for green work done to existing homes. Now, ask yourself this, if green homes truly cost more, how could the non-profit Habitat for Humanity and other affordable housing agencies and builders and developers switch their entire building process over to the green side?

Building "Green" is not only the right thing to do, it's good business. When it comes to the environment, actions you take can benefit your neighborhood directly, as well as help improve the planet overall.

Wondering how green your home is? Find out by using the NAHB's green scoring tool. If you want to find green solutions to common home problems, check out ENERGY STAR®.

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