This article was
published on: 07/01/2007
by REALTOR MAGAZINE ONLINE
Sustainability takes root
What’s New on the Green Scene
Consumers’ interest in being green has never been so
high. We bring you up to date on 15 eco-friendly home trends and must-know
terminology so you can serve their needs.
BY BARBARA BALLINGER
latest environmentally friendly home features aren’t just good for the
planet — they look great and are a huge draw for conscientious buyers, too.
From energy-efficient light bulbs to
solar-paneled roofs, consumers have gravitated to the idea that they can
help the earth by making smarter purchases and lifestyle decisions, even if
it’s not always cheap or easy. Many of these changes are happening in their
homes, thanks also to manufacturers, builders, and architects who are
encouraging green products.
What does this mean for you, a real estate
practitioner? In order to be in tune with the growing number of prospects
who seek a greener lifestyle, you should know about the latest eco-friendly
housing trends. You also should be able to understand and explain
you’ll come across as you scout green homes.
What’s Made Us So Green?
“Interest in being green has moved across the
country — it’s no longer just for wacky Californians,” says Matt Golden, who
founded Sustainable Spaces Inc. in San Francisco three years ago. The
company performs environmental audits on homes, which tests for energy
efficiency, indoor air quality, and other factors.
There are plenty of reasons why focusing on the
environment has become so popular lately. Some people thank Al Gore’s
documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Others point to a growing body of green building standards, advocated by
groups such as the National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Green
Building Council. Another factor, of course, is rising energy prices, which
has forced Americans to rethink everyday habits and purchases.
Experts say one thing’s clear: The trend isn’t
limited to one age group, demographic, or geographic area.
“Empty-nester clients like the low energy
efficiency, and younger couples gravitate because of environmental concerns
and the healthier indoor air quality,” says St. Louis builder Matt Belcher,
chairman of his local Home Builders Association’s Green Building Council.
Consumers Get What They Want
Home builders, retailers, and product
manufacturers are seeking to satisfy consumers’ appetites for anything
green, offering everything from eco-friendly condos to water-saving toilets.
Time Equities Inc.’s 62-story condo-hotel going
up at 50 West St. in downtown New York City will have solar panels on the
roof, windows that help to keep out the heat, and an energy-efficient HVAC
system that will automatically adjust cold or hot air.
“We’re even building our condo-hotel
without a garage to promote public transportation,” says Phillip Gesue, Time
Equities’ director of acquisitions and development.
Belcher predicts that in a few years green
construction will become so pervasive that the term “green” won’t even be
needed. “More manufacturers are building components for the growing market,”
he says. “It will be a standard practice.”
Trends to Know
Whether or not you specialize in selling green
homes, you’re likely to meet clients who are interested in living a more
sustainable lifestyle. Here’s a look at the green housing trends you ought
to know as you navigate today’s market.
- Copper roofs.
Copper and copper alloys, such
as brass and bronze, are showing up on roofs, entryways, facades,
gutters, and downspouts. Despite being quite pricey to purchase and
install, they’re seen as a good long-term investment because they
tolerate inclement weather. “A copper roof that’s installed properly
will last beyond 100 years versus a composition roof that may last only
30 years,” says Ken Geremia, manager of communications for the Copper
Development Association in New York City. Copper elements also can be
completely recycled, so you’ll never find them left on a site or plowed
under a foundation, says Geremia.
framing. Timber framing requires
significantly less lumber than the traditional “stick-built” housing and
almost always incorporates superior insulating panels (SIPS), which
keeps heat and air conditioning from escaping the house. There’s less
waste when large timbers are used, compared with conventional
construction that produces sawdust and waste every time a 2-by-4 stud is
planed, says Frank Baker, president of Insulspan and Riverbend Framing,
part of PFB Corp. in Calgary, Canada.
In addition, less energy is needed
to power machines and kiln dry wood because timber framing uses freshly
cut wood, he says. Timbers are prefabricated and arrive at the building
site ready to be assembled, paring construction waste. Costs vary
according to finishes selected, just as they do with stick-built
- Windows that beat the heat.
Low-emittance (Low-E) windows,
doors, and skylights offer natural light while blocking the sun’s UV
rays that heat up the inside of a home, sometimes necessitating air
conditioning. The special low-E glazing also stops the sun from fading
fabrics, wall coverings, and artwork. When shopping for low-E windows,
find out what percentage of rays are blocked by checking the UV label on
the glass, advises Rod Clark, product marketing manager for Jeld-Wen
Windows and Doors in Klamath Falls, Ore. Most low-E products block 70
percent to 90 percent. Next, examine the glass for clarity. “Most people
want glass that’s clear rather than with a slight tint or color,” he
says. Though some manufacturers may tout triple over double glazing,
Clark says it’s usually more than you’ll need.
holding tanks. Capturing
rainwater and storm runoff helps
reduce the burden on local sewer systems and captures water that can be
used in other ways, such as for watering the yard or flushing toilets.
In the National Homebuilder
a 4,000-square-foot demonstration home being completed in Raleigh, N.C.,
a rainwater cistern and detention tank system will show that 95 percent
of stormwater on a site can be recycled, reused, and absorbed. The
rainwater cistern will collect water from the roof and gutters, filter
it multiple times, and direct it to indoor plumbing, the laundry, and
the sprinkler system. Overflow from the cistern will be funneled into
inexpensive detention tanks to be absorbed gradually back into the
- Chemical-free lighting.
LED lighting (LED stands for light emitting
diodes) is a semiconductor that emits light when an electric current is
applied. One big advantage: It contains no hazardous chemicals like
other lighting does. For instance, compact fluorescents contain mercury
and incandescent bulbs have gasses that hurt the ozone layer. In
addition, an LED fixture uses 80 percent less energy than a traditional
incandescent light bulb and has the ability to last up to 20 years, says
Ron Lusk, chairman, president, and CEO of the Dallas-based Lighting
Science Group Corp., the first company to market a high-output,
dimmable, Edison-base white-LED light bulb. LED bulbs also provide
quality crisp light that shows colors in a natural palette, Lusk says.
The downside: the initial cost. A typical 40-watt LED light will run
about $39 while an incandescent light will cost $4 to $5, Lusk says. He
believes that prices will come down as more businesses and home owners
switch, as power companies offer better consumer rebates, and if the
government makes the purchase of these energy savers deductible.
toilets can boost your budget while also helping the environment. “Make
smart choices in choosing products throughout your house, and you can
save 30 percent to 50 percent on your annual water bill,” says Ori
Sivan, co-owner of Greenmaker Supply Co. in Chicago, which sells
environmentally sensitive building products and materials. New green
toilets conserve water in different ways: low-flow toilets use about
20-percent less water per flush, dual-flush toilets with two buttons
give home owners the option of flushing with a half or full tank, and
pressure-assist toilets reduce water usage by half and yield a powerful
whooshing sound, says Sivan. Toto’s
Aquia dual-flush toilet
with a soft-closing seat (pictured at right) costs $300, comparable with
other quality toilets, Sivan says.
- Solar orientation.
Face a home or an addition in the right direction and build it with the
right materials, and you’ll reduce the amount of heat and cold that
enter from the outside. That’s what home owners Ross and Tami Bannister
did with their new T-shaped farmhouse (pictured at right) in Grapevine,
Texas. They wanted the look of a 19th-century
structure, but the functions of a modern-day green structure. When
completed this September, the 2,300-square-foot house will be
project for the U.S. Department
of Energy’s Building America program. The Bannister’s farmhouse was
built near the back of its lot in a north-south direction to take
advantage of prevailing winds that come predominantly from the south.
The home has deep porches on the east and west to shade the home from
the harsh summer sun. Large pecan trees provide more sun protection. In
addition, the roof is insulated with a new DuPont product called
AtticWrap — a breathable membrane that creates an airtight seal to
reduce air leakage. The house also has low-E windows.
cooktops. Unlike traditional
cooktops that heat up the cooking surface, the coils of an induction
cooktop release their energy directly to the pot or pan and its
contents. That means less energy is diffused in the cooking processes.
It also means that the cooktop surface remains cool to the touch, making
it less likely that cooks or kids will burn themselves, says Amir Girgis,
managing director of
Diva de Provence,
a company that first produced induction cooktops for restaurants and has
manufactured them for home chefs since 2002. The company’s 30-inch and
36-inch cooktops will be joined by a 36-inch induction range this fall.
The technology still is more expensive than comparable quality electric
and gas appliances, though home owners should see energy bills
eventually drop. Cooks also must use pots and pans with a ferrous metal
base, says Girgis.
- Geothermal heating and cooling.
Instead of using a traditional
furnace that heats or cools air and emits carbon monoxide during the
process, geothermal pumps are filled with water and glycol and rely on
the earth as a heat exchanger. In winter, the system sends warm air into
rooms; in summer, it brings cool air. Though the initial cost is twice
as much as a traditional heating and cooling system, the payback comes
five years down the road when you start reaping the benefits of much
lower heating and cooling costs, says developer Ron Fleckman, president
of Cyrus Homes in Evanston, Ill. His company is building 40 townhouses
Church Street Village
development, which uses a geothermal system and other green
elements. It is one of the first communities nationwide to test this
type of construction. “Because the cost of natural gas is climbing, the
payback will be quicker,” he says. Home owners can also retrofit an
existing house with this system.
- Attic heat blocker.
TechShield roofing panels,
produced by LP Building Products in Nashville, stop the domino effect of
inefficient roofing material. Poorly insulated roofing lets radiant heat
into the attic, which then spreads throughout a home and requires the
owners to turn on the air conditioner. By contrast, TechShield blocks up
to 97 percent of the radiant heat, reduces the attic temperature 30
degrees, and cuts energy consumption and carbon gases as a result. “You
can cut monthly energy bills by as much as 20 percent,” says Rusty
Carroll of LP Building Products. The panels are made of a thin layer of
aluminum foil laminated to OSB (oriented strand board) roof sheathing,
which is made from fast-growing trees, and installed in the attic of new
construction. The panels are used in conjunction with insulation rather
than as a substitute, Carroll says. He recommends them both for houses
in the South and Sunbelt where rays are strongest. A 3,000-square-foot
house might cost $1,000 to $1,500 to outfit with the panels.
- Reclaimed wood countertops.
Fast-growing plants like bamboo, and
already-cut woods that aren’t being used, find new life as gorgeous
countertops thanks to entrepreneurs like Ken Williamson, founder of
The Craft-Art Co.
The wood he uses is readily available and comes in many variations of
color and texture, from antique heart pine found in shuttered Southern
mills and old dilapidated farmhouses, to red oak and Douglas fir just
waiting to be recycled from the bottom of pickle vats. To keep the
countertops looking their best, Williamson uses a clear, organic
- Nontoxic paint.
To keep indoor air clean and cut
down on landfill pollutants, many consumers are using paints that don’t
contain toxic Volatile Organic Components, or VOCs. These paints come in
a variety of colors and finishes, and are offered by mainstream paint
But for a more unique look, check out Italian-made
which come in 26 unusual finishes such as Venetian Stucco, Velvet, and
- Formaldehyde-free insulation.
Building products such as insulation can emit traces of the chemicals
they’re made with, which pollutes the air inside of homes. That’s why
in Denver made the decision in 2002 to remove formaldehyde from its
building insulation and duct board. By removing the formaldehyde from
its plant and manufacturing facility, the staff isn’t subject to it, and
it also improves the environment around our plant so it helps neighbors,
says Scott DeShetler, director of marketing and communications for the
- Smart irrigation systems.
WeatherTRAK controllers automatically
adjust watering schedules based on the needs of your landscape and local
weather conditions. The system’s “brain” receives satellite data with
information about local weather conditions. An additional moisture
sensor shuts down the system if it starts to rain when the sprinkler is
on. Manufactured by
HydroPoint Data Systems
in Petaluma, Calif., the basic model starts at $500 and prices climb to
$5,000, based on the number of sprinkler heads. Besides better looking
lawns, home owners reap lower water bills and contribute to a healthier
- Green furniture.
When old barns, factories, and farmhouses are torn down, their wood can
be salvaged for artistic furniture. Eric Mann, owner of
New England Country Custom
in Clinton, Mass., sells furniture
made from materials that would most likely end up in a landfill. Mann
also works “green,” using solar heat to power machinery to craft his
early American furniture reproductions. He also finishes pieces with
biodegradable milk paints rather than oil or latex choices. A farm table
with a barn-board top measuring 5 feet by 8 feet runs between $500 and
9 Terms for Your Eco-Friendly Vocabulary
You should never feel out of touch when clients
are telling you about their dream green home. That’s why we asked Jessica
Jensen, co-founder of green home-improvement Web site
Low Impact Living,
to share some key terms that every
real estate practitioner ought to know.
This real estate certification
program helps practitioners become experts in helping consumers and
communities use energy efficiency and sustainable design. Through
educational courses, you acquire knowledge and resources to become a
Certified EcoBroker, which gives you a leg up in assisting home owners in
purchasing and marketing properties with green features. Classes are
available online, and may count as continuing education credits in your
A key component of green building is using
sustainable wood. Quickly renewable woods like bamboo are inherently
sustainable. In selecting other types of hardwoods, it’s important that the
wood be grown and harvested in a sustainable manner. The
Forest Stewardship Council
(FSC) maintains standards and certifies woods for sustainability.
Geothermal power uses heat from the earth to generate electricity. This is a
clean, renewable power source. Geothermal energy is harnessed with a Ground
Source Heat Pump (GSHP) to tap the stored energy beneath the planet’s
surface. These pumps can be used to provide heating, cooling, and hot water
for residential and commercial buildings.
LEED. LEED is
an abbreviation for
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The LEED rating system was designed by the U.S. Green Building Council and
is the standard for the design, construction, and operation of green
buildings. LEED started in the commercial building sector, and a rating
system for residential construction is in the works. Architects and builders
often refer to themselves as LEED AP; the AP stands for Accredited
Professional. This means they have passed the LEED exam and are well-versed
in the program’s standards.
Selecting plants indigenous to your
area means they’re better adapted to the local climate, use appropriate
amounts of water, resist local pests, and provide food for area wildlife.
The waste water that flows from our
gardens, lawns, driveways, and streets into our sewer systems carries
various pollutants, including fertilizers and pesticides from our yards. The
water eventually travels into rivers and oceans where they degrade water
quality for humans and animals. To reduce runoff, home owners can make sure
they don’t over-water their lawns or accidentally water their sidewalks and
driveways. Permeable stone pavers in driveways also help curb runoff.
Solar PV/ Solar Water Heaters.
Solar PV stands for Solar Photovoltaic, which are the panels used to create
electricity. PV cells are comprised of semi-conductors, most often made of
silicon, which convert sun power into electricity. These are different from
(and more expensive than) solar water-heating systems. A solar water-heating
system is fairly simple with the solar panels typically installed on a roof.
The sun then heats the panels; the solar collectors heat a fluid in pipes
held in the interior of the panel boxes, and the fluid is transported into
the house where it heats water in a storage tank.
Sustainability refers to meeting present needs without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their needs. This involves using,
re-using, and conserving natural resources to do the least harm to the
natural environment. It’s now used almost interchangeably with “green” and
An abbreviation for Volatile Organic
Compounds, VOCs are emitted as gases from various solids and liquids like
wall paint, furniture, and household cleaning supplies. Many chemicals are
harmful to human health; some are carcinogenic. But no- or low-VOC products
now available represent good non-toxic replacements.
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