Costs Drive Interest in Green Housing

Pocketbook concerns have merged with environmental interests in recent years, with homeowners and buyers focusing on green building with new enthusiasm. For decades, environmentally aware architects, builders and consumers have touted the benefits of solar power, careful land use, recycling and using less energy, along with the cost-saving payback of such efforts.

Since 2003, the number of counties with green building programs has risen from eight to 39, according to an American Institute of Architects (AIA) study titled, "Local Leaders in Sustainability: Green Counties." The study found that the eastern region of the country, which includes the Washington area, has the most counties with green building programs, with 19 programs covering a population of about 19 million people.

The study focuses on Montgomery County as one example of an innovative program that has encouraged the development of sustainable buildings. The Arlington County government introduced the Green Home Choice Program in 2003 as incentive for builders to go green. The program includes listings of the techniques and products that make homes more environmentally friendly.

The District was named one of the Top Ten Best U.S. Green Roof Cities by the advocacy group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Todd Tibbitts, senior vice president for property services at Post Properties Inc., wrote in an article on green roofs for Units magazine that in 2007, more than 55,000 square feet of new green roofs were installed in the District.

Green roofs, which can be installed on residential and commercial buildings, feature landscaping and foliage on the top of the building that often can be used by residents and tenants as a natural space for relaxing and socializing. Green roofs limit water runoff, shield the rooftop from damaging ultraviolet rays and provide extra insulation that minimizes cooling costs and cuts down noise pollution. A green roof can add to the life span of a roof, in some cases doubling the length of time the roof can function.

National and local builders have responded to buyer interest in green building. A survey released in July from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and McGraw-Hill Construction revealed that 78 percent of homeowners earning less than $50,000 per year say they would be inclined to purchase a green home. This same survey estimates that more than 330,000 market rate homes with green features have been built in the United States during the past three years, representing a $36 billion per year industry.

The "Home Preferences of Green Home Buyers" survey by McGraw-Hill Construction and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in 2006 said that home buyers are willing to pay an average premium of $18,500 for greener and cleaner homes. A 2007 NAHB-McGraw Hill study predicted that during the next decade, green building construction will increase an average of 30 percent to 60 percent each year. By 2010, up to 10 percent of the housing starts in the United States are predicted to include green building, compared with just 2 percent of housing starts in 2005.

The number of Energy Star-certified homes has doubled since 2001. Energy Star-certified homes meet high standards of energy efficiency as established in a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Plenty of smaller and custom builders locally focus on green building for their customers, including Arlington Design Homes, Sagatov Associates Inc., JBL Construction LLC, Cathedral Investments, High Tec Homes LLC and Studio 109 with M.T. Puskar Construction Co. Inc., all of which have built energy-efficient homes in the Washington area.

Green building also has swept through the remodeling business, with homeowners turning to contractors to increase the energy-efficiency of their homes. The National Association of Home Builders' quarterly Remodeling Market Index released in June reported that 33 percent of the surveyed remodeling contractors said clients had hired them to make changes to their homes to conserve energy.

The survey said 73 percent of remodelers had installed energy-efficient windows. Insulation replacement and spraying foam or fiber insulation was part of the job for 65 percent of remodelers, while 27 percent insulated foundations and 52 percent installed insulated exterior doors. Water-saving devices and fixtures were installed by 46 percent of contractors, while 47 percent installed high-efficiency kitchen appliances and 56 percent installed high-efficiency HVAC systems.

Homeowners have embraced new technology that can save energy and money, including tankless water heaters, which heat water on demand instead of continuously using energy. Thirty-five percent of the surveyed contractors had installed tankless water heaters.

Some of these remodeling jobs may have been undertaken for home sellers, who are highlighting the energy efficient and environmentally friendly features of their homes to potential buyers. Competing with new condominiums with rainwater recycling and green roof features and with new, more energy-efficient homes from builders means homeowners may need to incorporate green features in their homes to attract buyers.

Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC offered "eco-friendly" tips in April that add appeal to homes for green buyers.

* South-facing windows provide natural daylight that can keep a home warmer in winter months, allowing the thermostat to be set lower. Lowering shades during summer daylight hours can reduce energy costs.

* Sustainable landscaping, which includes planting native plants, vegetation and shade trees strategically to reduce the need for water and to provide summer shade, appeals to eco-conscious buyers. Eliminating or reducing the amount of lawn on a property promotes energy conservation for lawn care.

* Renewable energy such as solar, wind, water or geothermal energy reduces pollution. Many utility companies offer options to consumers to purchase renewable energy. For example, residents of Carroll's Creek in Gambrills, Md., a Centex Homes community, can purchase renewable wind power from Clean Currents.

* Lowering the temperature settings on water heaters, dishwashers and laundry machines reduces energy use. Low-flow sink faucets and shower heads lessen water consumption.

* Recycling rainwater for gardening by collecting water under drains reduces water consumption.

* Refurbish cabinets, tile or flooring rather than replacing them. Old appliances should be replaced by energy-efficient appliances and old appliances can be donated for recycling or reuse.

* Insulate pipes to reduce energy bills.