As the Santa Barbara real estate market has slowed in the last 18 months, it makes sense that some Realtors are trying to stand out with niche marketing efforts. One of these niches seems to be Realtors marketing themselves as eco-friendly and green. While I am 100% supportive for anyone with an eye on environmentally conscious action (real estate or otherwise), make sure your Realtor is not using “basic green talk” as cursory knowledge of green building simply as a marketing ploy in a tougher market.
Again, I loudly applaud any Realtor that is going out of their way to learn about solar, energy-efficient appliances, geo-thermal pumps, earth friendly design and products, improving indoor air quality, tax credits for energy saving improvements from a homeowner etc. I think intuitively that people who share strong values of being environmentally and socially responsible will often align themselves with others that share the same beliefs. If these beliefs are then shared amongst parties involved in a real estate transaction, all the better.
For myself as a Realtor, I try to promote all that I can about green building and am always trying to learn more and understand what truly constitutes green with respect to real estate. Our industry needs to follow suit with a lot of other industries that are now making strides with sustaining our environment. Example: If a client buys a home that has older wood floors that can be easily sanded and refinished, doing this is in my eyes is potentially more green than buying new Bamboo flooring. At first thought, many people respond that Bamboo is a rapidly renewable material and therefore promotes green development. Yes, but if this is shipped all the way across the world from China, the “greener decision” would probably be to just sand the old wood floors.
As a start for everyone, some of the most basic green actions you can take as a homeowner are using non-toxic paint, trying to used locally sourced materials if you are remodeling (hopefully recycled), adding insulation, installing quality good windows, and using energy efficient appliances and light bulbs.
With oil and natural gas prices rocketing, stoking terror of long, cold and and expensive winters, a renewed interest in keeping heating costs under control has has been sparked. Homeowner’s have an ignited passion in understanding energy saving methods. If you’re in this boat, stuck in cold waters, here are some tips for energy saving tricks of the trade.
If you’re living in a home with a furnace that’s more than 20 years old, you may have already attempted the “buy a sweater” method of keeping warm. This is certainly one approach, but these days upgrading your home’s conditioning system is a much better option, and will bode well for you in the here and now, and in the long term, should you decide sell your home. More and more, homebuyers are looking for homes with energy efficient systems already in place. So, think of these upgrades as a long term investment in the resale value of your home, as well a cost efficient and green alternative to your current conditioning system.
Now, with that old choker of a furnace huffin’ and puffin’ away, guaranteed it’s not as efficient as it could be, no matter what fuel type it uses. The newer gas furnaces are mid-efficiency (78-82%) or high efficiency (89-96%). Although the higher efficiency products can cost up to $1000 more than the mid-efficiency products, extra costs will be re-couped in a couple years, as they will burn less fuel. And, you’ll be the greenest frog on the block, sending less harmful emissions out into the atmosphere. “It’s so easy being green”, murmured Kermit, once he upgraded his furnace.
With oil furnaces, there are again, much more efficient products on the market as of late. But, a oil furnace does need to partner with a good chimney, and so this may be an additional cost to keep in mind
Take note, it’s still the case that electric heat is more expensive than oil and gas, although a smart combination of central woodstove heat, supplemented by electric heat can be cost efficient.
Let it Flow: Change Your Filters!
Whether disposable or washable, all forced-air heating/cooling systems use filters. And, these filters need to be maintained and changed. Some filters require monthly changes while other last up to three months, and much depends on the conditions within your home. A dirty filter will restrict air flow and with clogged filters you’re blocking heat that would otherwise be keeping you toasty warm. Do yourself a favor and keep on top of the regular changing of your heat filters. This is a pretty easy way to boost your energy efficiency and cut costs.
Pump it up: Install a Heat Pump
Air source heat pumps are the most common and they are generally used with a back-up heating system. In terms of function a heat pump works by extracting heat from the outside and bringing it in, (in heat mode), and by removing heat from the inside of the house and releasing it outside. ( in cooling mode).
The king of heat pumps, though, are ground and watersource, or geothermal. And while the initial investment may be great, the saving will be substantial in the long run. These pumps will use 25-50% less energy than conventional conditioning systems.
At the end of the day, another simple method to help with soaring heat bills, is to keep an eye on the set temperature levels in your house, What is normally described as room temperature is around 68 Fahrenheit (20 degrees celsius). Of course, only you can decide where to set the dial. But, if you’d rather avoid the ” put on a sweater” method of winter energy conservation, you might consider investing in an improved conditioning system that’ll bring you warmth today, and will be a smart investment in the re-sale value of your home.
If you are like me, you are constantly trying to reduce your carbon footprint and dependence on oil and other non- renewable energy sources. I drive a hybrid, am slowing converting all my incandescent light bulbs to CFL bulbs, recycle as much as possible and use water bottles instead of buying bottled water. Needless to say these are small steps and I often wonder if I could be doing more – much more.
As a realtor I tour homes every week in which the builder or homeowner has spared no expensive to upgrade the kitchen and baths, finish the basement, add decorative moldings, plant expensive landscaping, install automatic sprinkler systems, etc. But rarely do I see a home with an alternative, eco friendly heating and cooling system.
Here in Massachusetts about half of all homes are heated by oil. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association costs for heating a home by oil this winter are expected to increase by 47.3% from last winter. Projected increases for natural gas and electricity are less shocking, 9.2% and 8.6% respectively. Given these high costs you would think that more consumers would be going green and turning to alternative sources of energy, such as geothermal or solar, for home heating and cooling. Apart from the very progressive developer or builder, that is just not the case from what I see in my day to day adventures in real estate.
Many people are under the impression that 1) eco friendly systems for heating and cooling are too expensive install and/or 2) not possible without the perfect climatic conditions. These systems can be more expensive, but as the technology improves the price will and has decreased. There is also the additional offset of long term savings on heating and cooling costs. In regards to the second issue – geothermal and solar systems can be installed almost anywhere. Germany, not exactly the sunniest of locations, uses more solar energy than any other country in the world. Even in New England the ground is sufficiently warm enough to produce geothermal heat. Case in point – Monarch Lofts in Lawrence is installing a geothermal system to heat and cool 202 residential condo units.
Granted going green does often increase costs, at least in the short term, but should home heating costs continue to escalate, I am sure consumers will begin to demand homes with alternative heating sources and other eco conscious features. Recent surveys have shown that buyers are willing to pay extra for a new home with eco friendly features.
Of course in the interim there are options for those of us wanting to do our part for the environment, but unable to build a new home.
- Remodeling? Incorporate some green or renewable materials such as bamboo flooring, low toxic finishes, low flow toilets and showers, countertops made from recycled glass, etc. For inspiration and materials check out Ecohaus.
- Install programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), and solar or on-demand water heaters.
- Pay attention to the Energy Star ratings and buy energy efficient appliances.
- Install energy efficient windows and insulation.
By doing what we can now and demanding alternatives in the near future, perhaps we can make a difference in preserving the planet for our children and grandchildren.