Consumer interest in green building exploded in 2007, and it’s still growing. Thanks to extensive media coverage, an increasing number of consumers are becoming familiar with sustainability and green building. Newspapers warn about climate change and soaring gas prices. Retail giants like Wal-Mart have adopted sustainable practices and opened green stores. Hollywood has jumped on the green bandwagon, incorporating green practices in its 2008 Oscars. Home and garden television shows offer a steady stream
of shows promoting green living.
As the media pushes green building into the mainstream, consumers are becoming more attuned to the benefits of green homes. Homebuilders have an opportunity to meet consumer demand by adopting practices that improve the energy efficiency, durability, and indoor air quality of homes. It’s important to know the variety of consumer attitudes about green building in order to respond to the changing market.
Consumer uncertainty: Is green building more hype than reality?
Some consumers are skeptics and wonder about the hype surrounding green building. They may acknowledge that green is an effective marketing strategy, but they question companies’ motives for advertising a product or home as green. Many of these consumers are cautious of greenwashing, a tactic that companies use to mislead consumers into thinking their products or practices are green when they’re actually not. Homebuilders must be able to prove to these consumers that they’re homes are legitimately green.
Consumer profile: Who buys green homes?
People who buy green homes can’t easily be lumped into one category. They buy for different reasons. A family may find a green home appealing because they want their kids to grow up in a healthy home without allergens and toxins. Empty-nesters may be attracted to the cheaper utility bills.
For a growing number of consumers, green building is not a hard sell. These consumers have done their research; they’re concerned about reducing their ecological footprint or impact on the environment. They understand that energy-efficient homes can alleviate global warming and soaring gas prices even more than hybrid cars can. In some cases, they’re more knowledgeable than the homebuilder and can shop around for green features. Many others recognize the benefits of a green home, but their understanding is
Consumer values: What are the benefits of green building?
The key to selling green homes is to understand the values that consumers hold and what motivates them to buy green products. In other words, the best way to market green building is to educate homebuyers on its benefits. Realize that sustainability and environmental benefits won’t resonate with everyone. However, if you frame the benefits of green homes in terms of indoor air quality, comfort, and economy, you’re more likely to convince buyers that green homes have a direct impact on their health, happiness, and quality of life. Avoid using the vocabulary of the builder-”energy recovery ventilators” means little to most buyers, but lower utility bills and fresher indoor air make a whole lot of sense. The more relevant you make green building to consumers, the more they’ll recognize its value.
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.
The pressure is on to adopt green building practices. However, green building might seem overwhelming if you associate it with unfamiliar building methods, new technology, and higher costs. You might wonder where to start.
Breathe a sigh of relief, because green building doesn’t require dramatic changes immediately. What it does require is a commitment to better building and greater attention to installation. With a few easy strategies, you can begin building greener homes that are more energy-efficient, durable, and healthier for homeowners. For instance, consider upgrading your insulation and air sealing, installing a vapor barrier under the slab, and installing fluorescent light fixtures. These steps will help you improve the energy efficiency, durability, and indoor air quality of your homes. As a starting point, begin implementing the easy green building practices below.
Insulation: A simple way to boost energy efficiency
The green benefits: Insulation reduces heat loss from a home, contributing to a more comfortable indoor environment. Insulation that’s installed correctly can have a significant impact on the home’s energy efficiency.
Installation: The more insulation, the better. Insulation should be installed at the correct depth and density to be effective at resisting heat flow. Batts shouldn’t be compressed or installed with gaps; instead, they should be flush with the framing. Similarly, blown-in insulation should be installed with consistent coverage and depth and fit completely around wires and electrical boxes.
Vapor barrier under the slab: Durability and IAQ benefits abound
The green benefits: A vapor barrier under the slab mitigates moisture related problems, such as mold growth under carpets, grout staining, and wood flooring de-lamination. These problems impair the home’s durability and indoor air quality.
Installation: Use a 10-mil polyethylene vapor barrier to fully cover the foundation footprint. For basements, extend the vapor barrier 2″ to 4″ up the foundation wall, and fix it to the wall with construction tape or adhesive. Overlap the seams 12″, and seal them with construction tape. For slab-on-grade foundations, lay down the vapor barrier on top of the gravel, and extend it into the footer, continuing the vapor barrier 12″ up the formwork.
Fluorescent light fixtures: An easy way to cut energy usage
The green benefits: Fluorescent lighting is the most practical energy-efficient lighting option available to residential builders. Fluorescent lights reduce the home’s overall energy usage; in turn, the environment benefits from fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Installation: Install Energy Star high efficiency light fixtures and hardwired fixtures that are designed for use with fluorescent lamps in locations where lights remain on for extended periods of time: kitchens, living areas, and outdoors. Incorporate efficient task lighting into kitchens and bathrooms.
Air sealing: A strong step to energy efficiency
The green benefits: Air sealing is another critical component of an energy efficient home. It ensures the effectiveness of insulation; therefore, ensuring healthy indoor air. Without air sealing, cold air, moisture, and pollutants can leak into a home through cracks and penetrations.
Installation: Seal all gaps with low-expanding foam, foam strips, weatherstripping, weatherproof tape, and caulks. Make sure that no leaks remain at each step of the construction process. Conduct a blower door test to determine leakage paths.
OVE framing techniques: Green building at the frame
The green benefits: Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) framing techniques reduce the amount of wood needed to build a home. Framing members are placed only where they’re absolutely needed, reducing the amount of wood waste. OVE framed walls also provide more room for insulation.
Installation: OVE typically involves framing 24″ on center (o.c.) as opposed to 16″ o.c., and using 2×6 studs as opposed to 2×4 studs. If you’re not ready to adopt these changes, start integrating open corners and ladder panels into homes. Orienting the studs at a corner horizontally can allow you to install more insulation there. When framing a partition wall, rotate the stud to create a ladder panel, which helps accommodate more insulation.