The term LEED signifies green, as does EnergyStar and EnergyCraft; then there’s also VOC and low-flush. Most people have heard these terms in connection with eco-friendly measures, but do you know what they really mean? Or better yet, why they matter and how to get them?
“With the amount of press that green has gotten, the majority of the population understands the connection between energy efficiency and affordability but may not fully understand how to go about it,” said Tyler Jones, EarthCraft program manager at Southface, an organization that educates people about – and promotes – environmentally friendly practices for homes, offices and communities throughout the Southeast.
Green indicates a number of things: energy savings, quality, durability, sustainability, healthy, environmentally friendly and trendy. “Green products have a long lifecycle,” said Peter Michelson, CEO of Renewal Design-Build Inc., a company that focuses on green design, construction and renovations. “Healthy indoor air is green, but people don’t think of it that way; the same goes for lower utility bills. The environmental impact is just a side benefit to many people.”
Instead of gravitating toward a green buzzword like Energy Star, start by thinking of your house as a whole system – not just the pieces that make it up, Michelson said. Otherwise, problems can result.
One example Michelson shared is an issue called “Sick House Syndrome” in which consumers have their homes “tightened up” in order to prevent air-conditioned or heated air from escaping outside. This is energy-efficient, but if the home doesn’t have proper ventilation (like bathroom fans and a hooded stovetop), too much moisture may be trapped in the house and result in mold in the walls.
To prevent this from happening, start all green renovation projects by having a professional evaluate the house in its entirety. Then assess your budget and goals. “Air sealing and insulation are two of the least sexy things you can do to your house, but also two of the best,” Michelson said.
You can start simple by caulking around areas that leak air and switching to CFL bulbs, which give off a brighter light and use less electricity. Other popular green actions include using rain barrels to harvest rain water for plants, adding insulation to attics and replacing old appliances with Energy Star-rated appliances, said Randal Lautzenheiser, managing broker and an EcoBroker with Atlanta Intown Real Estate Services.
Low VOC paints contain less potentially harmful ingredients like formaldehyde, making it safer for the environment and your lungs. Changing the air filters in your home is another way to purify the air and save on energy costs.
Green homes are not limited to those undergoing renovations. “Homebuyers are becoming more and more interested in energy efficiency,” Lautzenheiser said. “Buyers for new construction are seeking out EarthCraft and other energy-efficient designations. Condo buildings that are LEED certified are outperforming the market. It’s an unconscious decision for most buyers. They find a property that they like and realize they like it because of its energy-efficient features.”
For new construction, there are several levels of green, ranging from Energy Star and EarthCraft up to LEED Platinum (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Green certified properties must be verified be a third-party rater and meet certain criteria including using sustainable building materials such as bamboo floors, low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets.
“The housing market is in decline, but interest in green building is on the rise,” Jones said. “There’s more demand because [green products and construction] are of higher quality, and as green building becomes more accepted, it’s going to move from the exception to the expected.”
The FHA EEM (energy-efficient mortgage) is available to help buyers purchase an inefficient home and then add things like insulation, HVAC units and Energy Star appliances to the loan amount without increasing the down payment. This increases the property value while decreasing the monthly operating costs.
But since so many companies are hopping on the green bandwagon, how can you tell the truth from the marketing ploys? “Use common sense and ask questions,” Jones said. “A paint that claims it can save energy is not legitimate. Ask product manufacturers and home builders what makes them green and go from there.”