Seeking an eco-friendly home for your family, but not sure exactly what to look for during your house hunt? Here’s what you’ll need to know about sustainable home design and features so you can be prepared with the right questions while on your search for the best possible home for you.
Green Building Certification
Certification may act as an independent seal of approval to let consumers know that the building was constructed according to a particular set of eco-friendly criteria. In general, this might mean that green building materials were used, energy efficiency may be higher than a building without certification, and the construction process was also managed in a sustainable manner that conserves resources.
“A true green home is energy efficient but also holistic, because a house is a system,” explains Marla Esser Cloos, founder of GreenHomeCoach.com and author of Living Green Effortlessly.
While there are several certification programs out there, two of the most common ones for green homes are NGBS (National Green Building Standard) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which comes from the U.S. Green Building Council. Because LEED offers several different levels of certification, look for LEED-H, which specifically applies to single-family homes.
And although it is much less common, the Living Building Challenge is probably the most rigorous standard for green buildings today. You can also look for green home certification programs specifically for your state.
Tight Building Envelope
A strong and tight building envelope (shell) is essential to an energy-efficient home. When you minimize the amount of air that leaks in and out of the windows, doors and other openings into the home, you reduce the consumption of energy needed to heat and cool the indoor environment.
A green-certified home may be well designed to include a very strong building envelope, but you should also ask your real estate agent or energy consultant about what kind of heating and cooling system has been installed. “A properly-sized unit makes all the difference in the world,” adds Cloos.
If you are seeking a super energy-efficient home, look for one that has utilized Passive House design. This means the house has been constructed according to very strict energy-efficient design principles and has the tightest building envelope you’ll find. Though possibly more of an upfront investment, this type of home is designed to save you around 90 percent on your energy bills.
Net zero is yet another step up in the energy efficiency spectrum and essentially means that the amount of energy consumed by the house throughout the year is also created by the house via renewable energy sources like solar panels. That means virtually zero energy bills for you.
The various moving parts within a home are also important to maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. Look for low-flow and dual-flush toilets and water fixtures that save water. Check for Energy Star appliances.
Ask about the use of low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, carpet and flooring in the house. Materials with a higher VOC content release chemicals in gas form that may diminish your indoor air quality and possibly lead to health problems. Long-lasting materials are also a key component in a sustainable home. To minimize waste, look for green building materials that are truly durable and can stand the wear and tear of regular use.
Use a Green Real Estate Agent
Now that you know what to keep an eye out for, how will you actually find out if a home you are interested in has any of these features? Cloos says that one option is to research a “green” agent, like a Green Designee certified by the the National Association of Realtors or an agent with the EcoBroker certification. You can also seek out an energy consultant or green home consultant.
Shopping for an eco-friendly home to match your eco-conscious lifestyle can be an exciting journey. And once you’ve found what you’re looking for, Finance of America Mortgage can help you turn your dreams of homeownership into reality.
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