Archive for October, 2009

What does “building green” mean?

In my conversations with clients who are interested in pursuing green housing options, I frequently find out that people generally have a narrow idea of what “building green” is or what actually makes a building “green.” Making your home or condo “green,” or buying a “green home,” means much more than just using Energy Star-rated appliances and having insulated windows and doors. Outlined here are some of the key elements of what makes a building green (my thanks to Living Structures, Inc. – a green contractor in Jamaica Plain, MA):

  • Operating Energy – measures how much energy is required to heat and cool a house. Some ways to help reduce energy consumption are through the purchase and installation of high-quality, energy-efficient windows and appliances – but also preventing unwanted heat loss by properly insulating the exterior of the building (as well as basement ceilings and attic floors). With new construction, this concept can be taken a step further with proper orientation of the home and windows to take full advantage of the passive heating and cooling effects of the sun and wind.
  • Embodied Energy – measures the amount of energy required to make and deliver all of the components being installed in the home or condo. For example, installing granite countertops made from a local quarry and produced by a local merchant saves more energy than a marble countertop made in Italy and shipped to the U.S. This concept could also encompass materials made through a more energy-efficient process than comparable products. So just by purchasing locally-made products, you’re reducing your carbon footprint!
  • Sustainability – by definition, this means “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Think of it this way – driving a car that uses lots of gas is not good because it’s using a non-renewable fuel source (oil), that is then unavailable to our children and grandchildren to use in the future. Using sustainable building products (one of my favorites is bamboo flooring) helps to save resources for future use.
  • Waste Generation – eliminating as much waste as possible from the construction or reconstruction process. Much waste is produced during the construction of a new home or demolition of an existing room or structure. New methods have been designed to eliminate as much of this waste as possible or to reuse as much of the existing material/structure as possible. Hiring a contractor who uses these new waste generation practices can make you really green!
  • Health Effects – a green building is a healthier building. New construction methods make current homes much more air-tight, which also requires the home to have better ventilation processes. Make sure to improve the ventilation of your home as you tighten the building envelope – and use low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, chemicals, and other construction materials to prevent unhealthy air from getting into the home in the first place. You can even reduce the amount of radon or the chances for mold growth with proper ventilation of your home.
  • Ecological Footprint – this is a measurement of how much land is required to sustain a single person, group of people, or to power a building. This concept was first introduced in a book entitled Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Current research indicates the average U.S. resident requires about 24 acres of productive land to support their lifestyle – but in reality there are only 4.5 acres actually available to each person on Earth. Doing the math, you can see that we can’t continue along our current path without some serious competition for resources.

Implementing these green concepts helps to improve the value of a home or condo, but that doesn’t necessarily imply a higher cost. My previous blog posting outlines some of the rebates and incentives available to consumers for implementing many of these features. Additionally, your local town or city may be offering financial assistance to improve the energy-efficiency of your home or condo. For example, the town of Babylon, NY offers homeowners who are willing to pay $250 for an energy audit, the opportunity to finance the improvements at a below-market rate with a reasonable payback period. Recently, a couple in Babylon had an energy audit completed and they made the recommended upgrades. The amount they now repay to the town is less than the savings on their utility bills, saving them approximately $1,300 per year (New York Times, October 11, 2009).

For more information and other eco-friendly housing options, see my previous blog entries and don’t forget to check out my real estate web site at for a listing of eco-friendly partners who can help you achieve your green goals!

Until next time, Peace!