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We’re hearing lots of buzz in the tool industry surrounding the new materials making their way into homes as builders look to meet all the various state/local “green home” certifications. But we also get the feeling that no one really knows yet where the whole process is headed. Certainly with new home sales dropping so dramatically over the last year or so — and especially recently with the tax credit drying up — there’s plenty of motivation out there to do whatever the hell it’ll take to get you to buy a new home.

So that said: Do you care about green home certifications? And if so, how much do you care? How high is the green factor in terms of your buying decision?

Personally, while I love the idea of reducing waste, it’s pretty much a financial decision for me. How much can I save on power/water bills, and how long will it take me to recover whatever I’m spending to get that savings. Another factor for me is the confusion. With no obviously clear (at least to me) method for determining what benefits we’ll actually see from the build process, it’s pretty tough to make serious decisions. On the other hand, we’ve also seen some pretty damn miserly homes assuming money is no object.

What do you think? Educate us in comments if you will.

[Thanks, seeks2dream, for the awesome CC-licensed photo.]

Green Home Guide [US Green Building Council]
[Green Living Tips]


20 Responses to Reader Question: Green Home Certifications?

  1. Shalin says:

    Utility costs are a couple notches higher importance to me than materials used. One idea I really like is to have utility usage numbers in the same format of the nutritional label on packaged foods.


    The other thing I’d like to know is what is upgradable with the property/structure as-is – if I’m precluded from putting a solar water heater panel or spray-foaming the attic due to structural, HOA, etc. reasons – I want to know up-front.


  2. Jerry says:

    Personally, I think that all the talk about “green” is more of the latest buzzword than anything else. The latest “fad” is to call everything “green” in the hopes that people will buy into it. It certainly doesn’t apply only to the housing industry. However, in the housing industry, I think it is used solely as a selling point because it is the latest fad. Many years ago (you’ll only understand if you are old) a big selling point was “shag carpet throughout.” Nobody wants that anymore. More recently, we had “Pergo flooring.” Don’t hear much about that anymore either.
    Most of us look at a home purchase as a financial thing and, as Shalin has said, energy use and costs are very important.

  3. Shalin says:

    @Jerry – to add to what you’re saying, I’ve noticed the “green” fad also seems to carry a “I’m a good person” indicator. That whole facet of it seems to be…strange. Personally, I’ll be more impressed with a clever design than a “green” home.

    Still, having a certification would take some guesswork out of the house hunting if that’s your priority (some people with allergies or other medical issues will simply get sick in houses with certain materials). But I’d be okay with a A/B/C or Low/Medium/High ratings for utility costs – kinda similar to selecting tires (think speed and wet-traction ratings).


  4. B. Foo says:

    I don’t care one bit about all this “green” nonsense. My company does this stuff too and its all 100% marketing BS. Just give me a house that is built correctly with good quality materials and a yard big enough for kids and dogs.

  5. rob says:

    well as I am on the verge of building a new home
    let me say there is tones of crap about green that the local authority wants

    and the grants they give for better furnaces and heat pumps are not available if your building new just to those who are renovating and on demand hot water
    and many other green things I am tempted to build my place as ungreen as I can get away with but rough in for the green stuff just to make install easy
    and get the government money to help pay for the stuff

    yes a heat pump is more efficient than just a furnace but it cost 3 times as much
    that extra $6000 will pay a lot of gas bills however if it is done as a renovation
    there is government money for as much of $8000 (at least where I live) but go figure

    same sort of thing with on demand water heaters

    but the green stuff while it is “green” is just a fad it really is just technology
    has gotten better so now this new stuff that is so much more efficient fits in the fad as green

    and yes it makes some people feel better to buy green homes thinking they are saving the world by doing so

    the same crap goes into auto marketing hybird makes less pollution sure but have you seen how much was made to make that new car I would rather keep my old one for 10-15 years more it will still do less damage than building a new one so yeah I am not really a fan of the GREEN buzz word ,
    but some of the green products are good technology and worth having .
    you wont find me in a hybrid or running out to put the latest and great solar system on my roof, it just isn’t good math money wise or environment wise

    just so you know I live in BC so I’m sure things are a little different south of the boarder

  6. Alex says:

    It matters to me mostly for two reasons. Energy efficiency is important. I truly believe we need to use less of it, for all sorts of reasons (economic, security/military wise, environmentally).

    Second, make the home out of materials that won’t give me cancer (no Chinese sulfur drywall, no formaldehyde soaked particle board, glue-down flooring that will smell like glue for 6 months). Indoor air pollution can get pretty bad, and you’re indoors close to half the time.

    By the way, my wife and I are in the market for a house, and it’s worth a modest premium to us. It would be the kind of thing that we’d pay a reasonable markup for, or would get us to buy one house over another.

  7. Shalin says:

    hmmm…combining “the way things used to be” and “they don’t make’em like they used to” concepts – I wonder how much resources, energy, etc. an average family from the 50’s used compared to the average family of today when considering home maintenance and utility costs.

    Here’s an interesting comparison of building a “green home” (after gathering a bunch of data and doing a bunch of homework) vs. just upgrading an existing one (~5min video): http://www.ted.com/talks/catherine_mohr_builds_green.html


  8. Chris says:

    rob: It’s shameful that the government grants where you live don’t cover the costs of building things properly in the first place, and there’s no reason any of these various tax incentives — anywhere — shouldn’t be applied equally to new construction and renovation.

    Renovation is all well and good — used buildings, like used cars, already exist, and the penalty for their construction has already been paid — but there’s lots of low-hanging fruit in new construction. Remember, efficient buildings *today* will be the energy hogs of a decade from now. At some point, their efficiency is going to have to improve. It might as well be as good as you can get it when you’re building from scratch, rather than waiting 15 or 20 years and doing a retrofit installation that’s much more complicated and costly.


  9. KMR says:

    Building properly should automatically be green.

    Does a good builder grossly over-estimate his materials so that he has excessive waste? If so he pays for his laziness twice, first in the poor use of the material, and second to dispose of the extra waste. I just read a few weeks ago that the McLaren factory in the UK has floor sizes spec’d based on the tile dimensions including compensation for the grout lines. All this was done to elminate the need to cut tiles, thus no waste and reduced installation labor.

    I’ll always pay more upfront for a higher efficiency appliance that will reduce my utility payments versus a cheap lower effiicency model. I can guarantee you one thing in your life and that is energy costs will not go down, they’ll keep increasing especially as we near 8 and 9 BILLION people on this tiny planet. The less you need to use, the less you’ll have to pay. When it came time for a new furnace, the price difference between something that was ~80% efficient and one that was 95% efficient was going to pay for itself in less than three heating seasons (Upstate NY).

    Insulation levels? Hell yah, pack it in! It costs so little to add more up front, the labor is essentially the same, so why not do it? The air-sealing is where labor will bite you, finding all of those little gaps and sealing sill and top plates (although some guys use gaskets by default now).

    Additional thermal mass on the interior of my house? Yup, I’ll take that too.

    Low flow faucets and low GPF toilets – why not? We replaced both our former 3+ GPF toilets with 1.2GPF flush units this spring. They work great, not a single clog yet… and my water bill is as low as it can possibly go (damn that fixed “service” charge!).

    Better windows and doors? Again why not? The installation shouldn’t cost any more, and you’re going to have a better more efficient product from an energy point of view and it will also provide a better noise break from the exterior (like when someone is mowing, or irritating neighborhood children).

    I just can’t see building cheap for myself. I know it all comes down to price for some people, but a low upfront price is going to be mean higher monthly expenses for the future… and those future costs aren’t fixed, and are certain to increase as long as people keep breeding and as long as most of our resources are finite.

  10. Kurt Schwind says:

    Green is important and I think it’s more than just ‘hype’ and ‘marketing bs’, but I will agree that a ‘well built home’ is going to be green by default.

    I’m rebuilding my home after storm damage came through. I’m upping my old windows to newer ones that don’t need storm windows and have much better insulation. I’m using paint that doesn’t off-gas. I’m using insulation that’s high quality but also recycled. My shingles are recycled and a lighter shade than ‘OMG HOT BLACK’. etc…

    It’s important to me. What I can say is this: You take the best information at the time and go from there. I’m not going to wring my hands over the fact that I might be using “the asbestos or the lead paint of the new century and not know it!” I use what seems appropriate and today it’s different than 10 years ago and it’ll be different again in 10 years. Roll with it.

  11. Shopmonger says:

    Green is important and i agree that there needs to be considerations when it comes to our homes, however there is many companies that tought themselves as green and yet they are just blowing smoke. The most important part of being green in a home is the insulation, if you keep the heat and cooling that you produce in your home then there is a huge advantage over wasting energy, and energy is ultimately the worst polution source we currently have. Smaller items and considerations in materials are great and of course can save money in the long run, like recycled flooring, and using TREX type decking material.

    Bing smart when building or rebuilding can save more than most consider….

    as for the certifications, some are ran by local municipality

  12. shalin says:

    >> I just can’t see building cheap for myself. I know it all comes down to price for some people, but a low upfront price is going to be mean higher monthly expenses for the future… and those future costs aren’t fixed, and are certain to increase as long as people keep breeding and as long as most of our resources are finite.

    Reminds me of the saying “The stingy man ends up paying the most money.”


  13. Patrick says:

    When it comes to building a new home, I think any new home now should be green. Of course, if you are building a home in this economy, I’m thinking you can afford the premium.

    As to their effectiveness – I work in a LEED (??) certified school and I can tell you, the green environment does feel better. It’s a great feeling but I wonder if the upfront costs will ever be regained through nebulous energy savings (how can you measure something that never was?)

  14. Jim says:

    I like the idea of offering green options. I’m currently in my office and sneezing my ass off constantly for days at a time, because the assholes/idiots that installed this garbage insulation (that’s banned now by the way) probably didn’t take in to consideration the health aspect of building materials. I know this because I only sneeze in the office where there was a hole in the wall (now fixed, but the particles are lighter than air and stay in the air until I breathe them in). Good quality green building materials are usually healthier in several aspects and usually give a economical benefit. Now I could then proceed to tell you that when an economic downturn comes and you’re paying lower utility bills than your neighbor that is worrying himself to death because he decided to get a big screen TV rather than upgrade his water heater is smart move, but that is a side benefit. Now that the green movement (not a fad) is catching on, people will take advantage of that and try to BS people. That happens with every new thing that comes along. Again you have to be wise with what your shopping for (as with EVERYTHING else). But on a whole, the idea is sound.

  15. fred says:

    So what do you say to a client who’s putting a 3000 sq. foot addition on their 5100 sq. foot home and wants to make sure its “green” and energy efficient ?
    Apartment dwellers in New Yok City – who walk or take the subway are much greener – without giving it any special thought.

  16. PutnamEco says:

    We live on a finite planet, the resources we save today are our gift to the future. Think of our children….

    As for Green certifications, some are well thought out like LEEDs, some seem to be just feel good greenwashing certifications. I don’t think many really take into account using sustainable/recycled building materials.

    Live simply, so that others may simply live.

  17. Chris says:

    I think green certifications are a step in the right direction. Alone they will not fix the problem, but the highlight the need to use less energy and meterial. I agree though that it may be a financial decision for many people.

  18. Marco says:

    As often is the case, the answer is “It depends”.
    Money is a very effective way to keep track of how many resources were directly and indirectly needed to build something. So, to be “green” a house needs first and foremost to be good from an economical point of view. This doesn’t mean “cheap”, but if certain features (like insulated walls or solar panels) add cost to the purchasing price, these cost should be recoverable in the short-middle run by the saving upon heating, air conditionin, lighting and such that the “green” characteristics allow, otherwise a “green” certification is just hype for a higher selling price, higher expenditure of construction resources that won’t be balanced by running savings.

  19. B. Foo says:

    I’m selling this bridge here… oh, its “green” too… heh

  20. firemanbill says:

    Green will only really make sense when it doesn’t have to be government subsidised, ie we all pay extra so Mr. Smith can save on his electric bill cause he installed solar panels. Simply said, if the only way you can save on your energy bill is to have someone else (goverment subsidy) pay for the equipment your not really saving anything afterall, just getting others to pay your way. Now of course were talking money here not energy, but you must also look at the environmental impact of say, saving on fossil fuels by building a Prius but increasing the environmental impact of the extremely toxic process of mining and refining lithium and making the batteries for it, which will eventually need to be replaced at huge cost and more negative environmental impact.
    When the technology becomes truly cost saving, and hence energy saving, then it will become widespread, but to promote green tech use through the carrot method, the gov (all us taxpayers) paying for it, or the stick, forcing it all down our throats through taxes and penalties, is not just wrong its ineffective and uneconomical.

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