|This article was published on: 07/01/2007|
Sustainability takes root
What’s New on the Green Scene
Consumers’ interest in being green has never been so high. We bring you up to date on 15 eco-friendly home trends and must-know terminology so you can serve their needs.
BY BARBARA BALLINGER
The latest environmentally friendly home features aren’t just good for the planet — they look great and are a huge draw for conscientious buyers, too.
From energy-efficient light bulbs to solar-paneled roofs, consumers have gravitated to the idea that they can help the earth by making smarter purchases and lifestyle decisions, even if it’s not always cheap or easy. Many of these changes are happening in their homes, thanks also to manufacturers, builders, and architects who are encouraging green products.
What does this mean for you, a real estate practitioner? In order to be in tune with the growing number of prospects who seek a greener lifestyle, you should know about the latest eco-friendly housing trends. You also should be able to understand and explain the terms you’ll come across as you scout green homes.
What’s Made Us So Green?
“Interest in being green has moved across the country — it’s no longer just for wacky Californians,” says Matt Golden, who founded Sustainable Spaces Inc. in San Francisco three years ago. The company performs environmental audits on homes, which tests for energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other factors.
There are plenty of reasons why focusing on the environment has become so popular lately. Some people thank Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Others point to a growing body of green building standards, advocated by groups such as the National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Green Building Council. Another factor, of course, is rising energy prices, which has forced Americans to rethink everyday habits and purchases.
Experts say one thing’s clear: The trend isn’t limited to one age group, demographic, or geographic area.
“Empty-nester clients like the low energy efficiency, and younger couples gravitate because of environmental concerns and the healthier indoor air quality,” says St. Louis builder Matt Belcher, chairman of his local Home Builders Association’s Green Building Council.
Consumers Get What They Want
Home builders, retailers, and product manufacturers are seeking to satisfy consumers’ appetites for anything green, offering everything from eco-friendly condos to water-saving toilets.
Time Equities Inc.’s 62-story condo-hotel going up at 50 West St. in downtown New York City will have solar panels on the roof, windows that help to keep out the heat, and an energy-efficient HVAC system that will automatically adjust cold or hot air. “We’re even building our condo-hotel without a garage to promote public transportation,” says Phillip Gesue, Time Equities’ director of acquisitions and development.
Belcher predicts that in a few years green construction will become so pervasive that the term “green” won’t even be needed. “More manufacturers are building components for the growing market,” he says. “It will be a standard practice.”
Trends to Know
Whether or not you specialize in selling green homes, you’re likely to meet clients who are interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle. Here’s a look at the green housing trends you ought to know as you navigate today’s market.
9 Terms for Your Eco-Friendly Vocabulary
You should never feel out of touch when clients are telling you about their dream green home. That’s why we asked Jessica Jensen, co-founder of green home-improvement Web site Low Impact Living, to share some key terms that every real estate practitioner ought to know.
EcoBroker. This real estate certification program helps practitioners become experts in helping consumers and communities use energy efficiency and sustainable design. Through EcoBroker educational courses, you acquire knowledge and resources to become a Certified EcoBroker, which gives you a leg up in assisting home owners in purchasing and marketing properties with green features. Classes are available online, and may count as continuing education credits in your state.
FSC-certified wood. A key component of green building is using sustainable wood. Quickly renewable woods like bamboo are inherently sustainable. In selecting other types of hardwoods, it’s important that the wood be grown and harvested in a sustainable manner. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) maintains standards and certifies woods for sustainability.
Geothermal. Geothermal power uses heat from the earth to generate electricity. This is a clean, renewable power source. Geothermal energy is harnessed with a Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) to tap the stored energy beneath the planet’s surface. These pumps can be used to provide heating, cooling, and hot water for residential and commercial buildings.
LEED. LEED is an abbreviation for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED rating system was designed by the U.S. Green Building Council and is the standard for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. LEED started in the commercial building sector, and a rating system for residential construction is in the works. Architects and builders often refer to themselves as LEED AP; the AP stands for Accredited Professional. This means they have passed the LEED exam and are well-versed in the program’s standards.
Native landscaping. Selecting plants indigenous to your area means they’re better adapted to the local climate, use appropriate amounts of water, resist local pests, and provide food for area wildlife.
Runoff. The waste water that flows from our gardens, lawns, driveways, and streets into our sewer systems carries various pollutants, including fertilizers and pesticides from our yards. The water eventually travels into rivers and oceans where they degrade water quality for humans and animals. To reduce runoff, home owners can make sure they don’t over-water their lawns or accidentally water their sidewalks and driveways. Permeable stone pavers in driveways also help curb runoff.
Solar PV/ Solar Water Heaters. Solar PV stands for Solar Photovoltaic, which are the panels used to create electricity. PV cells are comprised of semi-conductors, most often made of silicon, which convert sun power into electricity. These are different from (and more expensive than) solar water-heating systems. A solar water-heating system is fairly simple with the solar panels typically installed on a roof. The sun then heats the panels; the solar collectors heat a fluid in pipes held in the interior of the panel boxes, and the fluid is transported into the house where it heats water in a storage tank.
Sustainable/Sustainability. Sustainability refers to meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This involves using, re-using, and conserving natural resources to do the least harm to the natural environment. It’s now used almost interchangeably with “green” and “eco-friendly.”
VOC. An abbreviation for Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs are emitted as gases from various solids and liquids like wall paint, furniture, and household cleaning supplies. Many chemicals are harmful to human health; some are carcinogenic. But no- or low-VOC products now available represent good non-toxic replacements.