There’s a lot of talk in real estate about green building lately, but the phrase is still a little vague. Here’s a guide to understanding a few key terms, so you can investigate whether or not a potential home is truly eco-friendly.
Insulation and Building:
Many new buildings are being insulated with recycled materials, such as old blue jeans or blown-in fiberglass. Proper insulation now goes a long way toward saving on energy bills later. Walls can be made of steel and concrete, rather than more expensive and volatile treated wood. Many cities have lumber yards and “re-stores” where you can buy recycled or left over building materials that are strong, cheap, and often antique or authentically vintage.
Look for low flow shower heads and low flush or composting toilets. Consider energy saving washers and dryers, or put a line in your yard to hang wet clothes on sunny days Make sure your HVAC unit is sealed and clean, and look for gas stoves and instantaneous, or tankless, water heaters.
Rather than use expensive hardwoods that endanger the land and deplete forests, many real estate builders have found inexpensive and beautiful alternatives in bamboo (which is technically not a wood but a grass, and yet one of the hardest and most easily replenished flooring materials) and cork (also easily replenished). Concrete, too, can be a sturdy and inexpensive alternative, as can old fashioned linoleum, which is actually made from linen and other natural fibers.
Paint and Other Materials:
Many paint manufacturers are looking for green alternatives to oil and latex; one such option is the use of milk-based paints (which upon application smell like milk instead of harsh chemicals, and which don’t have any carcinogenic ingredients.) Recycled glass is now being made into kitchen and bath tiles, and countertops are being made with recycled materials that look even more beautiful and unique than mined granite.
Solar energy doesn’t just mean expensive panels that sit on your roof (though that’s one kind, called active solar energy). Considering a solar home can mean investing in thick-paned, glazed windows or in more complicated photovoltaic cells. Though solar tends to be an expensive investment, upfront, the rewards show up every month in your energy bills.
Look for Xeriscaped yards and common areas with plants that require little watering. Consider getting rain barrels (many cities sell them through their water and energy programs) or converting your outdoor water system to “graywater” (which involves using recycled water from dishwashers and washing machines to water your lawn or wash your car). Looks for trees that are native to your area, and plant them so they shield your windows from too much sun during hotter days.
While a lot of green building means being aware of what is going into your home, you might also want to check out your neighborhood. Are there recycling programs or community gardens? Public transportation? Bike paths so you can have the option of avoiding traffic? Are there shops and restaurants close to you, to encourage walking? While thinking about these things may seem unimportant now, our global climate and community with thank you later. (Oh, and don’t forget the federal tax deductions.)