Seven Tips For Buying A Green Home

by Owner on July 22, 2009

So I’ve been looking to buy a house. My biggest frustration writing this blog has been that it tends to focus on green home living, and I’ve lived in a rented apartment for the last three years. While it’s certainly possible to adopt green living practices in an apartment, it’s difficult to do a lot of other things such as changing fixtures, gardening organically, and so on.

My frustration is about to melt away, since I just heard an offer I’d put in for a beautiful colonial house had been accepted! It has rich historical value and is in a wonderful neighborhood I can’t wait to move into, barring any catastrophes with the home inspection.

Being green living minded, I’m keeping an eye out for just how eco friendly the property is now, and how green I could make it in the future. Here are seven things I’ve been looking for:

1) Does the house have a reflective white roof? An increasing number of homes are sporting white roofs, which are much more energy efficient than black ones. They reflect the sun’s rays away, keeping the attic and rest of the house considerably cooler. This one feature alone will save thousands of dollars in cooling costs over the years.

I lucked out on this one, the house I’m buying does have a shiny new white roof.

2) Does the house have energy efficient windows?
Look for the Energy Star label on the windows of a house you’re thinking of buying. In my house search I’ve found that sellers who want to showcase their energy efficient windows will often leave the Energy Star label affixed to the window. Given that each window can cost upwards of $1000 to upgrade, these windows can be a major selling point.

I can’t tell how energy efficient my house’s windows are, and there’s no label, but they do look new. They’re more energy efficient than the original windows, at least.

3) Is the house well insulated? Look for evidence of solid insulation in the house’s attic, walls, near plumbing, and so on. The better insulated the house is, the less energy it will consume. A home inspection should help point out the strength of the home’s insulation.

4) Are there any solar features? Does the house have solar panels (the holy grail of energy conservation), solar water heating systems, or even solar lights? The less the house depends on the grid, the better. Alas, my house struck out on this score–no solar systems.

5) Is the house walk friendly? The more walkable the house is, the greener it is. In my house search I really wanted a house that was walking distance to a lot of amenities, so as to avoid using my car (and emitting carbon) as much as possible.

Have you ever heard of the Walk Score website? This site lets you plug in any address and it will compute how walkable the house and its neighborhood is–given its proximity to amenities, mass transit, and the like. You get a score between 1 and 100, with anything above 60 or so being pretty good. It’s not perfect since it’s a computer algorithm that can’t know the details of your neighborhood, but gives a good rule of thumb.

Again I lucked out–the house is half a mile from a subway stop, and half a block to major bus lines. Also within walking distance are supermarkets, a Home Depot, several restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and even a university! The downside is that you will pay a premium to live in such a convenient location–as they say, real estate is all about location, location, location! But for someone determined to be as eco friendly as possible, it may be worth the price.

6) Do you have space for “green” fixtures?
I’m thinking rain barrels, compost bins, things like that. These green additions make a big difference for green living, so having the space for them is ideal. Another check mark for the house I found, there’s plenty of space for these things.

7) Is the lot permeable? If your lot is all paved over, it may be convenient (no garden to maintain) but it’s not very green at all. Water needs a way to pass through the materials we put on top of the ground so as to avoid runoff and soil erosion as well as replenish aquifers and rivers. Do you have uncovered ground on the property? Is pervious paving being used (or could it be installed?) The more the answer is yes, the better.

My house rates as a bit above average in this regard. There is ample gardening space but a fair bit of the lot is paved over to minimize water drainage problems near the house.

Hopefully these tips will guide your green home search. Don’t forget to conduct a home energy audit the minute you move in to see how you can squeeze every last ounce of energy efficiency out of the property!

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