By Ginger Downs, RCE, CAE, IOM
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Association of Realtors
Energy-conscious individuals used to be those who made sacrifices to help the environment: They set their heat at 62 degrees in the winter, traded in their SUVs for hybrid sedans, and used clotheslines to dry their laundry. Though these people still exist, an increasing number of people are helping the environment without changing any habits. They are living the good life while living a green life, thanks to new developments in sustainable home building.
Green homes are blending into the streetscapes, with no solar panels or other visible differences in appearance. Home builders have progressed immensely in the amount of eco-friendly products offered, even for high-end homes. Builders are building it because consumers are demanding it.
Why are so many choosing to go green? Besides the obvious reasons, such as saving on utility bills during a time of increasing fuel costs, many homeowners are viewing their houses as lifelong investments and, thus, want that investment to pay off. The more eco-friendly individuals are going green because they feel it is the right thing to do.
Green building is not only about saving on your monthly bills, but also entails taking action to live a healthier lifestyle. Earth-friendly features found in green homes may include:
• Bamboo flooring
Not only more durable than hardwood, bamboo has a short growing season. Within five years, it will grow to mature hardness, making this a renewable resource. Cork flooring is another environmentally sound choice. Tree bark is harvested every nine years to produce cork, rather than destroying the entire tree. The tree then re-grows the bark, making this a renewable resource.
Recycled denim jeans have walked their way into homes as cotton fiber insulation. Another new choice is spray polyurethane foam, which does not emit any harmful gases, and eco-friendly fiberglass, made from recycled materials. An insulating concrete form, which is poured concrete with foam insulation in the middle, is another option. Insulation is key in saving on energy costs.
• Low VOCs
Volatile organic compounds are as bad as the name suggests and are found in every home, whether it be paint, carpet glue or varnish. They release chemicals into the air, causing headaches and nausea, and worsening symptoms of allergy and asthma sufferers. Low-VOC products are becoming mainstream due to the obvious health benefits. The low-VOC products reduce the amount of chemicals emitted into the air, though they will run a few dollars more.
• Water-saving appliances and fixtures
From dishwashers and toilets that use less water to faucets designed to aerate the water, these environmentally conscious choices are becoming standard. Rainwater filtration systems are also being installed in homes.
• Mechanical ventilation system
Research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates indoor air can be two- to five-times more polluted than outdoor air. Houses today are so well insulated that fresh air doesn’t circulate easily, so some people are installing a mechanical ventilation system, costing between $500 and $2,000 to improve air quality.
According to a 2006 survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects, about 90 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to pay $5,000 more to build or buy a house that would use less energy or protect the earth.
A home doesn’t need to be filled with energy-efficient upgrades to save on heating and cooling. The design of the home plays a large part in heating and cooling by maximizing on exposure to winter sun and minimizing the effects of summer heat. However, certain energy-efficient upgrades will allow for a maximum of $500 in tax credits.
No matter what choices homeowners and builders make, one thing is certain: A house need not be covered in solar paneling to save energy. Going green is getting easier by the day.
The Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR), “The Voice for Real Estate in Chicago” since 1883, represents the business interests of more than 16,500 real estate professionals in Chicagoland. CAR is led by a voluntary board of directors, elected by the membership, who work in partnership with a professional administrative staff.