Make an Old Home Green

by Chicago Agent

By Judy MacDonald

With new green construction grabbing all the attention, you might think that older homes have no place in the green movement; however, this is not the case. If you remember the three R’s of green  reduce, reuse and recycle  you’ll see that old homes can be made green, too.

While new construction can address the first R, by reducing the costs of transport and materials, in an urban environment there’s often an older building to be disposed of first. In this case, where does the building go? Since January 2007, the city of Chicago has mandated that 50 percent of (non-hazardous) construction waste be reused or recycled. However, that leaves 50 percent of all those materials, bricks, mortar, foundation, sidewalks, driveways, pipes, roofing materials and more, all going to waste in our landfills. Living in an older home reduces up to 100 percent of construction waste, something worth pointing out to your clients who are aching for the latest green-friendly construction.

To measure the green factor of an existing home, start by comparing the home and any renovations already done with one of the many rating systems out there. Several systems have itemized lists that you can download for free.

When assessing an older home for its green qualities, it’s important to keep the fundamentals in mind. It’s easy for your clients to be swayed by the bells and whistles like solar panels or geothermal heating, but you must remind them that what green homes really address, new or old, is energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation and indoor air quality. Just about every aspect of a home, from the roofing materials and insulation in the attic to landscaping and the materials in the driveway, contribute to a home’s green profile.

Many cities, including Chicago, have created their own green remodeling and building guidelines. To start out, check into these programs. Whether your client intends to remodel or not, the guidelines can give you an idea of what types of home features are desirable. Maybe these features are already present in an older home that your eco-friendly client desires. The Chicago Green Homes Program is a star system, where owners earn points for different green features found in a home. Owners can earn five points for allowing only diffuse/muted lighting to leave the home, eight points for a rain garden and 20 points for renovating an existing building. For 200 points homeowners receive one star, 250 earns two stars and 300 points get owners to the top level with three stars.

Most local programs are based on the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Originally designed as guidelines for building large commercial facilities, the USGBC has now expanded LEED programs to cover single-family homes, commercial interiors and renovations of existing buildings. Together with The American Society of Interior Designers’ Foundation, the USGBC has published free guidelines on home renovation known as The Regreen Guidelines. While the USGBC is the leader and best known in the industry, it is a good idea to look into local sources, because what works best in Atlanta, is different from what works in Miami, Seattle or Chicago.

If you want to get a baseline on a home’s energy efficiency, even without planning a renovation, I recommend a home energy audit. Home energy auditors are independent construction professionals who will come into the home, for about the price of a home inspection, and can review its energy efficiency. Some energy auditors focus on only one type of energy like the electrical system, but your best bet is to approach your listing like it’s a system in itself. Especially the heating, ventilation, insulation and windows can and should work as an integrated, interdependent system. You can find whole house energy auditors through the EPA’s Home Performance Program or Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) who are responsible for the protocols for certified energy raters and are recognized by the U.S. mortgage industry and the federal government for verification of building energy performance.

Once the home has had an energy audit, not only will you know how well the home is performing, you will also know what needs to be done in terms of making that home even more green-friendly for your clients. You’ll find out whether the windows should be replaced, the gaps need to be filled in the insulation or if it is a simple fix like purchasing a more efficient furnace. With just a few changes to a home’s efficiency, you could entice a number of green-friendly clients into making a new purchase of an older home.

Some Sites to Visit:
cityofchicago.org – Chicago’s Green Building Program. Type green homes program into the search window
usgbc.org – USGBC’s national site
chapters.usgbc.org/Chicago – USGBC’s Chicago chapter calendar
greenhomeguide.org – Regreen Guidelines and Green Home Guide
energystar.gov – The U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program

Judy MacDonald, e-Pro, is a Realtor with Century 21 Sussex & Reilly in Chicago. A lifelong green activist, MacDonald has been closely involved in the renovation of and remodeling of several Midwestern homes, including the recent green renovation of a two-flat in Chicago’s Bowmanville neighborhood.

Copyright 2008 Agent Publishing LLC

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