When we got our solar water heater, a well-meaning friend cautioned that its unconventional nature might actually detract from our home's value because homebuyers don't like things they aren't used to. He'd heard that on the market, "green" homes are a novelty not worth the premium they cost to create.
We, of course, didn't care. Our home is for us, not some generic future buyer from whom we wish to wring maximum profit. Our goal is sustainable living, whatever it takes.
Still the question remains: Are the green investments we're making cutting off our real estate nose to spite our retirement's face? The answer is a happy no.
According to a new study from California, green certification adds about 9% to a home's resale value. That's in line with the evidence from Europe, which shows that green homes there are worth about 10% more while non-green homes are discounted. Researchers also discovered a "Prius Effect" in which buyers of homes in zip codes with more hybrid car registrations were more willing to pay extra for green attributes than those in areas with fewer hybrids.
It appears green is a real estate plus, and that's good news for a needful world. At the same time, it's clear this is about more than weatherstripping or LED light bulbs. The homes in question are green-certified, a label earned only by serious attic-to-basement efforts.
There are a number of green home certification programs. The big ones are LEED for Homes and the National Association of Home Builders Green Building Certification. Both offer various levels of certification based on everything from building materials and indoor air quality to energy and water efficiency. There are also state and local certifications homeowners can seek. Then there's my route: forget certification and just add as much sustainability as you can afford to create value for the planet now and extra resale worth later. With that in mind, here are some places to start your own home's green journey:
- Better water heating. Most systems use fossil fuels to keep a big, rarely needed tank of water blazing hot 24/7. That's dumb. Upgrading to a solar set-up or an on-demand unit, which heats only the water actually being used, starts saving a lot of energy and money immediately.
- Efficient appliances. When it's time to replace major appliances, look for the Energy Star label and choose high-rated models. Selecting a front-loading washing machine will save water. Don't underestimate the value of upgrading appliances that still function—fridges made today, for example, are 60% more efficient than those from the early 90s. When new standards take effect in 2014, they'll be 25% more efficient still.
- Install low-flow plumbing fixtures. If your showerheads and toilets date to circa 1995 or earlier, they're likely big water wasters. Replacing them with models meeting today's standards ensures years of lower water bills for an affordable initial cost.
- New Windows. Sure, they're expensive but so is paying for the energy that leaks out of old windows. Even if you do it one room at a time, the savings new windows provide will be worth it to you and to future buyers, too.
- Attic insulation. This one is easy, relatively cheap, and pays big dividends. Add enough insulation to cover your floor joists, and you'll see the kind of lower energy bills household budgets and homebuyers love.
- Insulate your hot water pipes. This is another fairly simple action that will pay dividends—especially if you heat with hot water.
- Remodel consciously. When it's time for a makeover, use low-emission or fume- and/or formaldehyde-free building materials. Reclaimed or sustainable harvest limber, locally-sourced natural materials, and Energy Star light fixtures can also create eco-appeal.
Changes like these, made as budgets allow, essentially create a green house, and they could help you earn an official certification. Even if they don't, the lower bills they provide are great selling points that will benefit the environment immediately and your wallet from now until your realtor sets your closing date.