Many homebuyers today are looking at “eco-friendly” or “green” real estate listings that are filled with buzzwords that boast of sustainable materials and energy-saving features. With all the vocabulary found in real estate listings, experts recommend that homebuyers learn what the terms mean before shelling out a lot of green for these ‘green’ features.
“You have to be very careful when you call a property green,” says Dr. John Beldock, CEO of EcoBroker, an Evergreen, Colo.-based company that provides green designation training for real estate professionals.
“Using the term ‘green’ gives a lot of opportunity to misrepresent information about properties,” Beldock says. Plus, consumers who know the facts about property listings can weed out a lot of “green fluff” in home descriptions.
Beldock says the first step to decoding a green real estate listing is to find the national or regional label that describes how energy efficient the home is. He points to the Home Energy Rating System score as the industry standard for energy efficiency in homes.
HERS scores are determined by Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET, a San Diego based nonprofit organization that sets the standards for rating a home’s energy performance. In 2011, about 40 percent of all new homes sold in the U.S. received a RESNET label.
Steve Baden, executive director of RESNET, describes the HERS index as the “miles-per-gallon of a home,” and explains that the lower the score, the more energy efficient a home is. A score of 100 represents a standard new home, and a score of 0 represents a net-zero energy home, meaning it consumes as much energy as it produces. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a typical existing home has a score of 130.
According to Baden, a tester looks at the amount and quality of insulation, window quality, air distribution through sealing and air ducts and hot water efficiency to determine a home’s HERS score.
Obtaining a HERS score is important because “the lower your energy use is, the more powerful your other renewable tools will be,” Baden says. “It is much cheaper to save a kilowatt of energy than it is to produce it.”
Dennis Jackson, a consultant for eggsolar.com, a Los Angeles-based solar marketing and sales firm, supports this point, saying, “the most important factor when looking at solar power in a home is the overall energy efficiency of a home.”
“The amount of savings that comes from having a solar-powered home depends largely on the lifestyle of the family and the roof space of a home,” Jackson says.
Beldock says homebuyers need to know the date of installation and total kilowatt output from a roof system to determine how beneficial solar panels are when assessing a home listing.
Other popular features of a “green” home include rainwater catchment systems, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and recycled materials in the home.
Bill Christensen, founder of sustainablesources.com, an Austin, Texas-based green building resource site, describes rainwater catchment systems as long-term investments. While big water tanks can cost a lot of money, Christensen argues that the benefits, which include softer, chemical free water, come through in the long run.
Low-VOC paints and recycled materials are cheaper and easier solutions to make a home greener, according to Christensen.
Beldock again points to RESNET trained property testers who can analyze a home’s VOC levels and assess the sustainability of any recycled materials, such as carpeting made from recycled bottles or newsprint used as cellulose insulation.