Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Home, Green Home

A green-home boom is getting under way, thanks to rising energy prices, new standards (the European Union’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, Britain’s Code for Sustainable Homes and California’s Green Building Standards Code, to name three recent examples), and improved technologies. Many of these technologies have been around for a while, but they are now ready for the mainstream. In 2007 McGraw Hill Construction, a research firm, reported that 40% of all renovation in America included some green features, mostly windows and heating/cooling systems. The company predicts green homes will account for 10% of all building starts in America by 2010, with new green homes worth $20 billion in that year. When housing arises from its torpor, it could find itself transformed.

Greenery can be hard to define, so the emergence of credible certifiers is clarifying things. The most stringent form of certification is the German Passivhaus standard, which applies to buildings that reduce their energy requirements so dramatically—by 90% compared with standard construction—that they can forgo heating and cooling systems. In 2007 the United States Green Building Council released a version of its LEED green-building standard that applies to homes. (Mr Rogers’s home is certified as LEED Platinum, the highest standard available.) And for more than a decade, America’s Environmental Protection Agency has offered Energy Star for Homes, a label indicating specific features meant to reduce energy use. Sam Rashkin, the programme’s director, expects nearly 1m American homes to carry the label by the end of this year.

Market forces are at play, too. Mr Rogers says his 2,100-square-foot house—just under the average for new homes in America—cost $75,000, or 23%, more to build impeccably green than it would have otherwise. He received $35,000 in rebates and incentives from state and federal governments, and he expects to recoup the rest in avoided energy costs within five years. Given the recent spike in energy prices, it may not take that long.
If the additional cost of going green is repaid in 5 years, I don't know why anyone wouldn't do it. If you get a 30 year mortgage, any green features that have a payback period of under 30 years should make economic sense (you save more in energy costs each month than the additional amount you pay on your mortgage).

I wonder if the government mandated that home sellers had to specify the expected energy costs to heat and cool the home, just like car sellers must specify the MPG of their cars, if this would make people aware of the cost difference between homes and see the financial benefit of going green.

Lots of interesting new green home technologies discussed in the article.

via The Economist

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