When thinking about “green” homes, consumers often think first about new home construction and the opportunity to build a fully sustainable home from the ground up. However, there are also vast unrealized opportunities to increase the resource efficiency of existing homes. In the recent major revision of coursework for the National Association of Realtor’s Green Designation, the content was revised to amplify the focus on existing homes.
The opportunities to increase a home's efficiency occur on a spectrum, from energy surveys – a systematic review of how energy is used within your house - to major remodeling and retrofitting, and finally to new home construction. We will discuss each of these opportunities here briefly, but urge all interested readers to obtain additional education on the topic with Green Designation coursework through NAR, either in the classroom or online.
In each of these phases, smart home devices and technology may be installed as needed or desired. Smart home installations have applications across the entire spectrum.
The simplest and quickest approach to increasing your home's efficiency is to do a walk-through energy survey of your house. An energy survey is sometimes called a clipboard audit, simple assessment, screening or preliminary audit. The walk-through survey usually doesn't include any diagnostic testing, but it might. The evaluator may look for symptoms that indicate a problem, or concentrate on a particular problem like comfort or health issues. A home energy survey takes about an hour to complete. After the survey, you can implement suggested improvements immediately, or over time.
After performing your energy survey, the opportunity is to increase a home's resource-efficiency as part of routine or major maintenance projects. These can include replacement of major appliances, heating/cooling systems, windows, entryways, security systems, ventilation, plumbing, and so on. Upgrade projects like these enhance or maintain a home's value when compared with new and upgraded homes in the market area.
A quick and easy fix is replacing your old incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs with more energy efficient LED light bulbs. Not only do these LED bulbs save energy, which in turn saves you money, they last longer than traditional bulbs, sometimes lasting years depending on how often you use them. And as the technology has improved, the price of LED bulbs has dropped dramatically over the years, making their use a no-brainer.
Also use surge protectors for entertainment systems or other high-energy drawing electronics. Make the surge protector easily accessible, so that at night or when not in use, you can turn everything off with the flick of one switch. This helps prevent “ghosting”, or the draining of electricity by electronics even when they are turned off.
Further, consider installing new fixtures like water-saving faucet aerators in the bathroom or kitchen. Pipe wraps around your pipes will also help save energy.
Opportunities for resource-efficiency retrofitting are enormous during major renovations. Deep energy retrofits are on the extreme end of cost and effort when it comes to making homes more energy-efficient, but can achieve dramatic energy savings.
The process typically involves resealing the building envelope, super-insulating, upgrading systems including HVAC, and installing energy generation capacity like solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. If a homeowner plans to do major renovations such as replacing a roof or siding, it may be an opportunity for a whole-house deep energy retrofit. The first step is a thorough, professional energy assessment to determine which actions will produce the most benefit.
Finally, a new home, especially a custom home, provides the opportunity to make a myriad of choices to achieve all the benefits of a resource-efficient home. From high-efficiency systems to innovative materials, and more, the opportunities for upgrades are vast. The real estate professional can play a valuable role in guiding a client to authoritative sources of information and helping put together the design-and-build team who will transform the client's vision of a new, resource-efficient home into a reality.
Some real estate professionals who have made sustainability a major focus of their businesses find that clients and customers turn to them as a source of information about greening homes. Expanding your network to include green vendors, energy assessors, builders, designers, and other service providers benefits your clients and customers and enhances your reputation, credibility, and appeal.