Green Home Building – Not Yet the Wave of the Future

Contrary to Proponents’ beliefs, the Adoption of Green Home Building practices will be Slow to Take Off

By Mark J. Donovan

When watching HGTV or other home related television shows today, the concept of green home building seems to be a common theme. The television personalities talk as if every home built today is being constructed 100% green, or if not, it should be. The fact of the matter is that less than 1% of homes built today are truly “green homes”. And their assertion that within a decade that 50% of homes built will be “Green Homes” seems far fetched. Why, because the cost of building green homes is extremely expensive.

Unless the government mandates green home construction, and to some extent they are already, the chances of 50% of the homes being built truly green in 10 years is slim to none.

If the government does make it mandatory, then I suspect a lot of people will be living homeless or in government subsidized apartment complexes in the future. The definition of a green home will need to be changed, akin to calling a used car “pre-owned” in order to pacify the proponents of green home building, and still build homes that people can afford to buy.

So what is a green home? A green home is a home that has been constructed to utilize dramatically less energy, water and other natural resources than the standard home built today. Also, by today’s green home standards, the home has to be less than 2,500 square feet in total living space. The definition and certification of green home construction is set and measured by several organizations including, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the U.S. Green Building Council, the Environments for Living, HealthyBuilt Homes, and the EPA’s Energy Star Program. All of these organizations set green home standards in some way or form and some provide green building certification. Green kitchen appliances should be part of any green home building project.

Green homes are rated on a point or star system, where a 5 star rating is deemed the highest level of green home building conformance. In order for a home to quality as a truly green home it needs to meet a number of key metrics and features.

First, the home has to be constructed in such a way that it is virtually air tight with no inadvertent air leakage inside or outside of the home. Second, the home has to be insulated using green insulation materials, e.g. recycled newspaper, versus materials that could outgas and pollute the environment.

Third, the air conditioning system has to be highly efficient and sized properly for the house such that the bare minimum is used to heat and cool the home. Lastly, the home has to utilize conservation techniques and methods for water and electricity consumption.

All of these metrics and features require rare and expensive materials and significantly more time and material costs, thus making the home a custom home.

New Home Construction Bid Sheet

For the masses, most builders have traditionally built standard style homes at affordable prices. The green home proponents, however, argue that the cost of building a green home only adds 3% to 5% to the cost of building a home. I disagree vehemently. Just visit your local home improvement center and look at the variation in cost in Energy Star rated kitchen appliances. You will see that the highest Energy Star related appliances have price tags well in excess of 5% of their lower performing competitors. Suffice it to say, building a 5 star green LEED certified home will cost more like 2 to 3 times what the average home costs to build today.

I do not disagree with the concept of the green home and its proponents goals. They are commendable and I do hope we get to their stated objectives someday. However, in the mean time people need to have a place to live. It’s just that it is unreasonable to expect for the average homebuyer to pay 2 to 3 times the price of a traditional home. It simply won’t happen.

They don’t have the money. And making it mandatory will only force more home buyers into situations where they have to obtain larger mortgages. Larger mortgages that they will be more likely to default on, and as a result, create another collapse in the real estate market sometime in the not too distant future.

Only when the home building manufacturers figure out ways to reduce the cost of the green home building materials and processes will there be any hope of achieving the stated goals of the green home building advocates.

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