Green Qualities to Look for in a Home


By Nichole L. Reber

Article highlights:

  • Properly insulating and ventilating your home
  • How a tankless water heater works
  • Questions to ask about a home's site orientation

In today’s environmentally conscious world, more and more homeowners are turning to Web sites and Realtors designated as EcoBrokers to find their next green-certified home. Whether you’re looking for an environmentally friendly home that’s 100 percent green-certified or just shopping for an abode that includes some appliances and furnishings that will cut down on those rising utility bills, it’s important to arm yourself with some helpful tips before plunking down a large deposit and signing off on a contract.

Tips for an eco-friendly home

Transportation. Close proximity to public transportation is considered so green that it helps homes earn points in green certification programs. Taking mass transit helps reduce air pollution, and some insurance companies offer reduced rates to homeowners who live close to public transportation, says John Stovall, vice president for business development for EcoBroker International.

Insulation. Look for insulation that is rated suitably for your region and has an appropriate R-factor (or R value), a measurement of insulation that indicates how well it’ll be able to withstand moisture and heat or cold air. The higher the R-factor is the lower your utility bills.

Flooring. Hardwood, bamboo, tile, cork or other hard-surface flooring are all easier to maintain than carpeting. These materials also absorb fewer insects and moisture that leads to mold and mildew.

Windows. Opt for windows that are large, insulated, double-hung and well sealed. Large, numerous windows provide for natural lighting, thereby reducing the amount of time you have to use artificial lighting. Double-hung windows are easier to maintain and their operability allow you to open them for natural ventilation. Well-sealed windows are properly sealed (and are usually new) which helps keep the home’s envelope sealed. Insulated windows also filter the sun’s harmful rays.

Water. Tankless water systems provide on-demand access to hot water throughout the home. These systems heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. So forget about running the shower for 10 minutes before you jump in. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. In an electric tankless water heater an electric element heats the water. In a gas-fired tankless water heater a gas burner heats the water. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

High-efficiency toilets, such as Kohler's San Raphael Pressure Lite model, use only one gallon of water per flush (1.0 gpf). This can save a family of four up to 20,000 gallons of water annually, versus an older 3.5 gpf toilet.
High-efficiency toilets, such as Kohler's San Raphael Pressure Lite model, use only one gallon of water per flush (1.0 gpf). This can save a family of four up to 20,000 gallons of water annually, versus an older 3.5 gpf toilet.

Appliances. Energy-saving appliances and low-flow plumbing fixtures are utility bills’ best friends.

Floor plan. Open floor plans add to a home’s sustainability and are easier and typically less expensive to heat, cool and maintain. If you have a better layout and floor plan, you don’t need as big a house.

Shade. Roof overhangs prevent excessive sunlight from blinding or heating up a room.

Location. A properly site-oriented home takes advantage of the sun year-round but also takes access into account. Does it have trees that can provide shade and noise absorption? What happens with the runoff of rainwater? Also, the home should not be near agricultural fields, which contain dust, pesticides and pungent gasses exuded by farm animals.

Landscaping. Native plants and xeriscaping are two landscaping options that minimize the need for irrigation, a tremendous benefit during seasons when water use is restricted. Unlike exotic plants, native species thrive with minimal care (less water and fertilizer). Xeriscaping involves plants that are drought tolerant, grow slowly, conserving water and minimizing yard trimming.

The USGBC’s LEED Checklist has more information on what elements an eco-friendly home. Visit GreenBuilding’s Fast Facts for an insightful and simple list of wasteful products and practices.

Next article: A Green Inspection Can Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient >>

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