05 April . 2017
Four Great Gains of Going Green
Over the past three decades, green building programs have burgeoned and taken root as a staple in home construction. No longer a novelty, this innovative approach to design has become integrated with almost every facet of construction, from WaterSense-certified faucets and solar panels to land planning and reclaimed water systems. However, despite the prevalence of these programs, few people have the opportunity to research the long-term, tangible effects of green building.
Builders, developers and homeowners alike can quickly point to overarching benefits, such as energy efficiency, environmental stability and an improved quality of life along with conservation and resource preservation. But what does this mean practically for homeowners? After several decades of formal green building practices, what tangible benefits can the homebuyer expect to enjoy from their energy-efficient, sustainably built home?
1. Pocket change. And lots of it.
One of the most immediate and tangible results of a green built home manifests in your monthly energy bill – or lack thereof! For example, homes built according to the rigorous, third-party regulations of EPA’s Energy Star program prove to be approximately 25 percent more efficient than the average new construction home. Other green building programs provide homeowners with options to increase energy efficiency up to 80 percent. And solar panel systems turn the tide in a major way, often decreasing your energy bills to a flat zero. A home built to a green-certified standard from the outset has the added benefit of system integration; all of these green components are designed to work together to boost overall efficiency.
Individual construction elements can offer significant savings to homeowners who retrofit their homes at any point. For example, the Department of Energy states that low-energy storm windows can save 12 to 33 percent on annual heating and cooling bills, or an insulated water heater tank can secure an extra 7 to 16 percent in savings. Replace an older toilet with a WaterSense-certified model and pocket an extra $100 each year. Additional tree landscape adds shade to the house, maximizing up to 50 percent cooling efforts during the summer. Homeowners can also request an energy assessment that provides a prioritized list of modifications tailored to your house design. For a current homeowner looking to retrofit a standard-built home, options abound.
Benefits of energy efficient construction also emerge over time. Recent research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that installing solar panels not only offers potential net zero energy (no energy bills) but also increases the value of your home. For homeowners that own their solar panel system, home appraisals increase by $2.68 per every watt of solar energy. And unlike traditional power sources (coal, gas, nuclear), solar power is immune to rising fuel costs. In essence, once you install solar panels, you can enjoy a locked-in rate of power for the next 25 years.
From individual features to overall composition, the savings pay off in spades. For example, Briar Chapel, one of the largest green communities in the Triangle, has collectively saved residents approximately $1 million since its inception in 2008, according to research by Southern Energy Management. What could your community do with this extra pocket change each year? 9,110 family cookouts. 14,015 movie nights. 2,603 weekends at the beach. 60,733 freshly baked apple pies. It’s the good stuff of life.
2. A Healthier Quality of Life.
Energy efficient, green designed home systems pay close attention to the Indoor Air Quality (AIG) and improve air quality on three fronts:
- Eliminating initial pollutants in building materials. Many homeowners work with their builders to select chemical-free products, such as carpets or flooring installed with nontoxic glues or paints with low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) levels. Don’t introduce pollutants to the environment from the outset.
- Ventilating the current airflow efficiently. Here’s where the overall home design comes into play. Everything from HVAC design to timers on bathroom fans keep fresh, clean air flowing throughout the house without unnecessarily losing heated or cool air to the outdoors. Homes cannot be too tight, but they can under-ventilate. Homes built according to green standards ensure proper ventilation.
- Filtering out new pollutants. A plethora of elements, from quality air filters to direct vent range hoods, removes pollutants that may sneak into your home after an accidental burned dinner or that may ride in on the family pup.
For the homeowner, clean, fresh air may not be as quantitatively measurable as savings on energy bills, but the impact is equally as vital. Without a well-ventilated, filtrated air system, pollutants can fester inside your home and lead to potential health challenges over time. According to the EPA, indoor pollutants can produce a variety of harmful effects, including aggravating allergies, producing cold-like symptoms and even abetting cancer and respiratory illnesses.
A green-certified air system means cleaner, fresher air and less daily toxins that might affect your future health. It means your toddler can play on your carpet without threat of inhaling harmful glues or fumes. It means that North Carolina’s notorious pollen stays outside of your walls. It means you and your family can breathe easy and enjoy the great indoors together.
3. Efficient, stable water resources.
Since every drop counts, green-built homes mandate vital features that save water, lower water bills and provide an overall more efficient system for your family. Water-saving features can be added incrementally – a drip-free faucet here, an efficient toilet there. But homeowners will see more dynamic results when these elements are integrated into a green home system that features an efficient hot water delivery system or landscape design that minimizes irrigation.
For example, according to the EPA, homes built with all WaterSense-certified elements can help homeowners save 50,000 gallons of water each year, which translates into approximately $600 of annual savings in utility bills as compared to a standard built home. What could you do with those types of savings? Wendell Falls, a new home community in Wendell, N.C. built with ecoSelect program, partnered with Southern Energy Management to save their residents enough water to offset 91 annual loads of laundry.
For those that enjoy outdoor living, water reclamation programs can meet the needs of even the most avid gardener. One inch of rain falling on 1000 square feet of roof space will yield 620 gallons of water. According to U.S. Climate Data, Raleigh, North Carolina alone receives an average of 46.6 inches of rainfall annually, which could yield approximately 28,890 gallons of water. With this amount of reclaimed water, homeowners may never need to use potable water sources to maintain their landscapes. In addition, rainwater barrels can be aesthetically integrated into your landscape as a water feature.
Homeowners can also see the long-term benefits of a sustainably built water system. In some cases, master-planned communities, such as Briar Chapel in Chapel Hill, include their own independent water system that utilizes reclaimed water to irrigate parks and residential lots within the community. This significantly minimizes the community’s demand for potable water. Not only does this preserve the county’s finite water sources, it also means that residents have a stable supply in seasons of draught or change. It also means that you get to enjoy the lush landscape and natural topography preserved in part by the efficient, reclaimed water systems.
4. Rejuvenation, Relaxation, Relationships.
The benefits of green building extend far beyond the dollar and cents of energy bills and drip-free faucets. Sustainable land design encourages mobility, activity and social interaction – another investment in the long-term vitality of each community. Many master-planned communities draw inspiration from the original topography and preserve open space, natural landscape and indigenous wildlife.
This translates into neighborhoods dotted with parks and playgrounds, lawns for games of Frisbee or tag, winding trails for biking or family strolls, and babbling brooks for afternoon play. Briar Chapel, for example, features 24 miles of trails, 20 parks and more than 900 acres of preserved open space. These natural gathering areas encourage homeowners to meet, interact, plan events and build relationships. Without the commute, family activities, friend meet-ups, date nights and local concerts are all just an easy stroll from your own back door.
Walkability is another core tenant of design. Sustainable communities connect each segment of their neighborhoods and open space with sidewalks, paths and trails that allow residents to commute on foot. Not only does this save costs in vehicle gas and decrease CO2 emissions, but walkable paths also encourage an active lifestyle. There’s certainly no shortage of research touting the benefits of exercise. Who doesn’t crave reduced stress levels, improved quality of sleep, better health and a stronger sense of well-being? And packed schedules often prohibit time for exercise, meditation or rejuvenation. However, elements of a healthy lifestyle are integrated into the very fabric of a sustainable, master-planned community. With access to your home, you have access to a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle and an improved quality of life.
Of course, there are a plethora of additional benefits of green-certified homes, energy efficient lifestyles and sustainable construction practices. Continue to explore what green building means for you and your family, from monetary savings and healthier lifestyles to a long-term legacy for your community.
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