We think of sustainable building as parts of a whole, but we need to think of our house as a system.
I was sitting in on a fantastic open house two weekends ago in a Fairfax, Virginia home that has been entirely gutted to the studs and remodeled to the nines. A stunning home through and through, it was originally built in the 1950’s, but had been brought up to speed by the amazing attention to detail that the homeowners provided through defining what is important to us all as we live in an age where sustainably built homes means high performance. The home owners obviously had taken the time to consider what was important to them about making their home operate as a comfortable and healthy system; enough to make their home over 2 times more efficient than it had been before they did the remodel.
Northern Virginia is a very interesting climate. We have the muggy, hot Summers and the super cold, possibly snowy Winters. Therefore, when we buy homes, we need to take into consideration how we are going to live in our homes comfortably, and sustainably. I mentioned that the house is a system in and of itself, and this, in a nutshell, means that each part of home from the insulation to the HVAC need to be properly installed and rated to maximize their efficiency. While I was sitting in this beautiful home that is highly energy efficient and pristine in its lay out, I wondered what the folks walking through were thinking about. What matters to people when they are buying a house?
A recent marketing study noted that 60% of folks don’t necessarily know what living sustainably means. When asked how they would go about making their home a more “green” environment, typically they could not answer. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to live in a more high performance, thereby more sustainable home, they just don’t know where to start. Of the people polled, 5% could give 3-5 options for making their home high performance, including adding higher rated insulation (achieving R38+), installing a variable speed HVAC system that is properly sized to the home, and installing low flow plumbing fixtures just to name a few. What are the things that you think about when you think about home energy efficiency?
I asked some of the people wondering through the house what they found important in their home search, and none of them happened to mention energy efficiency, which was sort of a shocker. They were thinking more along the lines of aesthetics, which is quite important, as buying a home is an emotional thing, and we need to feel a draw to our homes, but it is also a comfort thing, too. Saving money in the long run, on a home which has been designed to work in sync was a whole system can provide comfort, both on your pocket book, and your body while you’re enjoying properly ventilated space. Something that I try to discuss with my clients, aside from home energy efficiency is the cost effective nature of energy efficiency. That is why banks started to offer products such as energy efficient mortgages. An energy efficient mortgage will allow for a home, even in the Northern Virginia real estate market to add to the loan to upgrade to energy efficient systems. In a nutshell, an EEM is like a construction loan, but the borrower will have a larger amount of money to deal with because the bank factors in the cost savings on the generous energy efficient upgrades.
Whether you are in a new or old home, there are always improvements we can make to have a more energy efficient, high performance home. Living in a home that is sustainably built will mean more cost savings in the long run, and a healthier indoor air quality.