Buying Green? Ask the Right Questions

By Lee Cameron Published 12/17/2009 | Real Estate

Are you thinking of buying a new home and want to find one that is energy efficient and better for the environment? Going green with homes is a big trend right now, thanks to the lower energy costs and the smaller carbon footprint that goes with it. But if you want to find a good green home, you need to know what to ask.

What Is the Size?

Size does matter. The first and most obvious thing to find out about a new home is its size. The larger the house, the more energy it takes to run. Bigger rooms, higher ceilings, extra floorspace - though nice luxuries, they all contribute to higher energy costs. The U.S. Green Building Council keeps track of what is considered a "neutral sized" home, a home that most people need without extra unnecessary space. For a one-bedroom home, the Council suggest 900 square feet. For two bedrooms, it's 1,400 square feet and for three bedrooms, it's 1,900 square feet. 

Which Way Do You Face?

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we get more sunlight from the south than from the north. Because of this, a home with south facing windows will warm up faster than one with north facing windows. This means lower heating costs in the winter, but higher costs in the summer. Here in Florida, where we have to crank the A/C almost year-round, a home with windows facing away from the sun or with heavy shade on the south and west sides will be a little more energy efficient.

How Is the Insulation?

Having the proper amount of insulation and making sure that your windows and doors are properly sealed will prevent air leaks, keeping the cool/warm air inside and keeping your heating and cooling system more efficient.

Has the Air Been Tested?

If you do have a properly insulated home, you might want to have your air tested. Eliminating air leaks is great for your electric bill but it also means that any toxins that may be present in your home will not be easily circulated into the outdoor air. Have the air tested to make sure it is perfectly clean and, if possible, find out whether the home was built with nontoxic materials like low-emission paints and sealants.

How About the Water Systems?

Conserving water is a big part of conserving energy and reducing your carbon footprint. Look into the plumbing fixtures of the home. Are they water-efficient? What about the irrigation system for the lawn? 

How About the Roof?

You might not think of it, but the color of your roof actually makes a different when it comes to cooling and heating your home. A dark colored roof will absorb the sun's heat and the home will take more energy to cool. Likewise, a lighter colored roof will reflect the sun's light and make for an easier to cool home. Also look for skylights that will allow for natural light so you can keep those indoor lamps turned off longer.

And the Materials?

Quite simply, salvaged and recycled building materials are better for the environment. Ask if the home has been built with these materials.

Is It Certified?

Probably the easiest way to tell if a home is truly green is to find out if it has actually been certified green. The U.S. Green Building Council and the EPA have green ratings for homes that can be determined by inspectors or other professionals.

So if you're thinking of going green the next time you buy a new home, good for you! Not only are you helping to provide for a cleaner planet but you'll also reap the rewards in lower energy costs! And now you have a better idea of what to ask to help you on your way.