Buyers are losing interest in an energy-draining dream home that comes with high costs and wasteful space. The economy has swiftly changed us from seeking abundant to practical living. A real estate ad that sings praises about all of the space that a home has to offer, like this dream home described below in an ad, now has a buyer's head spinning with dollar signs and question marks above.
"Lavishly outfitted Old World style home perfect for anyone looking for a free and spacious environment, with high arching doors and high ceilings throughout. A 23-foot ceiling with an arched window above in the great room gives a very spacious feeling. The grand foyer sets the tone, with a curving staircase that leads to a loft overlooking the main room and leading to the numerous upstairs rooms."
Buyer asks, "How much is it going to cost me to heat and cool this place?"
Such a wealth of space was yesterday's appeal. We quickly have become more sensible, realizing the drain a lot of space has on energy costs and mortgage payments. We are a people looking to cut our costs. And as such, we are shopping for homes that allow us to do more with less space.
Economic times are shaping us, and many folks now are making energy-smart choices when considering the dream home of our future. People are looking for economic security as well as ways to reduce their impact on the environment. This new home is practical, affordable, and actually quite appealing, and its name is "Energy-Efficient."
Is building an energy-efficient home really worth it?
The average homeowner spends close to $1,300 a year on utility bills. An energy-efficient home can reduce utility bills by 10 to 50%, according to Alliant Energy.
The Energy Information Administration has projected a 15% increase in space heating costs compared to last year, as we are faced with higher energy costs and a projected colder winter this season. These trends are expected to continue.
The benefits of energy efficiency are multiple: reduced energy bills, energy use, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, and increased energy security.
But what does the new "Energy-Efficient" home look like?
Your new dream home is likely to be smaller but designed to look bigger with the right floor plan, window locations and color choices. Multi-purpose rooms and convertible furniture selections make it easier to do more with less space. Shared spaces save on square footage (and save on furniture too). For example, creative planning on a recent TKA house design resulted in a 15' X 30' family room that converts into a 24-person dining room for holiday entertaining.
It's also going to be a lot easier to maintain your energy-efficient home, because it's smaller, and also because the level of wear and tear is reduced as it is protected from outside elements and indoor air is more effectively controlled.
Construction elements that lower your bills. Effective insulation, a tightly sealed "thermal envelope" including energy-efficient, strategically placed windows that shields the house from the outdoors and warm the interiors, plus controlled ventilation that will reduce indoor air pollutants and reduce damage from excessive moisture accumulation are features of the energy-efficient home. These features all work to lower your heating and cooling bills (see more on how passive solar design can save you money). A number of builders are differentiating themselves by joining the federal government's Building America and Energy Star Homes program, or other programs from the U.S. Green Building Council or National Association of Home Builders; which promote energy-efficient houses (see our guide to green home labels).
Effective landscaping that helps reduce costs. Your landscaping plan is significant to the efficiency of your home. Trees that are leafy in summer and bare in winter will provide shade through the warmer months and allow warm sunlight to enter in the colder months. Evergreen trees also provide effective protection from chilling winds in winter.
Extra savings if you go "Energy-Efficient." The proud owner of an energy-efficient home may qualify for a bigger mortgage and get a tax break. Energy-Efficient Mortgages (EEMs) allow some new homeowners to qualify for a larger mortgage with a lower annual income, because they factor in the energy savings expected in homes built to high energy-efficiency standards. A lower federal tax bill is another benefit. A new law for 2009 offers a consumer tax credit for certain energy-efficient home improvements. You can get a one-time income tax credit of up to $500 in total for installing efficient new windows, insulation, doors, roofs, and heating and cooling equipment in your home. Visit the Alliance to Save Energy website for details.
The best benefits of designing and building the "Energy-Efficient" home are the lower operating costs, a healthier interior environment, and increased level of comfort for daily living in your home. You'll see these benefits directly relate to an increase in your home's market value as well.
Your dream home is no longer the all-consuming 5,000+ square foot, multi-level with high ceilings, plus a full, finished basement and 3-car garage. No -- you want to build smaller and smarter, design creative living spaces, and enjoy how you are doing more with less.
--By Tom Kapusta, founder of TKA+Partners, a Chicago-based architectural firm that practices the business of responsible architectural design.
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