The housing market remains stagnant across most of the country, and analysts are worried about rising interest rates as well as widespread subprime mortgage lending. Some observers are beginning to ask if a beacon of light may be found in the burgeoning field of green building.
In green construction, designers and builders commit to minimizing waste, improving a building's efficiency in terms of energy and water use, using sustainable or recycled products, and protecting indoor air quality. Walter Molony, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors, said he believes green features may help homeowners stand out from the competition. "People definitely value energy efficiency," Molony said via telephone from the NAR's LEED-certified green office building in Washington, DC. As utility costs continue to rise, it becomes greater value in people's minds, he added.
Molony said his industry doesn't yet have a reliable way of breaking down sales of green versus conventional homes. But a number of trends provide insight into green building's great promise. More than 97,000 homes have been built and certified by voluntary green building programs around the country since the mid-1990s, according to the National Association of Home Builders, representing a 50 percent increase from the group's 2004 survey. Further, more than half of NAHB's 235,000 members (representing about 80 percent of homebuilders) reported that they expect to be employing at least some green building practices by the end of the year.
A number of realtors around the country have reported increasing buyer requests for green homes. Citing consumer demand, the Northwest MLS (Multiple Listing Service) recently announced that it is updating its database to allow for property searches based on a range of green features.
Maude Salinger, a spokesperson for the first residential green neighborhood in New Hampshire, Peterborough's Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm, explained in an e-mail that ten of the development's 29 homes were sold before even a single foundation was poured. Eight additional homes were snapped up well before completion. Some of the neighborhood's green features include an organic farm, a central pellet-fired heat plant, highly insulated structures, solar hot water collectors, natural and recycled materials, and perimeter parking (meaning there are no attached garages).
Owners of green homes tend to be happier than when they lived in more conventional digs, according to a recent NAHB/McGraw-Hill Construction survey. Perhaps another telling sign of the green shift in the building trades is the fact that almost 40 percent of Americans who recently renovated their dwellings did so with at least some green products.
Late this spring, the NAHB announced that it is working to create widely applicable standards for green home construction. The U.S. Green Building Council is also in the process of rolling out LEED certification (already well established for commercial structures) for the residential sector.
There may be no better time than now to invest in some smart energy efficiency and green improvements around your house.
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