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2011-03-04 19:27:47

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The old adage – pay me now or pay me later may be appropriate or is it?  The current financial and foreclosure  crisis is causing a lot of people to re-evaluate their lifestyles.  Suddenly, their home is less of an investment and more of a burden.  What positive changes are developing as a result of years of excessiveness and negatively impacting our environment?

Small is now the new BIG.  Even though American homes were being built with better HVAC systems, double glazed windows, more insulation, and energy saving devices, they consumed more energy because they just kept on getting bigger in size.  Easy money and financing encouraged people to buy more than they needed since housing was an Investment.  The best and simplest way to save energy is to heat and cool less space.  Smaller homes placed tightly together translates into shorter roads with enough density to support neighborhood stores that reduces car travel and urban sprawl.

Good Design Saves Money.  Most homes were designed by Merchant Builders, not Architects.  Most Builders do not typically worry about site orientation, window placement, or solar angles.  The main focus was on getting the plans approved and built.  Good design practices and applications cut energy use, allow for natural day-lighting, and promote healthier homes through the use of more efficient space planning.  Low Tech can be better than High Tech.  There are high tech solutions to energy saving with ground source heat pumps and solar panels that can cost a lot of money.  Low tech solutions such as awnings, porches, window placement that can take advantage of natural breezes, site orientation allowing for natural ventilation and natural lighting can easily reduce utility bills.

Invest In Quality and Durability.  Cheap things break down more quickly and are harder to repair or maybe not repairable.   People are beginning to think long term and are beginning to value more enduring things.  There are many building products that may cosmetically appear substantial to the average consumer, but upon failures and shortened economic life spans their durability is very short.  Ultimately quality and durability means less replacements and repairs.

Most authorities and experts in green buildings have a standard of what a green building constitutes. Also known as a sustainable building, it is a structure that is designed, built, renovated, operated, or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner.  Green buildings are designed to meet certain objectives, such as protecting occupant health, improving employee productivity, using energy, water, and other resources more efficiently; and reducing the overall impact on the environment.

Cost and Payoff

The most criticized issue about constructing sustainable buildings is the price.  Photo-voltaics, new appliances, and modern technologies tend to cost more money.  Estimates can vary but green buildings can cost a premium of over 2%, but can easily yield 10 times as much over the entire life of the building.  A landmark study performed in 2008, entitled The Cost and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings, by Greg Kats and etal outlined these findings.  The key is awareness and knowledge of up-front or First Cost vs. Life Cycle Costs.  Material costs can be reduced during the construction phase by dimensional planning, which is a strategy to design for minimizing framing needs, carpet, and etc.

It is important to assess the cost effectiveness through the life cycle cost method, a way of assessing total building costs over time.  This method consists of:

•    Initial Costs (design and construction)

•    Operating Costs (energy, water/sewage, waste, recycling, and other utilities)

•    Maintenance, repair, and replacement costs.

•    Other environmental or social costs/benefits (impacts on transportation, solid waste, water, energy, infrastructure, worker productivity, outdoor air emissions, etc.)

Most single family residential property owners may never conduct such studies for existing homes they may be residing in, although it is quite common for condominiums, commercial, and industrial properties to perform these audits or building reserve studies that analyze building components and life cycles of building systems.

A recent survey study conducted at the end of 2010 by the NAHB Research Center through the joint cooperation of Whirlpool Corporation and Habitat for Humanity International revealed that the vast majority (64%) indicated that savings from green home features were sometimes worth the added costs and efforts.  This finding was consistent across all income levels levels groups for both renters and homeowners.

Under Habitat’s nonprofit construction model, Habitat affiliates across the United States are incorporating sustainable materials and energy efficient products in Habitat homes.  Habitat feels that this is a responsible building practice and it improves the affordability of homes for Habitat partner homeowners.  Habitat spokesmen have often stated that there is a constant challenge to help people understand that building green does not mean it can’t be affordable too!

Cost Efficient Home

The net cost of owning a green home is comparable to – or even cheaper than owning a standard home.  Finding the right professionals familiar with green building techniques can save money and assure the homeowner is getting the best quality work possible.  Savings can be counted in many ways month after month:

•    Save money by consuming less energy and water

•    A healthier home can translate into fewer doctor visits and lost work days

•    Many insurance companies are offering premium reductions for green homes

•    Several mortgage companies offer discounted rates for green homes

•    A green home is often more durable than a standard home because its high quality building materials and construction processes require fewer repairs

•    Market demand for resale green homes can often be higher than standard home construction

The history of green building techniques is really thousands of years old, and many of these techniques were practiced by the colonists and early settlers during the building of America. It is really nothing more than observing nature and applying the lessons we learn from nature.  There are many other green building methods that were used by early mankind

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