So you're buying a new home, and you're committed to "buying green" -- a house with good indoor air quality, that doesn't cost a fortune to heat and cool, is efficient in the use of water, and it resides in an ecologically-friendly neighborhood. How do you find out about all that? What do you look for? What questions do you ask?
Over the next few blogs, to help you evaluate the potential "greenness" of a community in both the short- and long-term, I will post ten questions to ask a developer, realtor, or homeowner. Use them to start a conversation as to what is "green" and this will help one to determine if "greenwashing" is occurring. Questions address home, yard, and neighborhood issues. Questions 9 and 10 are below (previous questions see other blogs).
Question #9: How energy efficient is the home?
How energy efficient is a home? This entails asking some questions of the builder. Below are some key questions adapted directly from the ENERGY STAR Web site (http://www.energystar.gov). Ask the builder or homeowner the following questions:
When you think about it, a window has a rather complicated job: it must allow the sun's light to pass though, but not the sun's heat. It must keep cool conditioned air inside, but not have condensation on the outside surface of the glass. It must not allow hot, humid outside air to leak into the home in summer, and also not allow warm inside air to leak out of the house in winter. As you can see, a window is a complex system. A window's energy performance is based on three measures:
Houses in colder climates should have windows with a low U-value, effectively holding heat in the house and preventing condensation. In hot climates, a low SHGC is important, allowing visible light into the house while blocking out heat. Look for a window's National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) rating to find these specifications.
Insulation in the walls and attic serves as a protective barrier, keeping out excessive heat and cold and maintaining even temperatures within the home. Insulation is rated in terms of thermal resistance, called R-value, which indicates the resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation. In Florida, a rating of R-16 to R-19 is recommended for walls and R-30 for ceilings. For insulation to work properly, it must be installed carefully, without gaps, crimping, or compression.
The average home has hundreds -- if not thousands -- of small holes through which heated or cooled air escapes to the outside. Even worse, they let moisture, dust, pollen, and insects in, impacting indoor air quality. A tightly sealed and properly ventilated home, verified on-site by a home energy rater, will not only reduce your energy bills but also improve your home's indoor air quality. Ask to see air leakage results from home energy rating (if performed).
Energy-efficient HVAC equipment helps with energy consumption and inquire about who installed the HVAC system and keep the below issues in mind.
Check for such things such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) and ENERGY STAR® appliances have been installed throughout the house.
Question #10: Did the builder/contractor use "green" construction materials?
To evaluate the "greenness" of a material, consider three things: embodied energy, greenhouse gases, and toxins and waste. Embodied energy is the energy required to harvest or mine the material, manufacture the final product, transport the product, and install it. The less energy used, the lower the environmental impact. Second, the quantity of greenhouse gases created is dependent on the amount of fossil fuels burned to produce the material. The more gases created, the more effect we have on our climate due to global warming. The third item, toxins and waste, addresses how much toxins and waste are created as a result of producing, installing, and disposing of any material used in construction. You may not be able to readily evaluate this, but ask if the developer has any information regarding the "sustainability" of materials used during construction. Here are some factors that make a material "green":
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