A guide looking at discovering your green home in Houston.
There are three trends in the Houston real estate market as I write this post: foreclosures; the tax credit; and a green home. If you are buying a home, one of these trends may be effecting your decision. The green home can be the most difficult house to find in the Houston market, or any market for that matter. However, a buildings green credentials is not the only determing factor when buying a home, so buyers seek at green features in existing homes, trying to see if they may be getting the home that they want. Builders are going green, and even in homes that are not certified by one rating system or another as green, you will find such features being incorporated into the construction process. I am a strong believer in green home conversions, so I think that you may discover a green home in the location that you desire.
This is a checklist for finding green home features in existing homes in Houston. If you are reading this post, and you are in a climate similar to Houston’s, this will apply, but if you are not in such a climate, you may want to understand why I chose a feature as being green to see how you can determine what features may be right for your climate.
Roof- light in color, a high slope, and adequate ventilation. Light colors reflect the sun light which helps in our hot climate. With the amount of rain fall that we get, a roof that looks like it is going up at a 45 degree angle will shed the water well. We also need to keep that roof cool and moisture free, so look for vents in the soffits, ridge, and/or in the roof sheathing.
Attic- ducts and air conditioning systems are better in conditioned spaces in our climate, but this is not a typical design. Look for at least 14″ of insulation. Not commonly done, but attached garages should be insulated too. Look up to the sheathing under the roof covering. If you see something that looks like aluminum foil or a shiny metallic surface, you have a radiant barrier which is good. Ducts will have a thick insulating barrier around them.
Exterior walls- brick is best for our climate, and it should have weep holes. Stucco, EIFS, glass (windows), or thin stone wall coverings should be flared out by 5 degrees at their base to properly shed water. Any joint that you see should be sealed, so look for any open spaces around wall joints, windows, doors, or any pipe penetrations.
Trees and plantings- your landscape should block the hot summer sun from the south and west during the summer. During the winter months, the landscaping should allow for the sun to hit the home to heat it up. The landscape should rely on established perrenial plantings that are suitable for the climate. You do not want to water too much.
Windows- awnings over the windows are good for our bright climate. If you see a dark window screen, it may be a type that provides some UV protection. Double paned windows are best. Windows should have insulation strips around them. You should be able to open them. (On many home inspections, I find that windows cannot be opened). You should look for how breezes will flow through the house. You want a good flow.
Ventialation to the exterior in the kitchen, bathroom for the tub or shower, and utility room. You want to force moist air out of your home. Vents should lead to the exterior in some way.
Ceiling fans- ceiling fans provide excellent assistance to your air conditioning system. With fans running, you will not need to have excessive cooling or heating.
Jump drives- these are ducts that equate the pressure in the rooms of the home.Allows you to shut doors, but still have air flow throughout the house. They will look like the vents for the air conditioning system, so you will want to look for extra vents in the rooms.
Water Heater- the burner compartment should be sealed (you cannot reach the flame). It should be insulated. It is better when the unit is located in the attic.
Appliances-Look for the EnergyStar label, but realize that manufacturers, like Bosch, do not go through this certification process, so know your manufacturers. (Bosch products are very good on energy efficiency).
Water fixtures- older homes will need either new low flow fixtures or low flow adapters. Adapters have levers that allow you to adjust the flow of water. Toilets will have a dual flush button.
Light fixtures- look for compact flourescents or LED bulbs. Recessed lights are not the best. You need more of them with higher wattage to provide the same amount of light as a fixture that come below the ceiling. Also, recessed lights create a larger break in your barrier between conditioned and unconditioned space. Sensors that can turn lights off in rooms is a good feature, but make sure that lights can be easily turned off (you would be surprised).
Doors-should close properly, have insulation, and be solid if they lead to an exterior. Attic doors should be insulated.
Ceiling heights- in our hot climate, you want heat to rise above the living area, so fourteen feet high ceilings are good for us.
Remember that older homes have an inherriantly green credential: they are not using new materials. Reusing is one of the base points in defining green. Solar and wind power generators are great, but you will have to add these. In Houston, wind power may only be feasible in the Southwest portion of the city. If you are house hunting, you may fall in love (or hate) with a home on the first showing, so ask to go back to examine these features. You can check them off. Maybe a home comes close, and you can help it to become a truly green home.