Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Green Homes are not Energy Efficient or Sustainable

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How does your new green home stack up against an existing house? Maybe you paid more for a label.

    Recently, I performed a home inspection on an EnergyStar home, and I was disappointed. Maybe my standards are too high, but I came away with the impression that the builder checked of on a specific generic guideline to produce a home that a consumer would consider better because of the label. Do not misunderstand me, labels like EnergyStar or LEED can be good. They are ways to introduce the consumer to the concepts of green building. However, I think that the qualification for these labels may miss the point. A home with R30 insulation in Houston is not enough to be energy efficient, but it could meet a checklist. One thing that is happening in the market place is the concept of a green home is selling for more than other homes.Consumers want green, even though they may not understand what that means.

   I am moving away from using the term green home to the more apt sustainable home. For most people, a green home is about energy efficiency.There are consumers who are aware of water conservation as being part of a green home. For a few the focus is on health. Sustainability comes into play for others. With all of these aspects, we are concentrating on a part of the larger whole. We also enjoy the label. Labels, prizes, or recognition makes us feel good. A few people are beginning to see that the act of building is not enough. How the home is used afterwards or what happens to the home afterwards is just as important. We now have LEED-EB which does address these questions, but I am not sure if any building has gone for that certification. I have heard and read some negative remarks on the idea of being monitored for five years to see what happens after the initial label has been applied. Big brother, big government, and socialism have been bandied about. However, if we really wish to understand what the best practice is, we need data, which can only be achieved by monitoring.
    If monitoring would be good, should you do it in your own home? This is really the crux of the matter for me. To create a viable, sustainable home depends upon the user wanting that kind of lifestyle. Yet, aspects of this lifestyle may benefit the average homeowner. Here I am imagining a normal person. Someone who is not going to follow the ins and outs of the arguments around a green home, but who is concerned about his family’s health, his utility bills, and his budget. He is probably adapting to the idea of green, because of these natural concerns. But do you think that this average homeowner monitors his home? Does someone who is building or buying green monitor their home? For most people the answer would be no. Although we are beginning to adjust to that idea.
    The advent of smart meters brings the idea of monitoring our home’s performance into the spotlight. Commercials emphasize how we will be able to monitor and adjust our energy usage in the home from anywhere. Simply click away. Do we need the smart meter to monitor the home? No. We already receive data about our home. We have our monthly gas, water, and electricity bills. We also have other parts of our budget. How much did we spend on gardening? Did we have to buy compost when you could have it for free from our own lawn clippings? How much did we get out of the vegetable garden. How much did we spend on cleaners, home repairs, or other items? The lists can go on. The real point here is that we are in control. A home is sustainable if we make it so. A green home does not guarantee energy efficiency or sustainability. We do.
    If you want a better home, know what is happening with the home. This is not advice meant for only a green or sustainable home. It goes for any homeowner. Be proactive. Record your expenses. Record your usage of gas, water, electricity, and materials. Question if you can do better; can you reduce. Last week I did not take my garbage can out for pick-up. I had one sack of garbage. Many of my neighbors have two garbage cans. Or else their cans are full each week. If we pay attention to what we are doing, we will find savings. If we want a green home, we need to be on top of how we use it.

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2 Responses to “Green Homes are not Energy Efficient or Sustainable”

  1. Frank,
    Thanks for your nice post. Greener residential construction is a journey that we in the US are only just beginning. Europe is so much further along than we are. We do have to start somewhere, though, and there are a vast number of home builders and remodelers out there who need to be trained in greener construction techiques and products.
    FYI, LEED EB is currently only for commercial buildings, not residential. According to the USGBC web site there are 609 buildings that have been certified under EB, and another 2,685 registered to be certified. Commercial buildings use
    a huge amount of energy in the US, so improving their performance is a great thing.
    Another goal of EB is to help eliminate the problem of non-performing buildings built under other LEED rating systems. The USGBC does not monitor, it is up to the building owner to monitor and report for exactly the reason you state in your last paragraph. If you aren’t monitoring what is going on, how can you fix things that break or fall out of calibration?
    Thanks again for the nice post. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hello Lisa,
    I should have clarified that LEED-EB was for commercial buildings. I write for residential audiences, but I pay attention to commercial building practices, because they have a tendency to migrate to residential. Thank you for the correction about EB certification. The article that I read had stated that no building had met EB yet. I am hoping that the homeowners will realize that monitoring their own homes can be a great benefit to themselves. I guess that I should sum up the article with the statement: “for a building to be green or sustainable, the users of that building have to be committed to a sustainable lifestyle.”
    Thank you for commenting. :)

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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