Adding water or energy efficient appliances can be more expensive, but how much more expensive is it? Is having a green home a luxury item? Maybe we should re-evaluate the messages of the green building movement.
If you ask a contractor in the building industry how much more will it cost to make a green home, they will shoot out the figure of 10%. In how many years will you recoup this money, and you will hear numbers ranging from 5 to 10 years, unless we are discussing solar, and then you will hear 20 years. We have it down pat. We will even tell you that installing new windows is the last thing you should do, because of the cost to benefit ratio. Other projects offer you a greater return on savings for less money invested. Moreover, you may now hear that having a green home is only for the wealthy. In fact, I have heard people suggest to others in the building industry that we should focus only on those people earning more than $100,000 per year, since they are the only ones who can afford to be green. There are solid reasons to accept these figures and to focus on the wealthy, but looking at one set of factors can obscure the entire truth. A green home is affordable.
Most figures that we throw out about the costs of building or remodeling green have unfortunately become standardized. We moved away from green designs with the advent of cheap power. This allowed us to build homes that did not need to rely on passive design techniques to heat and cool the home, because we could do this through appliances that were inexpensive to run. When we faced an energy crisis or an increase in energy rates, we found people advocating energy efficient designs. This was the green movement. Any movement over time becomes more formalized, which led to organizations including manufacturers or to academics developing standards. To sell this idea to the public, they had to give examples that an average consumer could comprehend, hence the standardized figures. Most figures that we quote come from the 1990s, and things have changed.
You would expect cost to go down for a product as technology advances or more people begin to purchase it. Yet this does not seem to be the case with green products. We see signs on the horizon that this will happen as cheap manufacturing takes over on some green items, like solar panels, but some items we expect to be high, because of quality or craftsmanship. However, the higher price for green may simply be because we are calling it green. Green as a brand indicates higher quality at a higher cost. I will not deny that there is truth to green being of a higher quality or a higher cost, but I do question how high. We may be artificially raising the price to meet consumer expectation.
The building industry has an incentive to place higher values on a green home. They need the income. If we examine which homes are selling in the marketplace, we find that the middle price range homes are not moving. Home buyers are either looking at homes in the lower price range, such as foreclosures, or at the high end homes. At the lower price range, we have so much housing stock available that why should builders try to compete. At the higher end though, there is money to be made. If I am going to be paying over $300,000 for a home in the Houston market, I would want it to be energy and water efficient. I would want it to be of a good quality. Basically, I would be looking for a home that fits in with the green label. If I am going to build a home, I would want to obtain the best price, so the green label seems quite appealing.
If the consumer has the 10% figure in his head, why not let him continue to believe that figure. I feel that every builder has announced a new green initiative, and somehow these plans are connected with more expensive homes. Yet, if you search for a bit, you will encounter design-build firms showing off homes that are not fitting into the high cost green home. Even building to the toughest standards, you will find them stating that they are achieving these accomplishments at only costs less than 5% higher than standard buildings. You will discover homes built in the middle price range which meet high green standards. One factor is to be clear about the building before construction starts. Another factor is making the right product choices. This is done on most jobs, so the 10% number is not always accurate. As for when will these products pay for themselves, you may want to revisit that idea as well. For one, energy and water prices have been rising. If the products have been getting better, and prices held at least steady, the payback should be sooner. The question of return on investment is a bit harder though. A homeowner may use more appliances (or more often) with the thought that this is alright, because I have a green home. Usage plays a big factor in considering when you will have saved the money that you paid. I think we have to move away from looking at return on investment, since this number is too variable.
Can you afford a green home or green home remodel? Focusing on high income earners makes business sense in this down economy, but I think this is a mistake. The average homeowner can afford a better home. They need better homes. We should be finding ways to provide them with these homes, which would mean providing better information. If you are looking at a green home remodel, you may want to plan out steps. Ihave been on my journey for a while. I have always had a green aspect to my life, but really working on a home conversion began when I started writing about my efforts. I am not done. In fact, I am not sure when I will be done, because I think that there will be always new things to do or try. A green home may be an ongoing process. I take on a project when I can afford it. I am at the stage of replacing appliances, while still completing some earlier tasks. I think that we are at a crossroads. We have certain elements wanting to say that green is expensive, while other entities want to push the idea that everyone should take steps to be more green. Now would be a good time for education, so we know why and how we can improve our homes. Green homes are affordable.