Could being green make your neighbors see red? Sometimes being an early adapter of sustainable technologies may make you the object of scorn.
This post is inspired by a conversation that my wife and I had. She takes more convincing to adopt some ideas that I have about reducing our utility bills and creating a sustainable home. She does like the idea of reducing our bills though. On the other hand, I am no eco-warrior. I came to the idea of incorporating sustainable practices and techniques into our home through a desire to reduce my bills as well; however, I love architecture, and new techniques or clever solutions fascinate me. This curiosity drove me further into studying eco-home building. Generally referred to as green building, we see builders adapting these methods, and as a home inspector, I have to understand the concepts to be informative for my clients. Back to the conversation; both my wife and I have had encounters that caused us to wonder about the attitudes people take to a homeowner going green.
Firstly, I see that for change to happen in a neighborhood one homeowner can be the catalyst. I often drive neighborhoods before or after my home inspections, because looking at other homes may give me a clue to something on the home that I am examining. When I see one owner adding solar panels to his home, other neighbors will follow. You can see this change like ripples in water. The first plunge is big, but as the ripples expand out, the change becomes less. On the streets close to the original solar panels, you find other homes with panels, then this will decrease as you move away from the original home. Over time, the ripples keep spreading, and you find more homeowners taking to this change.
Is a rain barrel unsightly? Is drying our clothes on a line offensive? These eco-friendly steps used to be the norm, but now they are found to offend. Why did our perception alter? Both my wife and I experienced encounters that made us question why do some people become so offended. We both grew up with hanging out our clothes to dry; we do not do it now (maybe we should start again), but we see nothing offensive with the practice. I have heard that home values are lowered by a homeowner making sustainable changes to their home. Yet “green” homes sell for more than a non-green home. Home buyers look for green features with the thought towards the energy bills. I actually encountered someone who decided that I was un-American for proposing eco-building techniques, and others who feel that this is an attack on conservative values. I do not know how to respond to those attacks, because they seem baseless. Maybe because progressive elements of society have embraced green building, the practice has been stereotyped. The fact of the matter is that green building does not fall under any political belief, but I have to admit that sustainable practices as applied to industry does take on a political aspect. As I write this post, the EPA is taking action against my home state of Texas, because we have not met their goals on clean air. This is taking on political overtones since there is a debate on what is an acceptable air standard. This involves more than health, but also job creation. People need a healthy environment to thrive, but they also need work to pay the bills.
Coming back closer to home, I am applying a new roof coating to my home. Frequently called roof paint, this material is an elastomeric roof coating which can be applied over the current roof covering. I spotted that there are neighbors who have applied similar coatings to their own roofs, and there are white roofs in the general area, yet my white coating raised the eyebrows of at least one neighbor who made a comment to my wife. I imagine that if their utility bills were rising, then they would be asking me about this coating. When fuel prices rose, neighbors stopped to ask me about my push mower and edger. When they went back down, they thought it strange. Financial pressures may be the real mechanism to making green home changes. The conversation my wife and I had turned onto the reaction of homeowner associations. These associations do seem to want to preserve the status quo, which means that being green may not be their cup of tea. The trend is against them though. Simple green changes are already being carried out by many homeowners. As sustainable, green building codes become the norm in new home construction, we will find more pressure on these associations to accept them for home remodels.
My wife’s response in the end is that no person or group should be allowed a homeowner to make practical changes that will help them save money. My response is that the green home trend will keep growing, and as a community we should discuss how this may be incorporated into existing communities.