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Eco Brokers interpret ‘green living’ costs, benefits

Eco Brokers interpret ‘green living’ costs, benefits

When people are hunting for a new home or planning renovations, “eco-friendly” is quickly rising on their list of priorities.

The National Association of Home Builders recently asked consumers to list their top 12 influences in buying a home, and energy efficiency ranked No. 2, right behind the quality of living space. In 2004, energy efficiency didn’t even make the survey.

To help residents calculate the complicated cost/benefit ratios involved in making homes that have higher energy efficiency and lower environmental impact, a few real estate agents in Columbia have become EcoBrokers, a certification that signifies they have expertise in evaluating features that reduce home energy costs.

“In an era of rising energy costs and heightened awareness of conservation, buyers and sellers are focused on ‘greener’ option, and are looking to find real benefit from professional guidance during the real estate transaction,” explained Julie Wesley, an EcoBroker who works with House of Brokers Realty and has lived in Columbia for more than 30 years.

Wesley

As eco-friendly building becomes more mainstream, so do the costs, Wesley said.

“Greener options have traditionally been more expensive than the conventional counterparts, due primarily to the lack of market competition,” she said. “However, growing consumer demand as well as maturing technologies and healthy competition are causing prices to decline; some energy efficient products are even less than conventional.”

That’s certainly good news for environmentally conscious homeowners who want to live more efficiently but have tight budgets. In the past, the cost of a “green” structure was five to 10 percent higher than the cost of traditional construction. Now, as more builders, developers and consumers are becoming more familiar and receptive to materials and techniques that make homes more energy-efficient, the added cost is dropping, Wesley said.

Some of the most frequently used eco-friendly features in new and renovated homes are windows with high insulating values, heating and air conditioning systems with high energy-efficiency ratings, thick attic insulation, appliances with high Energy Star ratings, high-quality air filtration, passive solar devices, programmable thermostats and building materials that are considered less harmful to the environment than conventional products.

More and more families are opting to go “green” said Michael Prewitt, a real estate agent with The Jones Company in Columbia who is a certified EcoBroker.

Prewitt

“I have always been interested in energy- efficient housing and sustainability issues,” Prewitt said. “Now I can provide information and resources to potential clients regarding their pursuit of properties that provide affordability, comfort and a healthier environment.”

Prewitt cited statistics showing that eco-friendly homes hold their value better than conventional homes.

It is slightly more expensive to use energy-efficient building practices – typically 2 percent higher than conventional building costs, according to studies by the Massachusetts Technology Council and Capital E, a Washington-based consulting company specializing in energy issues. But energy-efficient products generally have lower life-cycle costs than less-efficient products and use an average of 25 to 30 percent less energy, Wesley said.

“That is one of the advantages that a consumer will look at when considering eco-friendly features,” she said. “In addition, Energy Star- rated appliances provide special rebates and incentive offers in some areas. When making a purchase decision, the EcoBroker helps clients consider and understand payback periods and life cycle costs.”

In coming years, Wesley predicts an upswing of “green” building in the area. According to a McGraw Hill SmartMarket Report, the green home market is expected to account for 10 percent of all new home construction in 2010, up 5 percent from 2005.

“I am sure we will see more builders working toward obtaining the Energy Star label for their homes,” Wesley said.

The Columbia community has embraced eco-friendly living and has many sustainable communities in the works, Wesley said. Because of the nationwide slowdown in the building industry, some of these projects have been halted, but Wesley is certain the trend will continue to grow.

“I do see more and more of our local builders using energy-efficient features and eco-friendly products in their homes,” she said. “Consumers are asking for them.”

For more information: www.ecobroker.com, www.greenhomeguide.org.

What is Energy Star?

Energy Star qualified homes are independently verified to be at least 30 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 1993 national Model Energy Code or 15 percent more efficient than state energy code, whichever is more rigorous, explained Julie Wesley, a real estate agent with House of Brokers Realty.

These efficiency levels are based on heating, cooling, and hot water energy use and are typically achieved through a combination of upgrades involving the exterior insulation, known as the “envelope,” windows, air infiltration, heating and air conditioning systems, duct systems and water-heating equipment.

The average household spends $1,500 each year on energy bills. By choosing Energy Star certified products, which use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models, consumers can cut this expense by about 30 percent, saving about $400 each year, Wesley added.

“An Energy Star home actually costs less because you pay less on your utility bill each month,” Wesley said. “The features of an Energy Star home contribute to improved home quality, homeowner comfort and to lower energy demand and reduced air pollution.”

Home Performance with Energy Star

Home Performance with Energy Star is a national program for existing homes designed to help homeowners bring their homes up to Energy Star standards for comfort, safety, health, durability and energy efficiency.

Who can participate?

This program is available to Columbia Water and Light residential electric customers remodeling their homes to be more energy efficient. Home Performance program parameters must be followed to qualify for rebates and a Home Performance Loan.

How do I know if my home would benefit from this program?

To see if this program could help you, complete the Home Energy Yardstick assessment which is listed under the Home Improvement section at www.energystar.gov. If you have a score of 5 or less, your home could benefit from the Home Performance program.

What is the contractor’s role?

Participating local contractors are certified by the Building Performance Institute to evaluate your home using state-of-the-art equipment. Our Home Performance Contractors are trained in a “whole-house” approach of inspecting and testing that allows them to identify and evaluate energy-efficient improvements using recognized building science concepts. The assessment can cost from $250 to $400. These contractors will also help you take advantage of Federal tax credits and Columbia Water and Light rebates and low-interest loans for energy-efficiency improvements (see list on Page 20).

Goals of the program

Rather than focusing on a single component, such as single-paned windows, an old air conditioning system, or leaky ductwork, a participating contractor will assess how improvements to all of these components can work together.

Source: www.gocolumbiamo.com, link is under Announcements heading

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