The American dream of owning your own home, a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage has come under fire of late. The dire economic circumstances, diminishing middle class as well as spiralling foreclosure rates threaten to undermine the lifestyle most Americans take for granted. A recent Yahoo! Real Estate poll shows that 81% of Americans are not ready to give up on that dream just yet. However, a shift in the zeitgeist to a more sustainable future is in progress. Homeowners, and those with ambitions to own a home, are opting for more sensible, greener homes that reduce their maintenance costs and impact the environment in a positive way. Now the American dream is to own a green home, have an organic chicken in every pot and an electric car in every solar powered garage.
The Yahoo! study results are surprising in that they show the desire for an energy efficient home outrank traditional dream home stalwarts like water or mountain views, beachfront property or custom designed homes. Energy efficient homes have taken a while to gain traction, especially since they were perceived to be more expensive. In addition, press coverage of net zero homes convinced people that they had to live off the grid in order to have an energy efficient home.
As technology has advanced, and prices have dropped, energy efficient homes cost on average only 2% to 4% more than homes that are conventionally built if green construction materials and energy efficient appliances are used. Higher selling prices and savings on utilities coupled with government incentives make the return on energy efficient investments relatively short term. The savings on utilities over the lifetime of the building really makes the investment worthwhile. People who already own a home are opting for energy efficient appliances, improved insulation and energy efficient windows as retrofits are also subsidized by government tax rebates.
The size and location of homes has also become more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Buyers are electing to build or buy smaller homes which are closer to their offices and public transit routes. Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow, explains; “During the height of the housing boom there was [an attitude among buyers of] drive until you qualify and I don’t care about the consequences of commuting time. Now people are aware of the cost of commuting personally in terms of time, resources and gas, but also longer term about environmental degradation.”Many buyers are concerned about increasing gas prices and the effect long commutes have on the environment, electing to live close to jobs and schools or on public transit lines that negate the need for a car.
Aside from the Energy Star appliance certification and an advanced LEED stamp of approval, very little legislation is in place to set standards for what constitutes a green building. The US Green Building Council and groups such as NAHB are pushing to standardize efficiency so that home owners are not led astray by false claims of energy efficient homes. For the discerning buyer, the large volume of foreclosed and short-sale properties on the market combined with low interest rates make this an excellent time to invest in an energy efficient home.