What happened with my Home Green Home

This blog was written by John D. Wilson, former Deputy Director for Regulatory Policy at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | July 6, 2009 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

In 2007, our family renovated an older home. We tried to pay close attention to energy efficiency and clean energy concerns. Recently, I calculated the impact of our green rehab in terms of cost savings, reduced energy use, and reduced CO2 emissions. As you can see from the graph below, we cut everything roughly in half from our previous house, which was a rental of similar size, layout, and type of energy use (electric/gas).

I also charted the average Southeast household and discussed how we stack up. There’s still more we could do, but I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Understanding the value of this investment in energy efficiency has just become even more important to me. Much to my dismay, we are selling our wonderful home. My wife is taking a new job in Washington, DC. (I’ll be staying in my current position, just moving my desk to a new city.) Soon, hopefully, potential buyers will be deciding just how much all our efforts are “worth.”

If we lived in Austin, I think we’d be in pretty good shape under the requirement to conduct an energy-efficiency audit, which supposedly “Vex” home sellers:

The city of Austin, Texas, has begun requiring homeowners to conduct energy-efficiency audits before they can sell their house, a move it says provides a model for cities and states seeking ways to push energy conservation.

With its new law effective last week, Austin joined at least two other U.S. cities — San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif. — that require the audits, which can include a review of a home’s air-conditioning and heating systems, insulation and air-tightness, and generally cost owners from $200 to $300.

Municipalities across the country are forging policies to encourage more energy-efficient buildings, particularly in new construction. Voluntary energy audits are increasing, too, often as part of government-subsidized “green” renovation programs that are expected to grab a chunk of a $3.2 billion federal stimulus grant devoted to energy conservation.

Angela Whitaker-Williams, a designer for an architecture firm, plans to list her 2,400-square-foot, 47-year-old home for $319,000 later this month. Her audit recommended doubling the amount of attic insulation, recaulking around plumbing pipes and fixtures and resealing the duct system to reduce a 19% air leakage — improvements that could cost as much as $1,800 before rebates, experts said.

Ms. Whitaker-Williams is dismayed by the thought that a buyer might use the audit to try to negotiate a lower price, especially because the new law doesn’t require buyers to follow through with improvements.

“If a buyer wants $20,000 knocked off the price for energy upgrades, would I do it? In this market, I might have to,” she said.

This perspective on energy-efficiency audits is totally absurd. The condo-owner blames the city for a (hypothetical) buyer who asks for a $20,000 discount to cover upgrades costing a few thousand dollars? Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. OK, an energy-wasting molehill.

Speaking from the other side of the transaction, I’d like the homes that are “competing” with ours to be required to demonstrate their energy-efficiency. Many won’t stack up, and honest disclosure of THOSE homes’ energy bills would help MY home sell quicker and at a higher price!

For those of you who aren’t buying or selling a home, but might be considering your own green rehab, there is good news.

In the past, I’ve found it quite difficult to locate good home energy-efficiency information for renovation. Most information I found either applied primarily to the new/innovative construction, or it was so general as to be useless for do-it-yourself projects or people who were working with a contractor with skills but not the necessary knowledge. For example, even in a field such as residential window replacement, I found very little information on how to gather data and select an appropriate window for my location, building orientation, existing level of insulation, etc.

Fortunately, this seems to be changing. A couple of very practical resources have been put forward by the New York Times and the Sierra Club (won’t that pairing be fodder for anti-environmentalists). While they don’t quite measure up to, ahem, my greenrehab blog, they are pretty interesting. Probably more interesting than reading any more self-aggrandizing comments from me (although they are pretty amusing, don’t you think?).

Good luck with YOUR Home, Green, Home. And I hope you are able to enjoy it for many  years!

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