A Guide to Green Homes & Features

PV panels on roof top_AdobeStock_3258726282

More Americans are interested in green homes and features. And in Central Oregon, homes with energy efficient features such as solar panels continue to see high demand. Even small upgrades can make a big difference for the earth and for your home’s value. While there is a lot to learn about what exactly a green home is, as well as sustainable building techniques, we encourage homeowners not to get overwhelmed. Learn and take it one step at a time. RE/MAX Key Properties broker Anna Ruder has a passion for this area as well as expertise she’s earned over the years.

How did you get interested in this area of real estate?
I have been concerned about climate change and environmental issues since I was quite young as my grandmother was an environmentalist and a bird photographer. In the early 2000s, I was the manager of a retail store called “Environmental Building Supplies”. We sold environmentally friendly finishes for homes (mostly flooring materials but also paints, countertop materials, and even water conservation toilets!). Around that time, I started selling real estate and the knowledge I gained from both industries have melded together organically (excuse the pun). I became a certified Sustainable Building Advisor in 2011-12 which is a nine-month intensive training course covering both residential and commercial applications for sustainable building.

‍What is a “green” home?
A green home is one that is environmentally sustainable–using energy, water, and building materials that do not harm the earth or human health while also limiting the waste of precious resources and materials. ‍

Why do you feel that green building is important for our local community?
As climate change becomes a greater threat in terms of natural disasters and harming the balance of our ecosystems, we all have to start making changes to the way we have been doing things that are not sustainable for both the earth and human civilization. There is absolutely no question that climate change is happening and will continue to impact all of us unless we make some systemic changes in how we are operating in all aspects of our lives.

What green home features are the most affordable for those looking to start small?
Just using a low VOC (volatile organic compounds) wall paint is one way that you can have a big impact for a low cost. VOCs are those stinky chemical smells that are emitted when you paint and they can be very harmful to your health.

Another good one is wool carpet—it is a biodegradable, natural material that has many lasting benefits both to your health and to the environment. Wool carpet is allergy safe and naturally low in toxicity, naturally fire resistant, and warmer to the touch than synthetic carpet. It tends to last longer (hold its shape better) and once its useful life is complete, it will biodegrade more quickly.

Also, a less “sexy” but more bang for the buck improvement is adding insulation to your existing insulation. Insulation is not a huge expense and sometimes can really make a difference both in winter and summer in terms of your home’s comfort level and energy use. ‍

What green home features have the most beneficial impact on the environment?
The answer to this will likely change over time as resources become more scarce but I would say all energy related improvements (more efficient appliances, solar panels, water saving devices) will become more important as we move forward.

‍What green features have the most impact on my monthly energy bill?
Certainly if solar panels are installed, those would have the most impact on your bill but that also depends on the size and scale of the home and the panels. However, on a more every day use basis, having an efficient furnace and/or water heater would be a great savings on the energy bill throughout the year. ‍

What are some green features most people don’t think about that can lower their energy costs?
Hire a company like GreenSavers to come in and make sure that your HVAC ducts are all well insulated and taped, your attic has the maximum insulation that it can have, and your floors are also insulated. This is, again, not a very “sexy” improvement because you can’t see it with your eyes but it can really make a great difference in your energy usage. ‍

Isn’t green building more expensive? Is it worth the extra cost?
Green building is a term that has a very broad spectrum of applications. Indeed if one were to start building a home from scratch that had every sustainable feature to it from the ground up including using sustainably harvested lumber to an integrated water conservation system, it would likely cost more than a standard built home. There are rebates and tax credits associated with some improvements to try to offset those additional costs but, ultimately, the long term costs are our planet and our health so it’s more a matter of determining if those costs are worth it. Of course, not everyone can afford these additional costs but the more people who can afford to make these choices in their building practices, the more impact we will see. ‍

What tax incentives are available for the use of green features and building materials?
Call your local utility company and ask them about tax incentives. You can also go to www.energytrust.org if you are a Pacific Power or Cascade Natural Gas customer to read all about their rebates and tax credits. ‍

What should I look for if I’m thinking about hiring a real estate agent with green home expertise?
When you first make contact with a real estate agent, ask him/her if she/he has any experience or knowledge about green home features. While there are certifications that indicate that a broker has taken a course about green homes, my opinion is that the practical application of that knowledge is more important. If you have specific green home features that are important to you, ask your agent if he/she knows much about those topics that he/she can speak to. ‍

How do I know if a material is green or not?
Be careful here. There is a lot of “greenwashing” happening in general that occurs everywhere these days. This is when a company markets their product as green when it’s actually not. It’s difficult to give specific advice around this since it’s a broad topic but just know that you as the consumer have the right to ask questions about what makes a product green to a manufacturer.

One way to do this is to ask the manufacturer for an MSDS (“material safety data sheet”), which is a required document for all products that discloses if there are carcinogens or other toxic materials used in the manufacturing of a product. ‍

What are the benefits of a green home?
Green homes are beneficial because they do not harm humans or the environment (or harm them less than other products).

‍How do I know if a home is green?
At this point, it’s up to you as the consumer to do your research. Ask questions, educate yourself, and hopefully your agent will be able to be a guide for you if you need more information. Asking the listing agent for sample utility bills is something you can do as a prospective buyer that allows you to see if the home is efficient. ‍

How can smart features make my home greener?
I am loving these smart programmable thermostats for energy efficiency. Nest thermostats, for example, are controllable by a phone app, you can turn down or up your heat when you are away from the house, and they can be programmed to automatically lower the temperature if the occupancy sensor detects that you have left the house. What a great way to monitor your home’s energy use if you are out of town or have a vacation property! I think every vacation home should have a Nest installed so that when the guests have left, the home’s temperature is reduced. ‍

How can I incorporate green building concepts into my home?
You could talk to a company like “GreenSavers” to discuss what the current needs of your home are. They are a licensed contracting company that specialize in retrofitting existing homes with green features to make them more efficient from the ground up. I have a dear friend who hired them to retrofit her old 1920’s house with sealed ducts, added insulation in the attic and walls, and also making sure that her windows were more airtight. Not only has it helped her save on her utility bills, but her home is much more comfortable in the winter and the summer. An added benefit is that she was having issues with rodents coming up through her ducts due to her unsealed ducts and that problem has been eradicated now. Extra bonus! ‍

What about lawn care and landscaping? What are some ways I can incorporate green concepts and features in my yard?
We live in the high desert! So a good rule of thumb is just generally to try to get rid of your lawn. Lawns are generally quite wasteful and use tons of precious water resources. If you’ve ever been to visit a place like Santa Fe, New Mexico, you would see that landscaping can be absolutely stunning, lush, and super drought-friendly while not incorporating any of the green grass we see in Bend. Also, making sure that your sprinkler systems are tuned up and not watering any concrete or hard surfaces. I’m always amazed when I drive around town at how many houses and businesses are watering the road and sidewalks. ‍

What one piece of advice would you give to buyers thinking about building a green home?
Probably best to talk to a builder who has experience with green building or see if you can find someone within your community who has already built a green home who might be willing to point you in the right direction. You can also go to www.earthadvantage.org to find a list of Earth Advantage certified builders. ‍

Where’s the best place to go if I want more information?
Call me! Or go to www.earthadvantage.org for more general information

Connect with Anna
c.  541.410.3645
o.  541.728.0033
View My Profile