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Green Building: A Smart Investment?

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The mention of "green building" may invoke different thoughts, dependent on your beliefs of climate change. Doing better for environmental reasons has been one of the biggest motivators to stepping outside of conventional building techniques. However, building green is not only good for the earth; it can be very beneficial for the pocketbook as well. My goal here is to offer an alternative way to think about green building.

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According to the World Green Building Council and Zero Energy Project websites, a home built using green building practices will likely have more initial upfront costs. This, of course, varies based on what systems are installed, which upgrades are made and the size of the home. You're probably thinking, homes are already expensive, how can one afford those additional costs? Yet if costs of construction were $150 per square foot, designing a home that is 2,000 square feet instead of 2,300 square feet would potentially save $45,000. That small downsize would essentially pay for upgrades to a green, energy-efficient home. Plus, you'd begin seeing utility savings start on day one of ownership, meaning the cost of ownership over the years would end up being less than a conventional home.

A 2014 study published by the Zero Energy Project found that on average, a custom-built Net Zero Energy home in Oregon added an additional cost of around $51,000. These homes were around 1500 square feet, with an average list price at that time around $400,000. These homes included an upgrade in the exterior shell (insulation, framing, doors and windows), HVAC upgrades (heating, cooling, ERV, electrical and plumbing), solar PV (photovoltaics) and hot water. After state and federal rebates and tax deductions, the total added cost was $10,000 to $14,000—less than 5 percent of the sales price.

So now you have a slightly smaller green built home, completed for about the same price as a little larger, conventionally built home. What's the resale value like? Based on recent studies, a green home will sell, dependent on the region, for 5 to 12 percent more than a conventionally built home and will be on the market for a shorter period of time. Green homes are sought out and are in more limited supply.

Retrofitting an already built home or building with some of the same upgrades is gaining in popularity, as well. Once payback for these upgrades is achieved, the property owner will benefit from reduced utility bills for the life of the systems and be rewarded with financial and energy security no matter what the future holds.

Green buildings are more comfortable, healthier, have higher resale value and lower total cost of ownership. Regardless of the division in beliefs about the state of the planet, we can all get behind making smart investments and saving money.


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