Get Green!

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Red Lodge, Montana — Matt and Marianne McClain are “going green,” renting a house outfitted with the latest in environmentally friendly upgrades. The house is for sale by owner, but a little out of their price range. Would the energy savings bring it within their reach?

Likely not. Unless the home is completely off the grid, the even the latest, greatest energy saving features will trim only 25% to 30% from monthly utility bills. Achieving full energy independence usually includes a large array of solar panels that run $9/watt. Since energy is sold by the KILOwatt, the final cost could top $100,000 for a 2200 square foot home.

High-powered green features are so expensive that they are not likely to pay for themselves. That’s partly why “green” homes are still largely seen as a luxury beyond the means of average buyers. Homes tricked out with radiant heat, multiple solar panels and extra insulation are expensive to build, and most consumers are unfamiliar with the lifestyle benefits inherent in the healthier home. Still, there’s no denying the power of green to set your house apart from traditionally equipped competitors. And if you explain the benefits of the alternative energy setup to buyers, it could be the deciding factor.

Owner Brian Betz built the home himself and listed it over a year ago on ForSaleByOwner.com. He also installs radiant heating systems for a living, and notes, “Some people are really into the green house, and some are almost afraid of it. It’s been frustrating trying to explain the value added by the upgrades. This is probably the most comfortable house in the whole town!” Betz reports that their energy bill averaged $60/month, even when the Betz family was washing cloth diapers in hot water daily.

The McClains are going through the typical green learning curve.

“The owner tried to explain to me how all of the machines in the mudroom work, but I couldn’t follow it,” admits Marianne. Sheepishly, Matt chimes in, “I accidentally turned off the heat one day. I did figure out how to get it back on, but it took four days to get the house warm again.” Going green also includes a lifestyle commitment. Walking to work, tracking local weather to ensure that the home’s heating system is primed for the weather, and making room for an organic garden in the backyard are considered amenities by environmentalists. Some buyers might call them inconveniences.

Here is a list of the pricier upgrades that Brian Betz included in his Red Lodge home.

  • Structural Insulated Panels (approx $15,000) The exterior walls of the home were custom designed with an insulation “sandwich” of panelboard and Styrofoam. Not only does it eliminate drafts, it also ensures that heat stays in during the winter. For an energy savings calculator, visit http://www.bigskyrcontrol.com/SIPs/calculations/energy-calculator.asp
  • Energy Recovery Ventilator ($1200) Fresh Montana air flows into the home using a ventilator that heats the air as it enters during winter, and cools it off in the summer, to ensure both superior air quality and energy efficiency.
  • Viessmann Vitodens Boiler ($6500): The top of the line wall-mounted model includes a radiant heat pump for floors and a 40 gallon water tank for hot water. It has an efficiency rating of 95%.
  • Solar Panels for heating water ($16,000): Betz removed the panels so that the new owner would be able to claim the $6000 federal tax credit for their re-installation.

If you’re selling a home with green upgrades, here are some ways to make sure that the buyers visualize the greenbacks they’ll save along with the planet

  • Verify your “Green” Rating: If your home was constructed with the approval of a third-party “green” verification organization, say so. A study in Portland, OR indicated that home buyers paid 18% more for a home with the official “green” certification. (Earth Advantage Institute, 2010) Certification can only be done on new construction, or complete retrofits. If you didn’t use a verifier, be sure to post a list of the upgrades, and the cost/benefit of each to the overall home’s value.
  • Invest in an energy audit. Some verifiers for Energy Star or LEED certification may be willing to do an energy audit, to help you document the energy saving elements of your home’s interior and exterior.
  • Show us the energy savings. Track your monthly energy bill and make sure that information is in the listing. Compare your home’s actual utilities to local or regional average costs.
  • Invest in a video tour. Many consumers may not be familiar with the brands and benefits of your energy efficient appliances. The video tour could be a tutorial on living green, and include information on how each feature improves the interior air quality and warmth of your home.
  • Market to your “green” peers. Your home is more likely to appeal to potential buyers who already care about sustainable living. Place an ad in an environmental magazine, or on green-friendly blogs and websites. And don’t forget to virally market to your friends and family!

Here’s how the owner of a tiny desert house with extreme green features sold it through ForSaleByOwner.

Helping buyers see the benefits of green takes patience but pays off.