Architecture and DesignSustainable Design

Green, Greener, Greenest

Healthier, more sustainable homes are what today’s buyers are looking for

By Donna Aldrich

The demand for green homes, even during the recent buying frenzy, has not waned.  Builders and realtors report increasing interest by buyers, especially younger buyers, in homes that are good for the environment, their health and their long-term finances.

Today’s new homes, with an array of eco-conscious offerings, present distinct advantages over older resale homes. These strategic selling tools are most powerful for homebuyer searches when promoted prominently with easy accessibility to features and benefits.

The type and number of standard and/or optional green home attributes varies widely from community to community and builder to builder: some with nary a mention, some with a minimal shortlist and others with an extensive longlist of incentivizing aspects from rooftop to groundline.

The most green-oriented communities and builders substantiate their claims with third-party program certifications and inspections including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), ENERGY STAR, ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS), GreenPoint Rated, Zero Energy Ready and Indoor airPLUS. Homes meeting these programs’ requirements will typically exceed minimum energy efficiency and conservation standards providing a sales edge over resale homes and new homes that do not.

Last winter’s Texas freeze gave us all pause to consider the benefits of living off the grid. The greenest new homes come equipped with solar energy systems, including storage, offering homebuyers the lure of energy independence. During the warmest months, the addition of cool technology roofing and radiant barrier insulative roof sheathing help keep interior temperatures lower assisting with energy conservation.

Engineered lumber, 2×6 framing allowing for increased insulation, whole house wrap and high-performance insulation systems with conditioned attics are found in greener new homes. A sampling of insulation upgrades includes: R-19 below roof decks, R-30 or R-49 in attics, R-21 in walls, R-8 insulated ducts and insulated hot water pipes along with Quality Insulation Installation (QII) and inspection – key details for overall performance and homeowner satisfaction.

In a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, Energy Star windows were a “must have” for 39% of homebuyers and considered “desirable” by another 44%.  Green builders’ current lineup for energy efficient windows note dual-glazed, argon filled, double-strength, low-emissivity with ultra-violet coating and Super Spacer, an insulating and energy efficient glass system. Weatherstripping for all exterior doors and insulated garage doors round out the enhanced energy conserving details from these builders for a home’s openings.

With a more airtight building envelope, owners of greener new homes reap the rewards with less need to use their HVAC systems. When HVAC is needed, homes equipped with whole house exchange fans, ultra-efficient, higher rated, two-zone air conditioning and high efficiency furnaces use less energy. Wi-Fi connected, automatic setback, programmable thermostats assist homeowners in their quest to reduce their carbon footprints and expenditures.

Among the top twelve features home buyers are looking for today, from the NAHB’s survey, are energy efficient lighting and ENERGY STAR rated appliances; both are regularly found in new green homes. LED lighting, with 90% less energy consumption and 50 times longer life than incandescent, provides tremendous savings. Dimmer switches, occupancy sensors and exterior lights with astronomical timer switches provide additional energy and money savings. ENERGY STAR dishwashers, microwave ovens and refrigerators are another key contributor using up to 50% less energy than standard models.

With another severe drought looming over the west coast, water consumption is top-of-mind. Today’s green homes with WaterSense faucets and toilets use 20% to 32% less water. Dual flush toilets, faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads and recirculating tankless water heater pumps help in using even less. Wi-Fi controlled water shut-off valves and irrigation systems, Water-Wise landscaping with drought tolerant techniques and plants create additional consumption savings.

The pandemic has caused us all to focus more acutely on human health and the health of our homes. Green homes are healthier homes. Typical building product toxins are reduced or removed, improving indoor air quality, with the use of low VOC paint, adhesives, sealants and cabinets, formaldehyde-free insulation and CRI Green Label Plus low emitting carpet. High value MERV air filters and exhaust fans with built-in humidistats provide occupants with cleaner, healthier, more comfortable living in their green home.

Green, greener or greenest, new homes with the eco-conscious features that buyers are searching for will continue to attract more attention and sales than their competition long after today’s buying frenzy has subsided.

Donna Aldrich, CID, LEED AP ID+C is a Principal, Architectural Color Design at WHA Architects. Read more of her stories at