March 30, 2012
Hatteras Island Real Estate: Going green in our homes
By TOM HRANICKA
January, my wife, Louise, and I had the privilege of being among the
first real estate brokers on the Outer Banks to receive the
National Association of Realtors (NAR) Green professional designation.
The three-day training program was designed to prepare us to counsel
clients and homeowners about ways to address issues associated with
energy efficiency and smart building practices.
The central theme of NAR’s green initiative is a concept known as
“sustainability.” In its simplest form, sustainability refers to an
effort to manage scarce and declining resources in ways that meet
present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their needs.
Whenever we start talking about green practices, there is a spectrum of
preconceptions that has to be overcome before getting to the underlying
value propositions. These red herrings range from the “tree-hugger”
label associated with environmental activism to the very prevalent
phenomenon known as “greenwashing” where claims are made about products
that lack a verifiable positive effect on the environment. Once we get
past these initial obstacles, there really are some actions that can,
under the right circumstances, produce meaningful results.
Examples of resources on which each of us can have a relevant influence
include energy, water, and air quality. Some of the potential benefits
of incorporating available green technology and behavior patterns into
our homes and daily activities include lower utility expenses, reduced
water and electric consumption, more efficient energy usage, and
possible tax advantages.
During the classroom instruction, we were introduced to an interesting
variety of products and services. Those that caught our attention and
that seemed to have the most applicability in our local vacation home
environment included: geothermal heating and cooling systems, simple
retrofits for reducing energy loss in attic spaces and gaps in a home’s
HVAC ducts, solar heating for at least a portion of a property’s energy
needs, home energy audits, and even a new form of insulation made from
recycled blue jeans. As you can see, a large portion of the course
focused on energy efficiency and evaluating a home’s energy performance.
Let’s take a look at just a few ideas that may save you some money while contributing to good resource management.
If you are planning to build a new home or to upgrade your HVAC system,
you may want to look into a geo-thermal system as an alternative to
traditional heat pumps. A geo-thermal system uses a series of deep
wells connected by pipes that takes advantage of the constant
temperature of the earth to heat and cool the home.
While initially appearing to be much more expensive than a heat pump
system, a geo-thermal system requires very little maintenance,
eliminates the recurring cost of replacing heat pumps, and cuts the
cost of electricity. In addition, tax credits may be available in
conjunction with the installation of a geo-thermal system. When
combining these benefits, it is not uncommon to have the numbers show
that over time it may actually be less expensive to put in a
geo-thermal system than a heat pump system.
If your rental cottage has a private swimming pool, you may want to
consider the installation of solar heating. The initial cost of
installing solar panels is in the $3,500 range. While solar heating may
not get the temperature of the pool quite as high as propane heat, and
it may not heat the water up as quickly, the advantages can be
substantial. For starters, there is an advertising
advantage in being able to state that you are offering a heated pool.
This could translate into additional rental income. With solar heat,
the weekly cost will be lower to rental guests, thereby making the home
more attractive from a rental rate standpoint, and maintenance costs to
the owner should also be lower.
How about energy efficient light bulbs? Here, we are talking
about LED, not the CFL light bulbs that have a short time lag between
flipping the switch and the light coming on. At the outset LED bulbs
maybe more expensive, but they have extremely long life spans.
Think about the cost savings relative to the expense of having rental
company maintenance personnel come out to your cottage on multiple
occasions to replace light bulbs in high locations that require a
ladder and possibly two people for safety purposes.
The icing on the cake associated with going green is that there may be
federal and state tax credits for your energy efficient projects.
A tax credit is basically an incentive from the federal and state
governments to implement energy saving initiatives. We all need to
conserve energy, and the government is sweetening the pot to encourage
us to move in that direction. These tax credits, when combined, can be
as high as 65 percent.
The rules associated with tax credits can be complex; they may vary by
taxpayer. There are some annual limitations, and they are not always
written as clearly as we might like. So, be certain to consult with
your tax accountant or attorney as part of the planning process for any
energy-related project that you are considering.
It is also my understanding that some banks may finance projects that
promote energy efficiency either on a stand-alone basis or as part of a
refinance. If you can roll the cost of the improvement that you
are considering into a loan, then it really makes sense.
For example, if your energy saving implementation costs end up adding
$100 to your monthly loan expense, but you are saving $200 per month in
energy costs, then you are actually putting an extra $100 per month
into your pocket!
When all is said and done, some of the strongest impressions that I took away from the class included the following:
energy assessment is probably a good first step for most homeowners
because it will provide a baseline evaluation of your home and suggest
fixes for improving energy efficiency. Testing determines where and how
energy is being lost, what systems are operating inefficiently, and
what cost-effective improvements can be implemented to improve comfort,
durability and efficiency.
making green improvements on a home, do some research, and try to get
an idea of the actual cost vs. benefit. The adoption of energy saving
technology without a corresponding change in consumption behavior may
limit the expected benefits. For example, a tankless water heater may
sound like a good idea for saving electricity, but if people are taking
half-hour showers, the payback might not be what you anticipated.
the same time, don’t focus only on the cost/benefit aspects of an
improvement. There are actions which each of us may want to take
simply because they are good things to do relative to the preservation
of resources and the quality of life for future generations to enjoy.
An excellent place to start your investigation of green concepts for real estate is http://www.GreenREsourceCouncil.org. Click on the Green Resources tab, and you will find a wealth of introductory articles and reference links.
The application of green technology, products, and services relative to
real estate is a rapidly emerging, constantly evolving field of study
and research. Take a look at the options that may have the most
relevance for your primary residence and for your vacation cottage, and
decide upon those that present the best opportunities for your personal
circumstances. Then, go green!
Hranicka is an associate broker with Outer Beaches Realty. Questions,
comments, or suggestions for future articles may be sent to Tom
Hranicka at P.O. Box 237, Avon, NC 27915, or e-mail to [email protected] )
Copyright © 2012 Tom & Louise Hranicka. All rights reserved.