Housing Goes "Green"
Wherever you turn these days, it seems that someone is talking about "Green", or "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED") certified buildings, and "Zero Energy Homes." Each of these share a commitment to reduced energy consumption and the "re-use, repurposing and recycling of materials," "improved indoor air quality" and use of "environmentally friendly" and "renewable products." Green or LEED buildings generally generate 20 to 70 percent in energy savings, while a Zero Energy Home (ZEH) by definition must generate enough energy to meet or exceed its own heating, cooling and electrical needs in any given year.
With all of the recent attention being given to energy conservation, you might not realize that a handful of individuals began vigorously exploring ways to significantly reduce energy consumption in the early 1970's. Since then, energy saving practices have been refined and expanded and have been incorporated into projects ranging from small homes to large commercial buildings, schools and fire stations to government buildings. Recent projects have successfully demonstrated the economic viability and sustainability of incorporating rigorous energy and conservation standards into new construction without increasing budgets or extending schedules.
Many conservation efforts are most easily incorporated at the time of initial construction, however some are easily adapted either as a stand-alone project or as part of routine equipment replacement.
Heating, Cooling and Electricity
High efficiency furnaces and/or heat pumps - replacing old furnaces with higher efficiency models or possibly converting from an older type of heating and/or cooling device to one utilizing newer technology can lead to significant energy savings. Many furnaces built just 15 years ago are quite inefficient when compared to models available today.
Insulation - adding additional insulation in attics, crawl spaces and exterior walls are all potential areas for reducing energy costs. Also, by sealing cracks in the attic around areas where ceiling lights and fans are installed or wires are strung can also cut energy costs substantially. When all these small openings are added together, they can have the same effect as having a window left open.
Horizontal Loop Ground Source Heat Pump System - this relatively unheard of heat pump system runs coils 4 to 6 feet underground to tap into the constant temperature of the earth's soil to provide either heating or cooling depending upon the season.
Windows - installation of wood or vinyl encased triple pane windows significantly reduces heat loss and eliminates drafts.
Building Site Orientation - for new construction, orienting a building to utilize the southern exposure along with window placement allows for the exploitation of both natural lighting and solar heat.
Light bulbs - the days of the incandescent light bulbs may be numbered as legislators across the nation discuss legislation to ban their use in favor of the more efficient LED and CFL lighting technology as a measure to reduce energy usage.
Higher efficiency appliances - installation of high efficiency appliances will significantly reduce energy consumption, particularly for appliances that run all the time, are energy consumers or are used with high frequency.
Water heaters - there are several energy saving strategies available when it comes to water heaters. When opting to use a traditional storage tank, the location of the tank can have a significant impact on the amount of water consumed and the cost of heating the water. The most economical placement is to have the tank as close as possible to where the water is used most so there is less water wasted waiting for the hot water to arrive. Adding insulation to the first foot of the pipe coming out of the hot water tank will reduce heat leakage. An alternative to the traditional hot water heater is the tankless water heater that only heats the water as needed by running the water through heated coils. This method eliminates the need to keep water hot all the time and the energy required to do so.
Landscaping -by designing and implementing a landscape centered on plants native to your locale that are also drought tolerant will reduce landscape watering requirements.
Rainwater cisterns with filtration systems - also gaining popularity are rainwater cisterns that store water from rooftop collection systems to be later used for irrigation. Sizes vary and can be selected based up on rainfall averages, collection area size, and available storage locations.
Impervious Paving Systems - porous surfaces reduce the impact on surrounding areas by allowing rain water to penetrate surfaces and be absorbed into the soil. Reducing runoff helps alleviate premature expansion of storm water treatment facilities.
Indoor Air Quality
Flooring - several options exist when making flooring selections that will increase air quality. For those willing to either reduce the quantity of carpeting or forego it all together, selecting sustainably harvested wood or bamboo is a good alternative. However, for those set on having carpeting, selecting carpets made using natural fibers with a low-pile can reduce the collection of allergens. Also, air quality will remain stable when carpeting is installed using tacks rather than fume emitting glue.
Paint - better air quality is achieved by using low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) and low-toxic interior paints and finishes instead of other paints and finishes that release higher levels of chemicals and toxins.
Additional Energy Sources
Solar - once thought of as an "alternative" source of energy, solar panels are gaining popularity. Solar panels remain an expensive option; however, their cost has dropped significantly over the last number of years, making them less cost prohibitive. Although solar panels will work in any climate, sunnier locations will result in higher productivity. To encourage the installation of solar panels, governmental agencies as well as some utilities have created different incentive and rebate programs to lower the cost.
Wind - although not practical for the average home owner due to its high installation costs ($40,000 or more), it does remain an option for those located in areas with sufficient wind and land resources. Generally, a home tower will produce between 8,000 - 18,000 kWh per year given sufficient air movement and requires being located on at least an acre of land.
Should You Purchase or Rent?
There are many factors to be considered when deciding to move to a new location with the first critical decision being whether to purchase some property or rent. Depending upon your circumstances, it may either be a clear-cut decision or one that requires a more thorough analysis to make that determination.
Factors to Consider
Career - For some individuals, it may not be practical to purchase property if their career will require them to relocate frequently. Although some people have the resources and inclination to accumulate property each time they move, for most of us that is either not an option or would be an undesirable outcome to find ourselves in the role of landlord. For the majority of us, that means we need to sell property each time we move, so careful analysis is required to determine whether it is better to buy or rent property for the duration of the assignment. One item to consider is that it generally takes 3 - 5 years under average real estate market conditions to reach the breakeven point for recouping the closing costs incurred at the time of purchase. Individual situations will vary, but in a stagnant real estate market it will take longer to realize enough in property appreciation to cover the transaction costs related to acquiring and selling property.
Property Resale - Not all properties or real estate markets are equal when it comes time to sell property. Factors to weigh include the typical length of time it takes to sell property in your area or the area you are interested in which you are interested, and if there is something unique about the property (price range, location, size) that you are interested in that would make it either easier or harder to sell. Whether or not you have relocation benefits available to you through an employer if you are unable to sell your property may also be a factor.
Finances - The purchase of property typically involves significant upfront cash outlays: pre-purchase inspections, a down payment and closing costs. Equally important is whether or not sufficient income is available to cover the mortgage/escrow payments while still having enough income to adequately take care of other living expenses, car payments as well as saving for retirement. The lack of sufficient funds may quickly eliminate any thought of purchasing property and dictate that in the interim renting, living with family members or some other living arrangement will be required until enough funds can be saved.
Relationship Status - Personal relationships can play an important part in deciding to purchase property. Engaged or newly married couples often are looking to establish a single common property on which to build their future together. Single or newly divorced adults may not be ready or interested in making a long-term obligation to a specific location and prefer to leave their options open as they pursue relationships, careers, other interests and hobbies.
Personal Preference - While some people feel a strong need to own property, others don't want the responsibility of maintaining property and prefer to simply pick up the phone at the first sign of any possible trouble and have someone else be responsible for remedying the issue at hand.
Benefits of Purchasing a Home
Ownership - For most people, owning their home is a key element of attaining the American Dream. And there is nothing quite like buying your first home and realizing it is all yours (provided of course that you continue to make your mortgage payments on time). Homeowners also tend to view their purchase an investment and have incentive to keep their property in good repair.
Building Equity - Obviously the largest benefit is that you are now building equity in your own property instead of contributing to the equity in someone else's property via rent payments. Historically, home ownership has been a long-standing means of building long-term wealth.
Decorating Without Limitations - As an owner, you have the freedom to personalize your property to your heart's content, subject only to local code and any applicable Homeowners' Association rules, unlike when you rent and experience many restrictions as to what you can and cannot do to the rental property. No need to get approval to paint interior walls, change flooring, install custom closet organizers, or complete minor home improvement projects. Although larger remodel projects may require getting permits, other than meeting code requirements, you are limited only by your budget and creativity when making changes to reflect your personal tastes and style.
Financial Stability - Fixed rate mortgages result in both greater financial stability and predictability. Assuming a fixed-rate mortgage, over time your housing costs should become a smaller percentage of your monthly budget as your income continues to grow while the mortgage remains constant. Additionally, fixed mortgages offer a great deal of predictability when preparing long-term budgets. Although repairs and maintenance will need to be factored in, there will be no surprises with unexpected hikes in rent.
Personal Benefits - Owning property frequently allows you a greater opportunity to meet neighbors and develop friendships with others that hold values similar to your own. And unlike apartment dwellers that tend to be more nomadic and view their unit as just a place to sleep at night, homeowner's tend to move less often and view their homes as investments. It is also not uncommon to find neighbors that were drawn to the area for many of the same reasons that caught your attention - good reputation of schools, easy access to public transportation, close proximity to outdoor activities, the architecture of the homes, or the availability of shopping, dining and entertainment within walking distance - giving you something in common right from the beginning to build upon.
Benefits of Renting
Limited Commitment - Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of renting is the limited commitment that is required of tenants allowing, them more flexibility to relocate as circumstances change. Leases often only require an initial six-month or one-year term, allowing a lot of flexibility for tenants. At worse case, if something unexpected comes up and you need to move before the initial lease is up you are frequently out a deposit for breaking the contract, but you don't need to sell a house before you can move or to free up your cash.
Repairs and Maintenance - In many circumstances, a tenant needs only to contact the property owner or manager to have repairs taken care of. And for those who don't have the time or inclination to keep up a yard, renting a property where the upkeep is taken care of can be a real plus.
Roommates - Many people choose to have roommates to help defray housing costs by splitting the cost of rent as well as utilities. Although this tends to appeal more to young adults, it is not limited exclusively to the younger crowd. As the economy has created new challenges, some homeowners have begun seeking roommates to ease financial burdens by filling empty rooms in their homes.
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