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What To Look For In A New Home

Don’t Select One That is Too Big

Your first task should be to avoid moving to a bigger house than you really need. It is shocking at times to drive around new residential developments and see how enormous modern houses have become. Even though the average household size has dropped in recent decades, many upper-middle-class Americans are becoming accustomed to living in veritable mansions, often with over 4000 square feet of living space.

These large houses require more energy to heat and cool. All other things being equal (such as the amount of insulation in the walls), annual fuel or electricity use for climate conditioning is approximately proportional to floor area. Thus, if you pick a house that is 25% larger than you need, your fuel bills, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollutant emissions will be about 25% higher than they could be.

In addition, larger houses require more building materials and energy inputs than smaller houses. This is an especially important consideration if you are purchasing a new house rather than a resale.

Choose a Home that Reduces the Need to Drive

The use of cars is the single most significant way in which average Americans impact the environment. When you are moving, you have an opportunity to either significantly decrease or increase your overall environmental impact. If you choose a home convenient to work, stores, recreation, and mass transit, you won‚t have to drive as much.

Don't think of this as an all-or-nothing proposition, since seemingly small differences can add up to a lot. For example, if you have an average car, even a 5-mile difference in the length of your commute to work translates into about 120 gallons of gasoline each year.

Avoid Disturbing Valuable Wildlife Habitats

The push of residential development into currently unpopulated areas often destroys or disturbs valuable wildlife habitats. Avoid buying a house with a large yard in a new residential development that will eliminate a pristine forest or some other irreplaceable habitat.

Ask Your Landlord to Make Improvement

If you are moving to an apartment, you can try to get the landlord to make improvements to insulation, weather-stripping, and storm windows that will both save you money on your utility bills and help the environment. Even if the landlord does not agree, you will be starting to educate him/her about the fact that there are consumers out there who care about the environmental impacts of the place they live.

If you are lucky enough to be buying a custom-built house, you make a huge difference by insisting that the designer or builder install super efficient features. State-of-the-art energy-efficient houses can require less than a quarter as much energy for heating and cooling as most existing houses. With more insulation in walls and ceilings than standard new houses, high-efficiency windows, and heat-recovery ventilation systems, such homes usually cost $5,000 to $10,000 more to build. However, the extra cost can be recovered in a few years through savings on fuel and electricity.

You should also consider incorporating solar features into the house. Passive Solar Design can improve the attractiveness and comfort of your house, while lowering operating costs. Solar Hot Water may also be cost-effective, especially if you can incorporate the cost into your mortgage. It will certainly be good for the environment.

Look for Durability in a New House

Because it takes a lot of energy and materials to build a new house, it is desirable if the building materials and the house itself last a long time before needing to be replaced. Careful design and construction to exclude wind and water are keys to durability and help keep energy bills low.

Use Green Building Materials

This is a little more complicated that it might initially seem, since it can be hard to figure out which building materials are environmentally friendly and which ones aren't. Because so many different types of materials go into a building, there are lots of different types of green building materials. The staff of Environmental Building News has come up with useful standards for what makes a building material "green." They have several categories of green products:

Products made from environmentally attractive materials, including products that reduce materials use (for example, drywall clips that eliminate the need for corner studs), salvaged materials, recycled materials (for example, sprayed cellulose, a recycled material, used for insulation), products made from agricultural waste, and certified wood products that carry an FSC stamp, indicating they meet the high standards set by the Forestry Stewardship Council.

Products that are green because they don't contain toxic chemicals in conventional products. For example, products that substitute for polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ozone-depleting chemicals, and conventional pressure-treated lumber.

Products that reduce the environmental impacts of construction, renovation, and demolition. For example, erosion-control products and exterior stains with low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Products that reduce the environmental impacts of building operation, including products that reduce energy and water use, reduce the need for pesticide treatments (for example, physical termite barriers), or have unusual durability or require little maintenance.

Products that contribute to a safe, healthy indoor environment, including products that don't release significant pollutants (for example, low-VOC paints, caulks, and adhesives), products that remove indoor pollutants (for example, certain ventilation products), and products that warn inhabitants of health hazards (for example, carbon monoxide detectors and lead paint testing kits).

To learn more about the Environmental Building News green building standards, read "Building Materials: What Makes a Product Green?" in the January 2000 issue of the newsletter. Environmental Building News also published a GreenSpec product directory listing 1,200 green building products. For information, visit



Copyright 2012 Ronald Sauve All Rights Reserved

This page was last modified on April 06, 2012

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