Greening existing structures a worthwhile investment

Posted by Steve Kleber on Jan 13, 2010

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The drive toward more stringent environmental building regulations—especially for existing structures—is taking a hit in this tough economy. New York City recently scaled back proposed regulations that would have required many building owners to undergo audits to determine which renovations would make their properties more energy efficient and then compelled them by law to pay for those renovations.

Opponents won the day by leaning on the argument that now is not the time to add to the economic burden with increased regulation.

But putting off investment in greening existing structures is a shortsighted approach to economic uncertainty.

As the real estate market recovers, homes that can be certified as energy efficient will likely earn back their value the fastest. Recent research in the Seattle and Portland, Ore., areas shows this to be the case. In both markets, third-party-certified-sustainable residential properties sold for more than comparable non-certified properties, and in Portland those homes sold 18 days faster.

The question is, how far can we go with voluntary third-party certifications? The National Association of Realtors has made it clear that it thinks mandatory measures will hurt an already struggling residential real estate market. But if we go the way of voluntary certifications, it will be up to Realtors to get out there and promote green valuations through Multiple Listing Services and to make them a more integral part of real estate appraisals.

Homeowners need to know how much is at stake, not only for the environment and the future, but also for their own pocketbooks through savings on energy bills and increased value in their homes. It’s up to real estate, contracting and building products professionals to get the information out there so homeowners can make informed decisions about where to spend scarce remodeling dollars.

High profile tax incentives like “Cash for Caulkers” will certainly help and will clearly remain the most popular way to encourage green retrofitting until a recovery begins to take stronger hold. For politicians in all levels of government the carrot will always be more palatable than the stick.

But the carrot can only take us so far. The stick, in the form of mandatory standards, must be employed as well if we are going to make significant gains in reducing energy usage by buildings, especially when it comes to existing homes.

The writing is on the wall in the federal government’s recent “Recovery Through Retrofit” report, which sets the stage for an efficiency rating tool and labeling scheme for assessing energy in buildings, which Green Inc. reports will likely be run out of the Department of Energy.

Standards like these tend to grow from the states up. With a federal standard in the works, it’s only a matter of time before mandates become part of the conversation.

Those who take the initiative now – be they Realtors, contractors, building products manufacturers or homeowners – will be poised to benefit most once green retrofit mandates see the light of day.

This entry was posted by Steve Kleber on Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 at 10:06 am and is filed under Green Initiatives, Housing Market. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.