Studies continue to show that real estate buyers are willing to pay a substantial premium for homes that feature highly efficient, environmentally friendly “green energy” technology.
While the added value depends on the location of the home, its age, and whether it’s certified or not, three separate studies all found that newly constructed, Energy Star- or LEED-certified homes typically sell for about nine percent more than comparable, non-certified new homes. Plus, one of those studies discovered that existing homes retrofitted with green technologies, and certified as such, can command a whopping 30-percent sales-price boost.
Options include technologies that you may already be very familiar with, as well as some new breakthroughs that may surprise you:
Fuel cells may soon offer an all-new source of electricity that would allow you to completely disconnect your home from all other sources of electricity. About the size of a dishwasher, a fuel cell connects to your home’s natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity. One unit would pack more than enough energy to power your whole home.
Past fuel cells have been far too expensive and unreliable. But Redox Power Systems, a company that’s planning to launch its first fuel cell later this year, is using new materials, claims they’ll be able to cut the purchase price by 90 percent, and predicts the associated electricity-bill savings will allow homeowners to pay off that purchase price in just two years’ time.
A wind turbine (essentially a propeller spinning atop an 80- to 100-foot pole) collects kinetic energy from the wind and converts it to electricity for your home. And according to the Department of Energy, a small version can slash your electrical bill by 50 to 90 percent.
But before you get too excited, you need to know that the zoning laws in most urban areas don’t allow wind turbines. They’re too tall. The best prospects for this technology are homes located on at least an acre of land, well outside the city limits.
Cool roofs keep the houses they’re covering as much as 50 to 60 degrees cooler by reflecting the heat of the sun away from the interior, allowing the occupants to stay cooler and save on air-conditioning costs. The most common form is metal roofing. Other options include roof membranes and reflective asphalt shingles.
Another way to keep the interior of your house cooler—and save on air-conditioning costs—is to replace your traditional roof with a layer of vegetation (typically hardy groundcovers). This is more expensive than a cool roof and requires regular maintenance, but young, environmentally conscious home owners are very attracted to the concept.
Combining a heat pump with a standard furnace to create what’s known as a “hybrid heating system” can save you somewhere between 15 and 35 percent on your heating and cooling bills.
Unlike a gas or oil furnace, a heat pump doesn’t use any fuel. Instead, the coils inside the unit absorb whatever heat exists naturally in the outside air, and distributes it via the same ductwork used by your furnace. When the outside air temperature gets too cold for the heat pump to work, the system switches over to your traditional furnace.
Geothermal heating units are like heat pumps, except instead of absorbing heat from the outside air, they absorb the heat in the soil next to your house via coils buried in the ground. The coils can be buried horizontally or, if you don’t have a wide enough yard, they can be buried vertically. While the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of a hybrid, air-sourced system, the cost savings on your energy bills can cover the installation costs in five to 10 years.
Solar panels capture light energy from the sun and convert it directly into electricity. For decades, you may have seen these panels sitting on sunny rooftops all across America. But it’s only recently that this energy-saving option has become truly affordable.
In 2010, installing a solar system on a typical mid-sized house would have set the homeowner back $30,000. But today, that price has been slashed to an average of just $19,000. Plus, some companies are now offering to rent solar panels to homeowners (the company retains ownership of the panels and sells the homeowner access to the power at roughly 10 to 15 percent less than they would pay their local utility).
Solar water heaters
Rooftop solar panels can also be used to heat your home’s water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average homeowner who makes this switch should see their water bills shrink by 50 to 80 percent.
Many of the innovative solutions summarized above come with big price tags attached. However, federal, state and local rebates/tax credits can often slash those expenses by as much as 50 percent. So before ruling any of these ideas out, take some time to see which incentives you may qualify for at dsireusa.org and the “tax incentives” pages at Energy.gov.
Regardless of which option you choose, these technologies will not only help to conserve valuable resources and reduce your monthly utility expenses, but also add resale value that you can leverage whenever you decide it’s time to sell and move on to a new home.
If you are working on a DIY remodel, deciding whether to call in a specialty contractor to perform a specific task comes down to several areas you’ll need to consider:
Skill. Do you have the necessary skills to build a sound structure, and do it safely?
Scale. Is the size of the project one that you can handle in a reasonable amount of time?
Cost. When factoring in the value of your own time, can the project be completed for less cost by a professional? Do you have the tools you need?
Aesthetics. Can you finish the project attractively enough that you’re not sacrificing resale value? Would a rough grout joint or wallpaper seam bother you?
Learn more about the specific problem areas that often require professional help below.
Contractor 1: Weber + Studio Architects, original photo on Houzz
1. Structural elements. Beams, footers, headers etc. — these are the unglamorous and often hidden parts of a home that are critical to its long-term stability and safety. Don’t take chances with structural components. Everything should be drawn or approved by an engineer, whose specifications should be followed to the letter.
Contractor 2: Re:Vision Architecture, original photo on Houzz
2. Electrical. Here’s another one where safety and skill intersect. Poor wiring can be a safety hazard — just because you were able to wire something up and it worked, doesn’t mean you haven’t created a safety hazard. If you aren’t confident you have the knowledge to perform the needed work and assess the implications of your work on the rest of the circuit and panel, call in a professional.
Contractor 3: Jeffrey Dungan Architects, original photo on Houzz
3. Roofing. Here’s a good example of a project where even if you feel you have the skills to perform the task safely and properly, you may not be able to complete the project in a short enough period of time to avoid exposing your home to damage from rain. If you can’t get your roofing project done in a couple days, don’t start it. Even professionals can underestimate the time a project will take to complete, so you may want to double your estimate.
4. Plumbing. A clogged drain line and a faucet that needs to be replaced are tasks that you know you can complete. Before you do either yourself, though, think about the true cost.
What is your time worth? Do you have the tools? If you end up renting a drain snake from the home center that doesn’t work when you get it home, and you need to make another trip before you even clear the drain, you may lose much of a precious Saturday.
Contractor 4: Buckminster Green LLC, original photo on Houzz
5. Insulation. Certain types of insulation, such as spray foam, should be left to the professionals. Many people assume that installing batt insulation like fiberglass is an easy project, but there is a lot of room for error here. If you leave gaps you can create spots that draw heat and moisture into your walls — a bad combination. Even if you do the job well, it’s messy work. Plus, insulation contractors get a much better deal on the material costs than you would, offsetting the labor savings of a DIY project.
6. Carpentry. Even if you have the skills to complete the project, professional carpenters will have the tools and experience to get the job done quickly. If you are trying to complete the project on a part-time basis, remember to factor in setup and cleanup time. Working a full day is often much more efficient than an hour here and there.
Contractor 5: Ike Kligerman Barkley, original photo on Houzz
7. Masonry. This is one that bridges all four factors — if there is a structural component to the masonry project (and there usually is), safety is a concern. The scale of projects involving stone, brick and concrete can be deceiving. Make sure you know what you’re getting into. Wrestling a heavy stone into place and making it look good takes years to master. When you factor in all of this, the cost of paying for good work can be a bargain.
8. Wallpaper. There isn’t much room for error here. You have to get it right the first time. You’re drawing attention to the wall by dressing it up, so it had better look good. You wouldn’t pay an arm and a leg for a beautiful fabric and then make a sloppy-looking dress, so don’t buy a gorgeous paper and put it up with misaligned seams and bad corners.
Contractor 6: Buckminster Green LLC, original photo on Houzz
9. Tile. The pace of tile installation is slower than that of wallpaper, and there is a lot of contemplation that goes into a good tile installation. If you aren’t experienced, you may discover something you should have thought about when it’s too late. You also want to prep correctly. Tiles are all different and require different approaches to installation. Your DIY tile floor may look good when it’s done, but can you be sure it will hold up and not crack in a year or two? If you are confident about that, go for it. If not, call a professional.
10. Painting. I know, it sounds ridiculous — if you can’t paint, what DIY project can you do? Keep in mind, I’m not here to stop you from painting your own house. Just consider that a good, lasting paint job takes a lot of prep work. Sometimes this can involve wall repair, scraping paint (which can be a health risk if it’s lead paint), priming and caulking over old finishes with various products. Depending on what you’re working with, you may need someone with more experience to help.
By Kenny Grono, Houzz
As sophisticated as homes are today, experts predict they’ll be far more so in the not-too-distant future— especially when it comes to their use of technology. Included are seven evolutionary trends that many expect to define the home of the future.
#1: Faster home-construction
Today, it takes somewhere between 18 months and two years to design and build your custom dream home. In the foreseeable future, experts predict that timeline will be slashed to six to nine months.
Architects will use immersion technology to not only develop plans faster, but also enable you to “walk” through a three-dimensional representation of the house and experience what it will be like to live there. Changes to the layout could be incorporated with a few clicks of the keyboard and mouse.
And, instead of delivering raw materials to the construction site and having workers cut and assemble them to match the plans, about 70 percent of the cutting and assembling work will take place in a precision-controlled factory environment. Once the foundation is ready, the pre-constructed walls, floors and roof will be delivered in “folded” sections, complete with windows, doors, fixtures, and even appliances, already installed.
#2: Alternative building materials and techniques
One of the big breakthroughs in home construction coming in the near future will be the use of steel framing in place of lumber.
Steel is not only stronger (able to withstand a 100-pound snow load, 110 mile per hour winds and significant earthquakes), it’s also far more eco-friendly than most people think (manufactured from up to 77 percent recycled materials) and much less wasteful (typical lumber framing generates 20 percent waste, while steel framing generates just two percent).
Other innovative home-building materials moving towards the mainstream include:
- Wall insulation made of mushroom roots (it grows inside the air cavity, forming an air-tight seal).
- Panels made of hemp and lime.
- Windows made from recycled wood fiber and glass.
- Recycled-glass floor and counter tiles.
- Reclaimed wood (beams and flooring re-milled and repurposed).
#3: Smaller homes with inventive layouts
The optimum home size for many Americans has been shrinking, and experts predict it will shrink more in the future. But it will feel bigger than it is because the layout will be so practical.
The driving forces behind the small-house movement (millennials purchasing their first home and baby boomers looking to downsize) aren’t interested in formal dining rooms, home offices, guest quarters and other spaces that have only one use and are only occasionally occupied. And they certainly aren’t interested in formal entries, high ceilings and three-car garages. They want an informal house layout, with flexible, adaptable spaces that can be used every day in one way or another.
Many of these homes will also feature a second master bedroom, so parents, children and grandparents can all comfortably live under one roof.
#4: Walkable neighborhoods
Even today, homebuyers are willing to give up some of their wants for a new house in order to get a location that’s within walking distance to stores, restaurants and other amenities. In the future, that trend is expected to only grow stronger.
#5: The net-zero house
For some time now, homeowners and homebuilders have both been striving to make the structures where we live more energy-efficient (green housing projects accounted for 20% of all newly built homes in 2012). But in the future, the new goal with be a net-zero home: A home that uses between 60 to 70 percent less energy than a conventional home, with the balance of its energy needs supplied by renewable technologies (solar, wind, etc.).
Essentially, these are homes that sustain themselves. While they do consume energy produced by the local utility, they also produce energy of their own, which can be sold back to the utility through a “net metering” program, offsetting the energy purchased.
#6 High-tech features
The technology revolution that’s transformed our phones, computers and TVs is going to push further into our homes in the not-too-distant future.
- Compact robots (similar to the Roomba vacuum) that will clean windows and more.
- Video feeds inside the oven that will allow you to use your phone to check on what’s cooking.
- Faucet sensors that detect bacteria in food.
- Blinds that will automatically open and close depending on the time of day, your habits and the amount of sun streaming through the windows.
- Refrigerators that will monitor quantities, track expiration dates, provide recipes, display family photos, access the Web, play music, and more.
- Washers and dryers that can be operated remotely.
- Appliances that will recognize your spoken commands.
- Heating and cooling systems that automatically adapt to your movements and can predict your wants.
#7: A higher level of security
In the future, home will continue to be a place where we want to feel safe and secure. To accomplish that, you can expect:
- Sensors that can alert you to water and gas leaks.
- Facial recognition technology that can automatically determine whether someone on your property is a friend or foe.
- A smart recognition system that will open the garage door, turn off the security system, unlock the doors and turn on the interior lights when it senses your car approaching.
- The capability to create the illusion that you’re home and moving about the property when you’re actually someplace else.
This is no pipe dream
Many of these products, processes and strategies are already in use. Some are still being tested. And others are only in the incubator stage. But in the not-too-distant future, experts believe they’ll all be available to homeowners across the country.
White-on-white kitchens have been a classic look for many years. Why does this trend endure? For starters, white connotes cleanliness, makes small spaces appear larger, and brightens rooms that are naturally dark.
Although many all-white kitchens are just lovely, some can appear a bit stark or cold. To help clients warm up their white, I recommend a variety of strategies, such as mixing metals and adding contrasting paint, fabric or wood. Read on for inspiration for personalizing your white kitchen so that it stands out from the crowd.
White Kitchen 1: Allard Ward Architects, original photo on Houzz
1. Warm metal accents. Copper, bronze, brass and polished nickel are just a few of the metals that can warm up an all-white kitchen. The gold sconces above the window and the white pendant lights, with their subtle hint of gold, add warmth and a touch of luxury to this all-white kitchen.
White Kitchen 2: GIA Bathroom & Kitchen Renovations, original photo on Houzz
2. Color and metal. Moving beyond metallics alone, a single contrasting color when combined with metals can create drama in a white kitchen. In this photo, a modern white kitchen intermingles black pendants and countertops with gold seating. This combination contributes to the room’s sleek contemporary look.
White Kitchen 3: Orchid Newton Ltd, original photo on Houzz
3. Wallpaper. I love wallpaper, especially in kitchens. Wallpaper can introduce color, movement and dimension to a white kitchen. When applied to a lone wall, wallpaper can create a dynamic focal point, as shown in this photo. The bright white cabinets and crisp white walls are softened by the shades of blue in the fish swimming on the side wall. This kitchen’s under-the-sea motif is enhanced by the blue tile on the back wall and the sea urchin-shaped pendant lights.
White Kitchen 4: IS Architecture, original photo on Houzz
4. Colorful island. Wood-stained islands often appear in white kitchens because of the richness and contrast they bring. This kitchen shows a creative alternative, pairing a chartreuse island with a chartreuse Roman shade. Together they lend a whimsical, personalized feel. To give your white kitchen a personal touch, consider painting your island your favorite color.
White Kitchen 5: Mosaic del Sur, original photo on Houzz
5. Tile rug. Layering in a rug is a great way to introduce color and texture to an all-white kitchen, but some clients worry that a rug could be an added source of dirt as well as a possible tripping hazard.
This clever kitchen resolves both issues with a tile rug instead of a fabric one.
White Kitchen 6: Hindley & Co, original photo on Houzz
6. Backsplash. A tile backsplash also can bring color and texture to your white kitchen. But who says a backsplash must be tile? This kitchen has a counter-level window in lieu of a tile splash. The window faces a luscious succulent garden, thus creating a green vista for an otherwise monochromatic kitchen.