Not long ago, the notion of eco-chic was a contradiction in terms. Green homes were associated with off-the-grid choices and environmentally conscious homeowners were viewed as pioneers. Options for melding style and sustainability were far and few between.
What a difference a few years make. Now more people are asking if homes can be high performance, health and aesthetically pleasing. And the answer is an across-the-board yes.
“The sustainable home marketplace is experiencing a monumental shift in consumer perception and understanding,” says Channing Boucher, broker associate of Benson Sotheby’s International Realty in Crested Butte, Colorado. Technology has reset consumer expectations and helped them realize there’s no need to compromise on creature comforts. “Today’s homebuyers are better educated about the opportunity and, therefore, place a higher value on features like improved indoor air quality, energy efficient electrical, plumbing and heating systems and water-saving equipment and appliances,” he says. The surge in environmentally friendly housing and landscaping is more than a trend. It’s a way of life. Homebuyers who once made decisions based on location, price and floor plans are inquiring about green elements as a fourth consideration. They realize the investment in technologies and materials will pay for itself.
Green improvements change the economics.
“As cost differentials for green-built versus conventional code-built homes shrink, the time horizon on the payback of the investment also shrinks, making eco-friendly homes more desirable and attainable,” Boucher says.
One of Boucher’s listings, a ranch on a 35-acre lot on the edge of Crested Butte (pictured above), is a prime example of environmentally sound planning and construction. The ranch was the first LEED Gold-certified residence constructed on the state’s Western Slope. The LEED designation recognizes leadership in green building strategies and practices. The home is equipped with LED lighting and solar water panels for heat. Cabinetry and flooring are both made from reclaimed lumber.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, firms building new single-family homes report 15 percent of their projects are green, a figure that is expected to jump to 84 percent by 2018.
Reaching Critical Mass
The eco shift is global with homeowners and developers deliberating how they can retrofit existing homes or build smarter ones from the ground up. In one example of adaptive reuse, a series of centuries-old farmhouses in Tuscany, Italy, is being dismantled and rebuilt into modern residences using the original stones, wood beams and terracotta roof tiles. Repurposing the materials keeps them out of the landfills. These older materials are being supplemented with locally sourced new ones, including products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which ensures the lumber comes from responsibly managed forests.
In the principality of Andorra, Narcís Socías, CEO Andorra Sotheby’s International Realty says he’s seen increased interest in sustainable and energy-efficient buildings in recent years. “New construction of eco-friendly homes in the Pyrenees have three pillars of importance: economic, social and, most importantly, environmental. Renewable energies are being applied to the construction of new properties, adding benefits including maximum comfort and safety, potential savings and, of course, a lower impact on the environment.” An apartment for sale in the Andorran parish of Escaldes Engordany is in a south-facing building to take advantage of the sunlight, incorporates a home automation system to maximize energy efficiencies and uses solar panels for its electrical supply.
Green building growth is being fueled by a number of factors, reports the U.S. Green Building Council including market demand, cost savings, health concerns and a boost in local, state and federal mandates. LEED-certified homes on market in the U.S. rose 9.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the 2015 Global Luxury Residential Real Estate Report with Wealth-X. In fact, green-certified residential construction rose in every nation in Western Europe in the past year, while growth has been especially dramatic in China at 19 percent, spurred on by government incentives.
The idea of a green home is not an all-or-nothing proposition but a scalable effort. Owners can incorporate as few or as many elements in their homes as they like. And they can be simple or complex: Employing rainwater capture systems, using native plants that thrive with minimal watering, installing satellite irrigation systems that monitor the weather and then adjust watering accordingly, incorporating renewable materials like bamboo and investing in geothermal heating systems.
“An eco-friendly home is ideally a balance of environmental responsibility and attention to non-toxic materials and healthy living,” says Los Angeles Interior Designer Sarah Barnard, who is also recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED-accredited professional. “Homeowners are excited to be living in homes that support their healthy lifestyle and reinforce a connection to living in nature.”
As the number of high end eco-friendly products on the market increases to meet the “responsible luxe” market, the learning curve in technology continues to decrease. Today’s touch-screen home automation systems are intuitive to use, simple to program and easy to navigate. And that makes it easier than ever for homeowners to make green both a practice and a goal. “It’s important for homeowners to consider sustainability in their homes design so that they be positive contributors to the health and happiness of their family and our planet,” says Barnard.
Article provided exclusively to Sotheby’s International Realty, LLC. by Iyna Bort Caruso