First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of my book, Practical Green Remodeling. As of a moment ago, Amazon.com's sales ranking show that it is
- #1 in Home & Garden > Sustainable Living>Energy Efficiency,
- and #2 in Home & Garden > How-to & Home Improvements > Remodeling & Renovation
Here is another excerpt from the book (with a few new edits):
What’s my motivation for going green?
Funny you should ask. You have two choices, really. Do you want to be totally hard nosed and practical, and just do things that directly benefit your family? Or do you want to get all environmental and tree huggerish? Save the whales and so forth.
If you’re just in it for yourself, you can stick with things that make the house more comfortable and economical to run. Concentrate on cutting your monthly utility bills, and use more durable materials and construction methods so it will cost less to maintain. And forget about the rest of the population; just worry about the people inside the house. Do things to reduce toxins and improve the indoor air quality - for purely selfish reasons.
Or, if you’re seriously determined to try and save the planet, you could go the other way entirely. Not be so selfish. Remodel in ways that cut energy use in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste and conserve natural resources, and cut pollution. And vote with your wallet – refuse to buy materials and products that are environmentally harmful, or contain toxic compounds – which will drive down the price of those materials, to the benefit of everyone. In other words, you would make the house easier on the planet, more comfortable, more economical to operate, less expensive to maintain, better for your health, - for purely altruistic reasons.
What’s that you say? They both sound like exactly the same thing? Well, um, now that you mention it, yes, actually, they are. I have to admit, you’ve got a point there.
But what’s the payoff?
To answer that you have to ask yourself, what creates value? One of the first things homeowners want to know about any improvement is, will I it be a good investment? Will the added value justify the expense? But what is our standard for judging value? Is it just about how much the home will sell for?
Most home improvements do not add as much value to the house as they initially cost. A new kitchen that costs $50,000 typically adds less than $40,000 to the home’s resale value. On average, most renovations add anywhere from 65% to 85% of their cost to the home’s value.
So why do we do it? The answer for most people is that part of the value comes from the added enjoyment or functionality they get from the newly improved home. You might, for example, select a particularly attractive ceramic tile for your bathroom just because you like it, even though it costs more than a cheaper option that doesn’t turn you on. When you eventually sell the house, it is unlikely that your choice of tile will alter the price a buyer is willing to pay. But every day, when you walked into the bathroom it gave you pleasure. That’s worth something.
Adding a deck to the back of your house typically adds about 75% of its cost to the home’s value. But over the years you’ll spend many summer evenings relaxing on that deck, barbecuing, entertaining friends and family. The pleasure you get from having that deck means that, for you, it was money well spent.
But what about less tangible – or at least, less visible – improvements? If you install better ventilation and choose non-toxic materials that don’t endanger your family’s health, isn’t that worth something, even if the cost is slightly higher? What is the return on an investment that provides improved indoor air quality, reducing the likelihood that your children will suffer with allergies or asthma?
What if you have strong convictions about the environment? You might happily donate money to the World Wildlife Fund to help them fight deforestation in tropical rain forests. You don’t expect any return other than the knowledge that you helped a little bit. But you know that if enough people do the same, it will have a meaningful impact.
But what about spending a little more for sustainably harvested lumber? It won’t have any direct impact on your daily life. But as more people make that choice, it grows the market for sustainable lumber, which drives down the price. As the price goes down, illegal harvesting in rain forests, as well as other unsustainable forestry practices here and abroad, become less profitable, and a vital resource is preserved.
Weather any particular choice makes your home healthier to live in, or adds to your enjoyment of the house or your sense of pride in being a good citizen of Planet Earth, it is clear that not every decision you make is based on its value as an investment.
Still, in many ways, green remodeling is a sound financial investment. Investing in energy efficiency might cost a bit more up front, but you come out way ahead because the savings on your utility bills will be greater than the small increase in your mortgage payment. It is an investment that pays for itself – and then continues paying dividends as long as you own your home – and when you go to sell it. A growing body of evidence suggests that buyers are willing to pay more for energy-efficient green homes, and that such homes sell faster than nongreen homes.
As more people become aware of the benefits of living in healthy, energy-efficient homes, and as the cost of energy rises, it is very likely that those homes will sell at a significant premium, while energy hogs with poor indoor air quality will lose value.