Don’t be fooled by “greenwashing” of homes

Consumers will often pay premiums for homes that are highly efficient in saving on bills: studies

TRD New York /
Jul.July 08, 2016 10:53 AM

The practice is called “greenwashing” and home shoppers need to be on guard: It means a house is being marketed as environmentally friendly and energy-saving when it doesn’t really deserve that description.

Greenwashing is a growing issue in real estate as multiple studies demonstrate that consumers are attracted to — and will often pay premiums for — homes that are highly efficient in saving on utilities bills.

Just about everybody likes the concept of green, and builders and real estate agents increasingly use the term as a sales come-on. But experts say too often what’s marketed as green isn’t what it purports to be when you take a close look.

Sandra Adomatis, an appraiser in Punta Gorda, Florida, who is nationally known for her expertise in valuing green properties, says “look in the MLS (multiple listing service) and you’ll see lots of homes listed as having green features,” but it may mean as little as “somebody put in some LED light bulbs or a couple of Energy Star appliances in the kitchen.”

In an interview, Adomatis described one listing she saw recently on a home built in 1959. It indicated that the house had a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of zero — signifying net zero energy use. (The HERS index measures a home’s energy efficiency and requires testing of the home’s performance by a certified HERS rater. The lower the score the better.)

Adomatis knew it was unlikely that an older home would come anywhere close to such an impressive rating, so she asked the listing agent why she was marketing the house with a zero HERS score. Her response: “I don’t know what HERS is or how they score, so I just put in zero.” Wow.

Allison A. Bailes III, founder and president of Energy Vanguard LLC, a home energy rating and consulting company based in Decatur, Georgia, says “absolutely, [greenwashing] happens all the time. A lot of [builders] are doing things that are just standard” but they’re marketing them as green. He says he saw one company aggressively advertising its allegedly green homes, but most of the details didn’t amount to much. It was hype: Insulation R-values that met, but did not exceed, minimum local building code requirements; code-minimum HVAC systems; “digital thermostats,” which are commonplace; Energy Star appliances and a long list of other unremarkable features. As to Energy Star appliances, Bailes noted in a blog, “if you’ve done any shopping lately, you may have noticed that it’s hard to find one that’s NOT Energy Star certified.”

Kari Klaus, CEO and founder of Viva Green Homes in Arlington, Virginia, a new national listing portal exclusively for “eco-friendly” homes, says “greenwashing is a growing problem — clearly there’s a desire to jump on the train and use buzzwords” like “green,” “sustainable” and “high efficiency,” too often with little to back up the claims. Her website (www.vivagreenhomes.com) carries free listings for certified (HERS, LEED, Energy Star, Built Green, NetZero and others) as well as non-certified homes that have some green features such as solar panels, geothermal, energy-efficient windows and doors, water conservation devices, etc.

When non-certified homes are listed on the site, the seller or agent must check off boxes indicating what green features the property offers. The site then produces a “Green Score” ranging from one to five stars to give potential purchasers a rough idea of how green the house really is.

The site, which only recently emerged from a beta testing phase but already has more than 4,500 properties listed from across the country, also allows visitors to shop for specific features or high ratings by area.

So how can buyers and shoppers recognize a bona fide green house? Adomatis says you need to look for six essential elements:

  • Site planning for the house that is sensitive to the immediate environment, minimizes tree destruction and is strong on managing water runoff.
  • Energy efficiency throughout, from high-performance HVAC, lighting, insulation and appliances.
  • Exceptional interior air quality thanks to the use of advanced air filtration and exchange systems.
  • Extensive use of non-toxic building materials.
  • Water conservation efficiencies, such as water-saving toilets and shower fixtures and possibly some reuse of waste water.
  • Ease of long term operation and management.

The “house should work for you” thanks to the combination of green features and products, she says, “rather than you having to work for the house.”


Related Articles

arrow_forward_ios
Redaptive CEO Arvin Vohra (LinkedIn; iStock)

Startup that helps building owners cut carbon footprint raises $157M

Startup that helps building owners cut carbon footprint raises $157M
A rendering of Watershed (Rendering by Kilograph)

These real estate developers are serious about helping Mother Nature

These real estate developers are serious about helping Mother Nature
Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant will feed data reports to realtors via new voice app (Credit: Amazon, Google, iStock)

Staten Island MLS enlists Alexa, Google to feed data to Realtors

Staten Island MLS enlists Alexa, Google to feed data to Realtors
Groupwork’s Amin Taha and Webb Yates’ Steve Webb (Credit: Groupwork, The Golden Sun project)

Building towers with stone could be the future, architects say

Building towers with stone could be the future, architects say
Local Law 97 is part of a push for a 40 percent reduction in citywide emissions by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 (Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

Real estate seeks changes to city’s green buildings bill

Real estate seeks changes to city’s green buildings bill
How an MLS slipped through NYC’s cracks

How an MLS slipped through NYC’s cracks

How an MLS slipped through NYC’s cracks
From left: HomeServices of America CEO Gino Blefari, Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller, Realogy CEO Ryan Schneider, NAR president John Smaby and Re/Max CEO Adam Contos

Class action cases over broker commissions pick up steam

Class action cases over broker commissions pick up steam
Nation’s first affordable housing development for LGBT seniors to open in Bay Shore, West Islip home with helipad hits the market & more Long Island real estate news

Nation’s first affordable housing development for LGBT seniors to open in Bay Shore, West Islip home with helipad hits the market & more Long Island real estate news

Nation’s first affordable housing development for LGBT seniors to open in Bay Shore, West Islip home with helipad hits the market & more Long Island real estate news
arrow_forward_ios

The Deal's newsletters give you the latest scoops, fresh headlines, marketing data, and things to know within the industry.

Loading...