Green Home Renovations

By Chelle Cordero

April 15, 2015 5 min read

You've been busy making useful home improvements, and many of the energy-efficient add-ons have already proved to be serious money savers for you. But now you are looking to sell, and suddenly some of those renovations aren't being received very well by potential homebuyers. Already you find that you may not get a return on the money invested into making your home more energy-efficient, and now you're finding that buyers are even passing you by altogether. If you made some of these renovations earlier and have lived in the house for a while, then good for you; you've already seen a return on your investment as you lowered utility bills and lived a bit more comfortably and green.

Realtor Jessica Keller says the more expensive energy-efficient renovations can work "if the homeowners are able to benefit from the savings resulting from the renovations while they still occupy the residence." But, she says, "I would not advise a seller to make such renovations in order to see a return." New energy-efficient appliances can be costly to purchase, and a return on the investment may not be so viable if the appliances were purchased just prior to a home sale. Home vegetable gardens may be good for the environment and good for your grocery budget, but the maintenance of a garden may be more than a new homeowner wants to take on. New front doors that provide both insulation and security are among favorite projects. Though different renovation projects will offer different returns during a home sale, expect the average to be about 62 percent of your initial investment, with some projects as low as 48 percent.

Aesthetically pleasing, low-maintenance and environmentally friendly renovations have proved to be more acceptable to potential homebuyers than projects that change the overall look and flavor of the house in the community or that need professional contractors to maintain. Energy-saving insulation, green kitchen upgrades and bathroom renovations are generally better investments toward home sales. Increasing attic insulation, sealing air leaks around outlets, windows and doors, installing environmentally friendly plumbing fixtures, putting in ceiling fans, replacing appliances with newer energy-efficient models, and refreshing rooms with non-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint are relatively inexpensive and safe investments for homeowners; a high percentage of the cost of these improvements often comes back to the homeowner during a real estate sale.

Green renovations (e.g., solar heating, high-efficiency appliances, R-rating insulation, UV filtering, windows, etc.) don't seem to have a significant impact on present market values, according to Keller. "Buyers do express concern for efficient heating costs, and it would be helpful to provide them with green alternatives. However, the term 'green' is not something buyers state they are seeking when pursuing a new home."

Because the current trend for most homebuyers is to buy and sell between five and 10 years, the homeowner should consider how all improvement projects will impact future sales. All overhauls that significantly alter the exterior look of the home and make it stand out or look out of place in the community need to be carefully considered. Keller cautions her clients that "modifications that are aesthetically unappealing, like solar panels, may hinder a sale." Homeowners considering adding solar or wind power should look into alternative methods, such as placing the panels on the pitch of the roof away from the street, on the roof of an awning, on backyard poles or on a freestanding shed or garage. Solar panels can be used to help power a house, heat or cool the interior, or act as a water heater.

If you are prepping the house in order to put it on the market in the next few months, consider completing green-related projects such as wrapping pipes and air ducts in crawl spaces, ensuring attic insulation, sealing/caulking around windows and doors, and buying and installing a programmable thermostat. Dry out and waterproof damp basements to reduce the loss of warm or cool air and improve the air quality. Walk through your home as if you were considering buying it and be critical of energy wasters, necessary repairs, general maintenance and anything that stands out in a not-so-positive way.

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