Green Home Building

By Mark J. Donovan

March 18, 2015 4 min read

When watching HGTV or other home related television shows, the concept of green home building seems to be a common theme. The television personalities talk as if every home built today is 100 percent green, or if not, it should be. The fact of the matter is that less than 1 percent of homes built today are truly "green homes." And their assertion that within a decade that 50 percent of homes built will be green homes seems far fetched.

Building green homes is extremely expensive, so unless the government mandates green home construction, the chances of 50 percent of newly built homes being truly green in 10 years is slim to none. If the government does make it mandatory, then I suspect a lot of people will be living homeless or in government subsidized apartment complexes in the future.

So what is a green home? A green home is a home that has been constructed to utilize dramatically less energy, water and other natural resources than the standard home. Also, it has to be less than 2,500 square feet in total living space. The definition and certification of green home construction is set and measured by several organizations including, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Environments for Living, Healthy Built Homes and the EPA's Energy Star program. All of these organizations set green home standards and some provide green building certification.

Green homes are rated on a point or star system, where a five-star rating is deemed the highest level of green home building conformance.

In order for a home to quality, it needs to meet a number of key metrics. First, it must have airtight construction, with virtually no inadvertent air leakage inside or outside of the home. Second, the insulation must be made from green materials, e.g. recycled newspaper, rather than materials that could outgas and pollute the environment. Third, the air conditioning has to be highly efficient and sized properly for the house. Lastly, the home has to utilize conservation techniques and methods for water and electricity consumption.

All of these metrics and features require rare and expensive materials and significantly more time and material costs, thus making the home custom. For the masses, builders traditionally built standard homes at affordable prices. The green home proponents, however, argue that building a green home only adds 3 to 5 percent to the cost. I disagree vehemently. Just visit your local home improvement center and look at the variation in cost in Energy Star-rated kitchen appliances. You will see that the highest Energy Star-related appliances have price tags well in excess of 5 percent of their lower-performing competitors. Suffice it to say that building a five-star green LEED certified home will cost more like two to three times what the average home costs to build.

I do not disagree with the concept of the green home or its goals. They are commendable, and I do hope we get to their stated objectives someday. However, in the meantime, people need to have a place to live. And making green homes mandatory will only lead to larger mortgages, which will lead to more defaults, and as a result, will create another collapse in the real estate market.

Only when the home manufacturers figure out ways to reduce the cost of green building materials and processes will there be any hope of achieving the stated goals of the green home advocates.

Mark J. Donovan's website is at

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