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Home Selection / Site Selection

Choosing where to live is a decision that will affect many of the things that touch people's everyday lives - the schools their children attend, their daily commute, the amount of energy they consume and the quality of the natural environment around them. Factoring green issues into selecting the location and style for a home can help owners reduce environmental impacts from their activities, preserve the surrounding ecosystem, and improve their quality of life.

Selecting a Location for Your Home

When choosing a location to buy or build a new home, you should consider a community that embraces the concepts of Smart Growth. Smart Growth means employing creative strategies to develop in ways that preserve natural lands and critical environmental areas, protect water and air quality, and reuse already-developed land. It means conserving resources by reinvesting in existing infrastructure and reclaiming historic buildings. Smarter neighborhoods locate shops, offices, schools, churches, parks, and other amenities near homes, and provide residents and visitors the option of walking, bicycling, taking public transportation, or driving as they go about their business. By involving local residents in development decisions, such communities can create vibrant places to live, work, and play. The high quality of life in communities that employ Smart Growth principles can make them economically competitive as well as environmentally responsible.

When choosing a community to buy or build a home, you should consider the following questions to determine whether the neighborhoods under consideration feature elements of Smart Growth:

Transportation Choices

Look for communities that offer a variety of transportation choices.

  • Is the community designed with people in mind? Look for neighborhoods within an easy walking distance to goods and services and contain streets designed to welcome pedestrians, including good sidewalks, safe crosswalks, narrow streets, and buildings located close to one and another. By encouraging people to walk and congregate on neighborhood streets, pedestrian-friendly design enhances the vibrancy of the area, and increases the chances to get to know and chat with your neighbors.

  • Does the community provide adequate transportation choices? In many areas of the country, you are forced to drive a car, because other options are not safe, practical, or even possible. Look for communities that offer a variety of transportation choices, such a walking, biking, and public transportation. Using your car less can save you money on gas, increase your activity levels through walking and biking, and ease your commute to work. Choosing a home location near public transportation can reduce your dependency on your car, as you will be more likely to use mass transit.

  • Are services and amenities within reach? Seek out neighborhoods in which basic services such as health care, grocery stores, retail shopping, community facilities, and recreational opportunities are within reasonable walking distance from home, work, schools and public transportation. Having services and amenities located conveniently near your home can save you time, money, and the aggravation of driving long distances to conduct your daily business.

  • Can you live, work, and play in the neighborhood? Communities with areas, such as city centers or downtowns that contain a mix of residences, shops, restaurants, offices, and parks, offer opportunities for you to work, shop, and play in proximity to your home.

  • Has the land been previously developed? Look for neighborhoods or homes being developed on vacant or under-developed parcels within existing urban areas (i.e., infill development). This approach is often more efficient and less costly than building on "greenfield" or undeveloped sites. Infill sites are often located near existing roads, utility lines, and sewer systems, which reduces the need to construct costly new infrastructure. Infill development also preserves open space by focusing development in previously urbanized areas.

  • Does the neighborhood design preserve open space? Seek out communities that prioritize open space protection. Preserving parkland and other natural areas safeguards critical environmental assets, improves communities' quality of life, guides new growth into existing communities, and bolsters property values. In addition, living in proximity to open space areas can provide you with excellent views and convenient recreational opportunities, such as fishing, hiking, and swimming. In general, look for neighborhoods that take advantage of compact building design to reduce impacts on the environment.

To learn more about all of the elements of Smart Growth, click here.

For more information on Smart Growth, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/
http://www.smartgrowth.orgExit EPA Disclaimer

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Buying an Existing Home, Buying a Newly Constructed Home, or Building a New Home - Which is the Best Choice For You?

As a homebuyer, you have a choice to purchase an existing home in an established neighborhood, to buy a newly constructed home in new or established development, or to build a new home from the ground up. This choice has important ramifications for the amount, type and degree of environmental impacts that will result from your home and daily activities.

Buying an Exisiting Home

Buying an existing home can be greener choice as it does not require the energy or material use needed to construct a new home. Existing homes, particularly those in established neighborhoods, are often closer to public transportation, provide a more walkable environment, and may have better access to services. However, depending on the age and construction of the home, it may be more difficult and costly to integrate greener features that are available in newer homes, such as some energy and water efficient measures, without expensive renovations. If you decide to purchase an existing home, EPA suggests homebuyers consider the following:

Compact Housing Design

You should consider the comfort and convenience associated with a compact housing design. All else being equal, compact homes require less maintenance, and use less energy to heat and cool. In most cases, reducing a home's footprint (i.e., building "up" rather than sprawling "out") can minimize its direct impact on the land. By taking up less land, a home with a small footprint preserves open spaces and undisturbed land. Compact home designs, such as condominiums and townhomes, also reduce impervious surface area, which can improve stormwater management on the property and throughout the neighborhood. Tall buildings (e.g., high rise condominiums) typically generate the least stormwater per household.

For more information on compact building design go to:
http://www.smartgrowth.org/about/principles/principles.asp?prin=2Exit EPA Disclaimer

Environmental Contaminants

Depending on the age of the home and where it is located, existing homes may contain environmental contaminants such as lead, asbestos, chromated copper arsenate, etc. Fortunately, you can check for contaminants before you purchase, and many contaminants can be addressed before you move in. For example, you may want to make your purchase contingent upon radon testing, or at least to do a radon test afterwards so that you can take appropriate measures. If the home was built prior to 1978, it may contain lead-based paint. EPA regulations guarantee you the right to be informed of any known lead hazards prior to purchasing a pre-1978 home, and to arrange for a lead inspection or risk assessment to be performed. If hazards are found, they can be addressed by a qualified lead professional prior to moving.

See http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadinfo.htm#buy
See http://www.epa.gov/oppad001/reregistration/cca/

Renovations
ENERGY STAR qualified homes

When renovating an existing home, seek out ENERGY STAR and WaterSense products to improve your home's energy and water efficiency.

Homebuyers may choose to purchase an existing home with the intent to renovate. This can be excellent opportunity to incorporate green features into an existing home. Homebuyers looking to improve energy and water efficiency should seek out ENERGY STAR and WaterSense products when renovating their homes.

Many renovation activities have the potential to disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 housing. As of April 2010, most renovations and repair activities in pre-1978 homes must be performed by certified contractors trained in lead-safe work practices. See http://epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadinfo.htm#remodeling.

Large-scale renovations should adhere, where appropriate, to the same principles as those established for building a new home.

For more information on the ENERGY STAR Home Improvement, go to:
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_index

For more information on the WaterSense, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/watersense

Buying a Newly Constructed Home

Buying a newly constructed home can provide the opportunity to build in customized green features. Homebuyers can demand or look for specific green features or for green homes certified under specific programs. There are a number of green home certification programs available. The greenness of your home choice will also depend on whether the location meets key Smart Growth principles. Exit EPA Disclaimer

However, buying a newly built home can have negative environmental impacts beyond those associated with purchasing an older existing home, because of the new energy use (also known as embodied energy)Exit EPA Disclaimer and waste associated with manufacturing building materials such as steel, wood and bricks, as well as the energy consumed and waste produced during the construction process. In addition, the impacts associated with building on undeveloped land (such as removing trees, increased erosion and habitat loss) can also add an environmental toll to new home development.

Building Your Own New Home

Building your own new home often has more environmental impacts than purchasing an existing home. Impacts of building a new home of your own include the energy used and waste associated with manufacturing building materials and the construction process. In addition, the impacts associated with building on undeveloped land (such as tree loss, increased erosion and habitat loss) also add an environmental toll.

However, if you decide to build your own new home, you have many opportunities to integrate green features, some of which are not feasible for existing homes or homes built by developers, such as orienting the home for optimal passive solar heating and cooling and for optimal solar panel placement. Homebuyers can also reduce the environmental impacts of their home by building in locations that embrace the principles of Smart Growth and consider many of the factors described above for existing homes. Be advised of the need to observe all applicable local building and zoning codes, some of which may be interpreted by local codes officials as prohibiting certain green practices; in some cases, extra documentation may be required before approval of some practices and technologies.

To minimize the environmental impacts of building your own new home the following factors are very important to consider.

Home Site Selection

Avoid Environmentally Sensitive Lands

Avoid building your new home on or near environmentally sensitive lands, to help preserve the ecosystem and improve quality of life. Sensitive lands may include:

  • prime agricultural soils,
  • wetland areas,
  • aquifer recharge area,
  • floodplains,
  • steep slopes,
  • highly erodible soils,
  • unique natural areas or geologically sensitive areas,
  • scenic vistas,
  • habitats of rare and endangered species,
  • forested areas,
  • coastal critical areas,
  • historic areas, and
  • recreation areas

Efficient, Green Placement

The home should be sited close to existing utility lines and roads, if possible, to reduce the need to extend sewer lines, utilities, and driveway paving long distances. In addition, the home should be placed on a relatively flat and open part of the lot to minimize the need for grading work (moving soil) and the removal of existing trees. This will help minimize soil erosion, dust, air pollution, and habitat disruption from the grading and construction process.

Preserving Trees and Retaining Undeveloped Space

You should attempt to retain as much existing landscaping and open space as possible at a site. Trees, vegetation, and open space contribute to the beauty, distinctiveness, and property values of communities by incorporating the natural environment into the built environment. Preserving existing vegetation minimizes the need for new landscaping, and limits site disturbance. Planted adjacent to homes and buildings, trees control erosion and flooding, provide shade for outdoor activities, shade the house structure itself and help to reduce the energy demand for air conditioning in the summer.

For more information on energy efficient landscaping, go to:
http://www.smartgrowth.org/about/principles/principles.asp?prin=6 Exit EPA Disclaimer
http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/landscaping/index.cfm/mytopic=11910

Low Impact Development

Homebuyers should incorporate Low Impact Development (LID) stormwater management techniques that mimic natural, pre-development conditions, which help recharge groundwater, improve water quality, and decrease flooding. There are many practices that have been used to adhere to these principles such as bioretention facilities, rain gardens, vegetated rooftops, rain barrels, and permeable pavements. By implementing LID principles and practices, water can be managed in a way that reduces the impact of the home and promotes the natural movement of water within an ecosystem or watershed.

For more information on Low Impact Development, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/nps/lid/

Orienting for Passive Solar Heating and Cooling

passive solar heating and cooling

When using passive solar heating, it is important to provide unobstructed access to south-facing walls in the winter months, to allow as much sunlight exposure as possible. In four-season climates, planting deciduous trees on the south side of a property is often ideal, because the lack of leaves in the winter allows for good sun exposure, while in the summer, tree leaves provide shade and help to keep the house cool.

Passive solar design is the practice of heating, cooling, and lighting a building through the direct use of sunlight and the heat it produces and through natural ventilation. Proper building orientation is one way to take advantage of the sun, shade, and wind. Elements of passive solar design include:

  • House orientation (orienting the longer dimension to run east-west, to allow for ample southern exposure) to maximize solar exposure

  • Vegetation/trees for shading, where needed to reduce solar exposure during warm months

  • Thermal mass materials (e.g., materials that store heat) during cold months

  • Window locations and glazing type (e.g., providing south-facing windows, and selecting glazing with the proper Solar Heat Gain Coefficient for the local conditions)

  • Orienting windows to capture the dominant wind direction during the warmer months for the best natural ventilation

Because the sun's energy is free, maximizing use of passive solar techniques before adding active technologies can significantly reduce ongoing energy costs.

For more information on passive solar heating and how it works, go to:
http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/designing_remodeling/index.cfm/mytopic=10250

Orienting for a Solar-Ready (Photovoltaic) Home

Making a home solar-ready requires orienting the home to take maximum advantage of available sunlight. This makes it possible for homeowners to incorporate solar space and water heating and solar electricity technologies. Unobstructed south-facing roof areas with no shade during the peak sunlight hours are best, although some types of solar technology will perform well at different orientations. Solar panels can also be installed on the ground, which may be less costly.

Even if you cannot immediately integrate solar technology into your home, your builder can incorporate simple construction details to make your home solar ready for the future. Also, remember that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce utility bills and improve comfort. The less energy a house requires, the smaller and less expensive any solar equipment will be.

For more information on solar electricity, go to:
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/photovoltaics.html

For more information on solar space and water heating, go to:
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/solar_heating.html

Demolition and Rebuilding

Finally, if you are considering tearing down an existing house to build a new one, consider renovating it instead. Demolition of an existing home causes the loss of the embodied energyExit EPA Disclaimer originally invested in the home and generates significant waste if recycling and reuse are not incorporated. If a home is beyond repair and must be demolished, rebuild on its foundation, if possible, and deconstructExit EPA Disclaimer it carefully so that you can salvage and reuse its materials.

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Green Homes Certification Programs

One way to evaluate how well a new home meets the standards for energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor air quality, and building design is to buy or build a certified green home.

Homebuyers are increasingly interested in green features, including energy efficiency, water-use efficiency, indoor air quality, and environmentally preferable building materials and construction techniques. But it is not easy for homebuyers to keep track of all the preferred construction details required to make a home green. Green certification programs can help take the guesswork out of selecting green features and products.

ENERGY STAR Qualified Home

The easy way to make sure your new home is energy efficient is to look for the blue ENERGY STAR label, the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes can include a variety of tried-and-true energy-efficient features that contribute to improved home quality and homeowner comfort, and to lower energy demand and reduced air pollution:

  • Effective insulation
  • High-performance windows
  • Tight construction and ducts
  • Efficient heating and cooling equipment
  • Efficient products

Any home with three stories or less can earn the ENERGY STAR label if it has been verified to meet EPA's guidelines, including: single family, attached, and low-rise multi-family homes; manufactured homes; systems-built homes, and log homes.

For more information on ENERGY STAR Qualified Home program, go to:
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=new_homes.hm_index

To find an ENERGY STAR builder, go to:
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=new_homes_partners.showHomesSearch

ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Plus

In addition, homebuyers and builders can add the ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Plus to the ENERGY STAR Qualified Home. Using the ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Plus, builders employ a variety of construction practices and technologies to decrease the risk of poor indoor air quality, including careful selection and installation of moisture control systems, heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) equipment or natural ventilation techniques, combustion venting systems, and building materials. More than 70 additional home design and construction features are included in the Indoor Air Plus to help protect qualified homes from moisture and mold, pests, combustion gases, and other airborne pollutants. Homes that earn the ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Plus label are designed to have lower utility costs, greater comfort, better durability, and reduced risk of indoor air problems.

For more information on the ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Plus, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/indoorairplus/

WaterSense Labeled Home

Homebuyers looking for improved water efficiency should look for the WaterSense Label. WaterSense is EPA-sponsored partnership making it easy to find and select water-efficient products with a label backed by independent testing and certification. To encourage homebuilders to construct water-efficient, single-family residences, EPA is developing a specification to label new homes that will be designed to reduce water consumption through efficient plumbing fixtures, hot water delivery, appliances, landscape design, and irrigation systems.

For more information on the WaterSense Labeled Homes, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/be_the_change.html

Other (Non-EPA) Green Certification Programs

Homebuyers may also wish to consult independent green home certification programs, including:

  • U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC's) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes. LEED for Homes is a rating system that promotes the design and construction of high-performance green homes. For more information on LEED for Homes, go to: http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=147Exit EPA Disclaimer

  • National Association of Home Builder's (NAHB's) National Green Home Certification. The program assures homeowners and the community that projects meet the requirements of either the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines or the ICC 700-2008 National Green Building Standard. For more information on National Green Home Certification, go to: http://www.nahbgreen.org/Certification/homecertification.aspxExit EPA Disclaimer

  • State and Local Green Certification Programs. Various state and local programs provide green home certifications. For more information on these programs, go to: http://www.pathnet.org/sp.asp?id=20978Exit EPA Disclaimer

(This information, being linked to by the U.S. EPA Web site, is provided as a service to visitors to the EPA Web site. The U.S. EPA is not associated with, does not endorse, nor is responsible for the content of these sites.)

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Finding a Green Home

In some areas, realtors and real estate companies specialize in selling green homes. In addition, online real estate listing services that focus only on green homes are available.

In addition, local green home listing services can be found across the country. Conduct an internet search to see if green realty services are available in your area.

An example of a program under which realtors are trained to recognize and sell green features, is:

  • National Association of Realtors (NAR's) Green Designation - Provides real estate professionals with the knowledge and awareness of green building principles applied in residences, commercial properties, developments, and communities so that they can list, market, and manage green properties as well as guide buyer-clients, in purchasing green homes and buildings. For more information on Green Designation, go to: http://www.greenresourcecouncil.org/Exit EPA Disclaimer

It is important to note, however, that there is no standard definition or set of criteria yet in the real estate business as to what constitutes a "green home", so it is important to use the material in this Web site to help you determine for yourself if a home being sold as "green", really is.

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Energy Efficient Mortgages

An Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) can help current or potential homeowners significantly lower their monthly utility bills by incorporating the cost of adding energy efficient improvements into the home at the time of purchase. Specifically, an EEM credits a home's energy efficiency savings in the mortgage itself. EEMs give borrowers the opportunity to finance cost-effective, energy-saving measures as part of a single mortgage and stretch debt-to-income qualifying ratios on loans, thereby allowing borrowers to qualify for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy-efficient home. A few different types of EEM programs are currently available, including programs administered by the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

For more information on Energy Efficient Mortgages, go to:
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=bldrs_lenders_raters.energy_efficient_mortgage
http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/eem/eemhome.cfm

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