It's getting a lot easier to find "green" homes, especially if you hire a "green" broker and live in California.
Producing homes that are 30 percent more "green" or energy-efficient than elsewhere in the nation, California's home builders are putting up homes that are also 70 percent more energy-efficient than homes built in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the California Building Industry Association.
California builders have constructed more than 1,300 homes in compliance with California Green Builder standards. An additional 5,000 are in various stages of planning, development and construction, according to the association.
"Californians who are sweating out power alerts in older homes should take another look at the energy value built into every new home," said Robert Rivinius, president and CEO of the association.
Finding a "green" home, means finding a home built with sustainable and conservation-minded materials, designs and technology.
Green homes use less energy, water, and other natural resources; creates less waste; and are healthier and more comfortable for the occupants than homes built otherwise.
In addition to saving homeowners money on the utility bill, keeping occupants cool during heatwaves and toasty during cold spells, green homes are also planet-friendly.
That's because green homes have smaller carbon footprints -- a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced. Greenhouse gasses are caused, in part, by burning fossil fuels. The gasses contribute to global warming and eventually, most scientists believe, climate change -- hotter summers, colder winters, more severe storms.
Rivinius concedes, add solar power, toss in the most efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) technology and use sustainable building techniques and materials and the initial cost can be greater than a similar not-so-green new home.
However, from the extra cost, subtract rebates, tax credits and the immediate savings on energy bill and those financial benefits will eventually outweigh the extra upfront cost.
The extra expense of a green home also can pay off at resale time, when compared to a similar, less green homes.
The construction process itself generates planet-friendly value.
Builders don't just stop at the home building site, but run their businesses in a likewise sustainable manner to reduce energy consumption, to limit construction waste sent to landfills and to increase the use of environmentally-friendly materials.
California builders make it easy to find newly-built green homes on the California Green Builder Web site, but what if you want to buy an existing home and get the most green for your greenbacks?
That's where the new EcoBrokers come in.
Around since 2003, EcoBrokers are your typical neighborhood real estate agents, but also endowed with eco-savvy certification from the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals (AEEREP).
As an education outreach partner with the green builder network Built Green, EcoBrokers help the home building industry sell green homes, but they also assist home buyers who want to buy green homes -- new and resale.
"We can help buyers see what they can turn homes into and sellers how to put them on the market, both in terms of what buyers are looking for in home energy savings and energy saving equipment," says Elizabeth W. Thomas an EcoBroker with Intero Real Estate Services in San Jose.
"When I do an open house, I can point out what features -- windows, insulation, heating system, solar, electric vs. gas, the lighting system -- save energy costs. If the house doesn't have it, I can present the options," Thomas added.
To become an EcoBroker, licensed real estate agents are schooled in energy efficient technology, sustainable energy issues and Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs).
Conducting business throughout Santa Clara County, Fremont-based Roger A. Engstrom, broker/owner of Already Home Inc. is an EcoBroker who is also a mechanical engineer.
His skills equip him to help buyers conduct energy efficiency analysis of homes and to seek financing to help improve a home's energy efficiency.
"Buy lowering energy costs you can qualify for a larger home (or for a more affordable mortgage) because your operating costs are lower," Engstrom said.
EcoBrokers are also schooled in green home certification and rating programs from Built Green, Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs (LEEDS) program and the National Association of Home Builders Green Building program.
Taking a step beyond green building, EcoBrokers also become learned in related disciplines including environmental issues such as radon, asbestos, lead, water, mold, indoor air quality, and other issues that may arise during real estate transactions.
"I got involved in the program when I had a personal concern. I wanted to know how I could lower my utility payments," said Thomas.