- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

As energy costs continue to soar and the colder winter months are approaching, more homeowners are taking proactive steps to ensure their homes are energy-efficient, as the “green factor” of a home is becoming more of a priority for potential buyers in the current market. Sellers and buyers who want to ensure they have the latest tips, referrals and resources on energy usage in the home can opt to work with an EcoBroker, a Realtor who has been trained by EcoBroker International (www.ecobroker.com) to understand the complexities of green homes, sustainable design and healthier environments.

Jane Taylor, a Realtor with the RE/MAX Realty Group in Gaithersburg, recently obtained her EcoBroker accreditation after gaining firsthand knowledge about the importance of diagnosing how effectively a house is using energy. After enduring years of living in a home where specific areas were uncomfortably colder during the winter, she hired Sterling, Va.-based Ardently Green to conduct an energy audit of her home. After conducting a blower door test, which tests the air-tightness of a home and can help determine where leaks are occurring, the auditors pinpointed the attic and garages as areas that needed additional insulation. Ms. Taylor says that, after implementing the auditor’s suggestions and adding insulation, her home qualifies for an Energy Star rating, which means that it is at least 30 percent more energy-efficient than homes built to the current national energy code.

As an EcoBroker, Ms. Taylor says she is excited about forging relationships with green vendors and businesses that she can recommend to her clients who are concerned with energy issues. “I am on the ground floor of something that is going to be very mainstream soon,” she says. “It’s about to become extremely relevant in Maryland,” she points out, where sellers in certain counties will be required to disclose the last year’s worth of utility bills.

To address this critical component, Ms. Taylor now plans on including an energy audit with her listings for potential buyers as a marketing tool to distinguish the property from the competition. However, she realizes sellers may be concerned about an audit, worried that there will be recommendations for expensive upgrades to address energy deficiencies. “But these things can be negotiated, and an energy audit will get buyers in the door,” she says.

Bob Weatherwax, founder and president of Ardently Green, says his company’s goal is to offer real-life, practical solutions for homeowners to address their energy needs. “We create a holistic picture of what homeowners can do to decrease their consumption,” he says. Clients can ask for an energy audit, which analyzes the consumption of energy, or a whole house audit, which also examines the air quality of the home.

Using the latest diagnostic tools, such as a manometer, which measures the leakiness of specific rooms or areas, and a thermal imaging camera that is used to identify missing air leaks, moisture and insulation, auditors are able to provide a breakdown of the home’s energy activity. Their report, the Ardently GreenPrint, offers recommendations and estimates, and projects the savings that can be achieved by implementing their suggestions. Mr. Weatherwax says most audits cost between $500 and $600, based on the square footage of the home. He believes that being able to say a house consumes less energy and runs more smoothly is a great selling point. “If there are two houses side by side, and one has lower bills or better windows or an upgraded insulation package, the buyer would go for the green one,” he says.

Residents in the District can obtain free energy audits for their single-family homes from the District Department of Energy (DDOE). According to Alan Heyman, director of public information for the DDOE, the department has completed over 1,400 audits in the last two years and hopes to continue offering them. “It helps people save money on their utility bills, so everyone wins,” he says.

Although some homeowners may be leery of an energy audit that could pinpoint problems and recommend big-ticket, costly changes, experts say homeowners can make smaller, less expensive alterations and still dramatically improve the efficiency of the home. Pascale Maslin, founder of Energy Efficiency Experts in the District, says the most useful energy audit focuses on the details. She says when she evaluates a home, she hones in on the small- and medium-ticket items, such as changing light bulbs, making small repairs, and adding caulk and insulation. She says she does not usually recommend making drastic changes such as replacing the windows because it would take many years to get a return back on such an investment. Instead, she advises adding in minor improvements such as insulation to the attic, which can reduce energy bills up to 30 percent. “Most homes are leaking like a sieve, and it only costs $5 in weatherstripping and five minutes to complete,” she says.

With the current economic conditions, Ms. Maslin believes that more homeowners are becoming aware of their energy costs and the causes of their energy waste and that this knowledge will help them when it comes to resale time. “When the seller can show the electric and gas bill and say it only costs $120 a month, it makes a difference,” she says. “I audited a house yesterday, a McMansion where the homeowners didn’t realize they were paying an average of over $300 a month.”

Suggestions for homeowners who want to get the most bang for their buck include installing a programmable thermostat, adding insulation to and sealing the attic, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Other ideas include fixing leaky faucets, using low-flow shower heads and aerators in sink faucets, installing outlets with switches so that all appliances can be turned off at the switch, and adding an insulation jacket to the water heater.

EcoBrokers say that, in addition to getting energy audits, more homeowners are considering working with Realtors who have the expertise required to advise them on how they can “green up” when selling or to pursue a property with green features. Courtney Poulos, an EcoBroker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the District, believes people will be increasingly drawn toward green real estate. “The green element is appealing, and the fact that it is coming into consciousness demonstrates an increased interest,” she says. “It hasn’t reached its peak; people are just starting to get curious,” she says.

Ms. Poulos encourages her clients to apply eco-friendly principles and to work with what they have when preparing a house for sale. For example, she says, she worked with sellers who wanted to update their kitchen, which featured dark wood and Formica counters. Instead of ripping everything up, Ms. Poulos advised the homeowners to give the room a dramatic new look by painting the cabinets white and adding new hardware on the cabinet doors. She also recommended replacing the Formica with PaperStone, which is a solid surface made from recycled paper.

Ms. Poulos says she wants to ensure her clients realize there are a variety of green products on the market for homeowners who want to improve their home to prepare it for sale, such as Energy Star appliances, reclaimed flooring from certified wood producers, backsplashes made from recycled materials and carpets made with recycled fibers. Ms. Poulos practices what she preaches. When she made improvements to her own kitchen, she reclaimed a 1950s table and used it as her countertop. “There are tons of things you can do when it comes to renovations,” she says.

Bic DeCaro, a Realtor with Westgate Realty Group in Virginia, says as pocketbooks and wallets are affected, the energy smartness of a home will continue to increase in significance for potential buyers. She is currently marketing Poplar Terraces, a cluster of environmentally friendly homes in Falls Church that are Energy Star certified. She recalls that when she started marketing the area in 2006, buyers did not understand the significance of the Energy Star certification.

“People used to ask about the design of the home, and now they are asking: What makes it green? What makes it energy efficient?” Ms. DeCaro says.

If you are a District resident, call 202/673-6700 for a free energy audit. Other area residents wanting an audit may contact Ardently Green at 703/421-1799 and Energy Efficiency Experts at 202/557-9200 for more information.

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