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Want a Greener Home? Start with the Basics

grass with a paper with a house cut out if it

We’re all interested in human performance, whether it’s to be better employers, employees, parents, friends, or all of the above. With our time in constant demand, we look for ways to improve our daily output, optimize our sleep, have more productive meetings, or simply feel and be better people. 

It’s a relentless chase for self-improvement and human performance, which many consider worthwhile — if not noble. 

While we can use each day to improve ourselves, what about where we live? Do our homes perform as well as they can? Are we optimizing our lives, lifestyles, and houses to achieve as well as we do, or are we robbing ourselves of potential? 

Let’s consider a few home renovations that can help your home truly perform by reducing your consumption, carbon footprint, and total cost of living.

How focusing on our home’s performance provides value

Homeownership and home renovations are considered solid investments. The National Association or Realtors (NAR) report suggests that even modest upgrades to insulation in a home result in a 100% return on investment, and 20% savings in heating and cooling costs. Renovations, upgrades, and improvements are sound investments, even and maybe especially during periods of high interest rates or a tumultuous economy.

Housing remains in steady demand, even with year-over-year dips in sales and prices. With interest rates hovering at their highest in decades and recession fears looming as the Federal Reserve battles with inflation, we’re all considering a “hunker down” strategy: staying put where we currently live. 

So, in staying put, how do we ensure our homes, and by extension, our lives and finances, are performing as well as we could intend? Green renovations and sustainable habits made today create both immediate and lasting benefits. We owe it to ourselves to enhance our perspectives and the performance of our homes. 

What you should know about sustainable housing standards

While “being green” or “living sustainability” are relatively common concepts for most these days, sustainable home-building practices have, historically, been ignored in favor of more affordable, conventional processes. 

A primer on LEED Certifications

Current green building initiatives have been around formally since the 1990s, with the founding of the U.S. Green Building Council and the advent of LEED Certifications in 1993. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the world’s most widely used green building rating system. LEED and the USGBC set the tone for municipal buildings, new office construction, and multi-family housing nationwide. 

LEED in Seattle

Seattle’s Sustainable Building Policy of 2000 established LEED Silver certification as the performance standard for public buildings over 5,000 square feet, the first standard of its kind in the United States. These standards continue today for City properties in Seattle, but the trend has extended to new home construction and renovation as well. Green, LEED-certified homes, according to a 2019 USGBC report, have grown 19% since 2017 and are at an all-time high, with nearly 400,000 units located in the U.S. 

The benefits of LEED-certified homes

LEED-certified homes are reported, on average, to use 20–30% less energy than conventional homes, with some homeowners reporting up to 60% savings, according to the USGBC. There’s a chance you live in a high-performing home: a green home that features sustainable materials, triple pane windows, passive solar, and proper orientation for your region. Some 73% of newly constructed single-family homes in Seattle in 2019 were Built Green Certified

Life before LEED: a reality of many Seattle homes

It’s more likely that you live in a home originally built before sustainability took precedence. You might have energy-saving window upgrades, great insulation, and a new A/C, and if you don’t, you should consider these first. Still, there are additional steps you can take to increase the overall efficiency of your home and lifestyle and save money. With a few simple steps and changes, you can enhance comfort and living performance while reducing your carbon footprint, regardless of whether your home is green or conventional. 

Taking steps to green your home may be a sensible investment opportunity. Even if your home wasn’t built during an era of environmental awareness and isn’t LEED certified, green renovations will create a more optimized, more energy efficient, lower maintenance home that feels better. They might, when you do decide to sell, earn you a little more green. A recent Freddie Mac report found that energy-efficiency-rated homes sold for 2.7% more than conventional or unrated homes. Zillow’s analysis from 2022 suggests that eco-friendly features and energy-efficient homes can sell faster than conventional homes. 

What to know if you’re considering green home updates

Green renovations — specifically renovations that update or upgrade your home, using sustainably sourced or environmentally sensitive material to use less energy or use energy more efficiently — can provide value for your investment. 

But living in our homes is more than just about resale! We want to enjoy our homes and live in a place that is as healthy and optimized as we strive to be. It’s tough to be truly optimized if you live with poor indoor air quality, off-gassing carpets, noisy appliances, pesticide-ridden lawns, and wintry drafts. 

So whether you’re in your forever home, the place your kids will drag you from in your old age, or just want to optimize your home as much as your life, consider renovation strategies that are relatively inexpensive or incentivized to reap the rewards of more comfort, sustainability, and increased human optimization. 

Why you should make the basics upgrades first

Green home renovations, no matter how clever, won’t correct outdated technology or worn infrastructure. Before you explore any of the resources and energy-saving tips below, you should focus on the basics: insulation, air conditioning, and windows. These basic renovations will warrant a return on your investment should you decide to sell eventually, but are just as important for comfort and sustainability. 

Adding insulation to your home and air-sealing the building will save you, on average, 15% on heating and cooling and almost 11% on overall energy costs, according to the EPA. Incentives abound for homeowners willing to replace single-pane windows and install insulated doors, so if you live in an older, conventional home, explore these ready, sensible, and money-saving options before moving on to more sustainable performance measures. 

Solar is a worthy investment for your home

If you haven’t already, installing solar panels is one of the most reasonable, sensible, and actionable steps towards a greener, more sustainable home. Not only are you generating your own electricity, but most residential solar arrays produce enough electricity to power their homes and return energy to the grid in a concept known as Net Energy Metering. Some infrastructure specialists suggest that the proliferation of solar arrays and micro-networks of alternative energy sources will contribute to the county’s overall grid resilience

Even places like Seattle, which averages only 71 completely sunny days per year, have enough sun available to power a home effectively, with excess sent to the grid through solar panels. Available tax incentives and solar investment credits not only make this a sensible, sustainable move but an intelligent fiscal decision as well. And, if you can’t install solar panels on your home, you may be able to find a green power option, a utility or community choice aggregator that purchases and sells residential electrical energy derived from wholly renewable energy sources. 

In addition to energy for light, heat, cooking, and EVs, we mentioned previously the value of the sun for drying our clothes. Even when the sun only appears for small portions of the year, we can still take advantage of this abundance and save energy and money on using inefficient gas or electric clothes dryers. The power generated from solar panels can readily accommodate an energy-efficient heat pump clothes dryer

Harvested rainwater is a sustainable source for landscaping

Places like Seattle and the Pacific Northwest have an abundance of water. Rainwater collection is regulated by individual states, and not all states legally allow for rainwater collection. But, in Seattle and surrounding areas, you can harvest this abundant resource from your rooftop without a permit. Harvested rainwater is not potable and may contain harmful contaminants for drinking, but it’s an excellent solution for keeping your garden and homegrown veggies lush and ripe. 

Harvesting rainwater also reduces the load on stormwater and sewage systems in neighborhoods, which can be outdated and inadequate to accommodate contemporary urban populations. You can find rain barrels and installation guides in abundance, and even clear directions for DIY rainwater collection systems

Now, what better way to feel supercharged about our sustainability and green habits than the full-time harvesting of rain and sun? 

Consider using less water in your bathroom

We’re feeling good, capturing both the sun and the rain, which falls and shines in abundance, but wait, there’s more! Water conservation, even in places of abundant rainfall, is still an important, if not critical sustainability measure. Bidets, used regularly around the world in countries like Italy, France, Portugal, Argentina, and Japan, are an easy and comfortable way to save water resources, spend less, and live more sustainably. 

Installing a $40 bidet can save you as much as $350 annually on the cost of toilet paper. In addition to a bidet, you can consider high-performing, low-flush toilets and reduce your water usage by some 20 to 60% per year, saving even more on your water bill. 

From the outside in

Just like getting plenty of exercise and eating healthy is good for enabling our bodies to perform optimally, making green and sustainable changes to our homes is a great way to help them perform better, too. Just like investment management, it’s a long game. Small actions taken now can produce great results later, so long as they are done thoroughly and intentionally.