Insulation is Sexy. Or at least, according to President Obama. Recent research predicts that 50% of non-residential buildings in the US will become green buildings within the next four years. Consumers are driving the demand, and realtors are hustling to keep up.
As green labels grace everything from socks to groceries, realtors are also identifying “green” certification programs. Starting with the private sector EcoBroker company, founded by a former DOE director, and now taken up by the National Association of REALTORS and the Commercial Brokers Association, both in partnership with the USGBC LEED. Canada took a more independent road, creating a self-standing National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB).
The training courses are typically on-line, 30 hours or so, and offer real estate continuing education credit. There are tracks for residential, commercial and developers. This is all good. More background knowledge will certainly help the broker more accurately represent the home’s features, especially since some MLS listings are now offering options for “green” information.
Back to the insulation. Having spent 10 years of my life in the Insulating Concrete Form industry, I know that few people really think of insulation as sexy – if they think of it at all. Insulation is invisible, incognito. It’s the comfort that it provides which is sexy. But even that is not a visual which a realtor can “show.”
The Ecobroker designation promotes complete and accurate property disclosure, energy and environmental testing. That could be blower door tests, Energy Star with Indoor Air certification, which requires a Thermal Bypass Checklist. It could be thermal imaging to show the continuity of insulation.
Builders can also provide a photo album showing the details of insulation, the measures taken for energy efficiency, for durability. Not all of the information will strike a chord with the buyer, but they will register that it has been done. Energy modeling with predicted loads and costs related to local utility pricing will also help provide a perspective.
Better yet, builders might invite the realtors to the jobsite during the installation of the energy efficient measures, to provide some visual referencing. Of course, having done that on my own site, I know that realtors are not used to visiting construction sites. It would require a leadership within the realtors offices to support educational tours, not just sales tours.
It ain’t easy being green. For realtors, this adds a learning curve about sustainability issues like indoor air quality, embodied energy, continuous insulation. But maybe that is a good thing. Maybe this helps break the pattern of thinking of a house as a “showcase,” and to start thinking about the house as a functional place with light, air, heat, and people living amongst other people. Maybe we could get away from valuating the house based on square foot alone, and start factoring in usable square footage ( similar to PassivHaus ) , or bedrooms per footprint (increased density), or wall to floor ratio (eliminating the two story atriums), or factoring in energy usage.
Next step - property appraisers…