Green Real Estate Heats Up

The mainstream real estate market is still iffy, but the green real estate market is gaining momentum. We talked with Adam Gallagos of Arbour Realty — Northern Virginia’s first green real estate company — to find out about the local green real estate market, how homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint, and the coolest eco-friendly home he’s ever seen.

Have you seen a change in demand for green homes over the past few years?

Yes–we are seeing a steady increase.  The problem is that there is more demand than supply.  We have had to find innovative ways to satisfy this demand.  There are a couple mortgage programs that allow home buyers to borrow more than the home is being sold for so that they can make energy-efficient improvements on their own.  We are also creating relationships with builders that are building new green homes or are able to make quality green renovations

Can you tell us a little about Arbour Realty and your mission?

We are an Arlington-based full service residential real estate brokerage serving all of Northern Virginia, DC and parts of Maryland.  Arbour Realty lives and breathes a mission to create consistently high levels of customer service with minimal impact on the environment.

What makes your company green?

From a high-level, it’s our low environmental impact and our team of green certified Realtors. Our office is located close to the Ballston Metro, we use clean power from Clean Currents for daily operations, and we have completely eliminated paper from the real estate contract. We also  provide every home buyer with an eco-home assessment or home energy audit and through our relationship with The Arbor Day Foundation, we plant trees in honor of every client we work with in an effort to offset the driving we do.

Has there been an increase in the number of green-built homes lately?

Yes. We are slowly seeing more EnergyStar, EarthCraft, and LEED certified homes built around the DC area.  No longer do granite, stainless steel, and hardwood floors make a home stand out from the pack.  Builders that want to make their homes stand out in a positive way are looking to green and high performance building practices as a way of accomplishing this.  As we are able to collect more data about how green homes are performing on the market, I expect that the numbers will encourage more builders to go green.

What’s the coolest/most unique green home feature you’ve ever seen?

I had the opportunity to tour a home being built in Falls Church that is constructed of earth bricks.  They were able to compress soil taken from the construction site to create bricks.  These bricks were then used to for the walls of the home. The cost is relatively inexpensive. Transportation of of these bricks was obviously eliminated. The bricks do such a good job of retaining indoor air temperatures that the home did not even require an air-conditioning system.

What are the three simple ways that homeowners can be more green/reduce their carbon footprint?

1. Buy or build a rain barrel to collect water as it comes down the drain spout.

2. Use green cleaning products that are free from toxins.

3. Consider higher efficiency options and the long-term payback when replacing heating and air conditioning systems, hot water heater, insulation, windows, and doors.

What eco-friendly upgrades have the biggest bang for the buck in terms of increasing property value?

My recommendation is to start with a home energy audit.  A good auditor is going to be able to identify the items in your house that will provide the biggest bang for the buck.  Knowledgeable, green-savvy home buyers want to see a history of utility bills, they want to know what you have done to create a healthy indoor living environment and see that you have used finishes that are light on natural resources and toxins.

Do you live in a green home? And if so, what are the features?

My home is very efficient, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is green.  It was built in 2006 so by default it utilizes materials and techniques that are more efficient than what would have been used 15+ years ago.  Here’s a few of the things we’ve done:

  • Installed soy-based spray foam insulation to seal the attic walls. This keep the attic temperature within about 10 degrees of what it is in the rest of the home.
  • Replaced carpet in the bedrooms with locally harvested wood flooring. With hard surfaces on the main and upper-level we don’t have to worry about the dust and germs that carpet tends to harbor.
  • Created a compost bin — we get free fertilizer for our garden and reduce what we are sending to the landfills.
  • Use a rain barrel to collect water for our garden and lawn.  Both prefer the non-chemically treated water to what we would get out of the spigot.
  • Put plants in every room of the house – this helps naturally clean the air that we breathe when inside the home.
  • Installed a recycled glass backsplash made out of recycled glass bottles.

Supersized “Green” Homes

Can a 10,000-square-foot house inhabited by a family of four really be called “green”? After all, a big part of being green is conserving space and resources. An article in The Washington Post tackles this topic, citing a 6,500 square-foot house in Northwest DC that has less energy costs than the builder’s 1,200 square-foot rambler in Silver Spring.

How is this possible? The builder, Jerry Zayets (owner of Nexxt Builders) used low-density foam insulation that takes the shape of whatever space it’s filling to seal air leaks. This so-called “envelope of the house” qualified the home as energy efficient under theEnergy Star program.

Some other ways to make a home greener (from the article) include:

  • Use compact fluorescent lighting.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • Use energy-efficient appliances.
  • Landscape using trees and hedges to naturally shade the house during the summer.
  • Use materials that are renewable, contain recycled products, or that can be easily resused. Bamboo flooring, for example, is a popular option.