Will Buyers Go Green in Austin, Texas?

In the city of Austin a new energy ordinance will require that homeowners have an energy efficiency audit done prior to selling their home. The audit report must be disclosed to the buyer of their home. Energy audit and disclosure will become a part of the home purchase process in mid 2009.

In Austin’s hot climate energy performance has a lot to do with how efficiently the central AC system works. We are more concerned about cooling than heating, but both systems are used throughout the year. The new law aims to upgrade the energy performance of older homes in these critical areas:

Finding leaks and closing gaps in AC ducts. (Ducts can have 10% – 30% leakage!)

Improving the insulation in the attic to help retain conditioned air.

Keeping the hot sun out with solar screens on windows.

Reducing the loss of conditioned air through cracks in doorways and windows.

After some resistance by homeowners and groups, the law stopped short of making energy upgrades mandatory in order to sell a home. In today’s market, it does not make sense to add difficulty or cost to the sale process. So, the law was pared back to just require that sellers have an energy audit, and disclose the results to potential buyers.

Will buyers demand that the home they buy pass muster in terms of energy efficiency? The market will have to sort this out. I think that, over time, they probably will. Sellers will anticipate this by taking steps to correct the wasteful loss of energy in their home. Most sellers would like to have a positive report to show prospective buyers. They will want to have a clean bill of health. And, we must admit, the items required for testing are really fundamental.

They are so fundamental that they are generally not noticed. These are not the green features that are ego satisfying or visually appealing. We don’t see them featured in Dwell Magazine. They are not as exciting as wind turbines, or solar panels, or rainwater catchment, or Icestone counters. These are things that most people would rather not think about. Like caulking and duct mastic. And, unglamorous dark screens and dusty old attic insulation. These are not the upgrades that cause buyers to say, “I love it.”

So they have never been top of mind concerns. Austin’s new energy audit law is going change all that. It will bring these behind-the-scenes basics into the limelight. Old houses will meet new tech. Homeowners will be able to improve the basic energy efficiency of homes. That will mean lower utility bills. And fewer carbon-spewing power plants. And, a greener Austin.