Where You Can Find the World’s Greenest Homes

If you’re looking for a place in this world that has lush green grass, tall trees, and clean air; you might want to visit some of these natural green cities. These won’t be cities in the middle of nowhere. The places we’ll give to you are mostly popular or maybe a site to see. These are the world’s top five greenest cities.

Starting off with a place you might never heard before, Malmo, Sweden. This city uses green electricity, hydropower, which reduces carbon footprints. They’ve used this system for a decade; reducing the carbon dioxide by 5%. They recently raised that bar to 25% making it one of the cleanest air cities.

This next city has been reported to be one of the greenest cities in South America, Bogota, Colombia. The city is a nice tourist attraction having a wonderful green forest and beautiful view of the city. To keep the city green doesn’t take much. They use more buses than cars and have more bike paths to keep carbon dioxide levels low.

A city that most Americans wouldn’t know is a green city, Minneapolis, Minnesota. You may ask how this city is green with the mass amounts of buildings and lack of Agriculture. They have created a new green program called GreenStep. This program was a statewide program trying to make an eco-friendly impression. The city has 130 miles of bicycle paths; 46 running through major roads and 84 running through parks and green spaces.

Our next city is in Germany, home of sauerkraut and beer. But Freiburg wanted to put a different vision in people’s minds. The people of Freiburg have taken extreme measures and now reduce energy use in homes. Germany is known for its very cold winters. But the people of Freiburg only use 40 gallons of oil for heat. Unlike the usual use in Germany which is 1,600 gallons; this being less carbon dioxide in the air for the Freiburg people. So if you enjoy cuddling up with your loved ones in the cold to help the environment, then this city has your name written all over it.

The last city has to be one of the most future green cities in the world, Vancouver, BC, Canada. The city of Vancouver is trying the impossible, Carbon-neutral. Meaning less fossil fuels and more solar, wind, and water powered. Of course this isn’t a quick procedure but they plan on making this happen in the year 2107. Vancouver is already a green city with devices like dual-flushing toilets, light sensors, and geothermal heating. By this rate Vancouver will be the cleanest city in the world and one of my top locations for tourism.

Well that sums up some of the greenest cities in the world but there’s more out there. It takes the whole city as a team to make an eco-friendly place. This world has enough climate, pollution, and power problems as it is. But to see cities around the world doing something better gives us a future for living green.

What Is the Selection Criteria For Green Building Materials

The concept of a green home doesn’t rely solely on how a homeowner implements ways to make it more eco-friendly. Its whole concept covers sustainability of green building materials from planning, construction, and all the way when occupants are dwelling. You may want them on your house, but the availability of many green construction materials makes the selection process quite difficult. Here are the basic selection criteria to guide you when choosing green home building materials.

Resource efficiency

Resource efficiency is best explained when construction materials used are of known recycled contents. Natural resources like forests are conserved because fewer raw materials like wood are needed. The purchase of recycled construction materials is also a great step in reducing the energy consumption required during the manufacturing stages.

To maximize the resource efficiency of materials for use in construction, ensure that you are purchasing from nearby local manufacturers. This will also help reduce greenhouse emissions associated with the transport of materials from manufacturer to construction site.

Apart from using construction materials with recycled content, you can also make use of salvaged materials from nearby junk yards. There are also hardware stores that supply second hand construction materials. It can save you money while helping reduce garbage accumulation because the materials are saved from being totally junked.

Contributes to improved indoor air quality

Green building materials should be contributors to improved air quality inside the house. This means that they should pass standardized tests to prove they are nontoxic. Materials like paint should have reduced emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). They should be health-friendly particularly to the respiratory system. Look for wall, roof, and other building materials that are less-resistant or fully resistant to moisture. These materials have the highest capacity to prevent the growth of biological contaminants. They can lessen the chances of mold and mildew growth inside the house.

Helps in water conservation

Earth’s water supply is said to be depleted fast if we will not conserve water properly. In fact, there are nations around the world which are already experiencing the effects of water wastage. Your choice of green building materials should help in water conservation efforts. The fixtures you should use in the kitchen, bathroom, comfort room, and laundry area should all have the WaterSense label by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With this label in your faucets, flush, and showerheads – you are very sure that you are indeed conserving thousands of gallons throughout the lifetime of each fixture.

Green building materials help protect the nature. But they also establish appealing overall aesthetics of a green home. A refreshing and beautiful house is the true key to a comfortable living enjoyed by all family members!

Luxury Condos Can Be Eco-Friendly, Too

These days, the ‘green’ label gets thrown around a lot. There’s no end to the list of things advertised as less harmful for the environment than their traditional counterparts. Far from following the trend, the housing industry has long been ahead of the curve. Residential development continues to sit at the forefront of this commitment to green building, with alternative insulation materials going mainstream, solar panels popping up on rooftops across the country, and water-saving technology becoming the norm. But while these additions and renovations can be great, many eco-minded homebuyers don’t realize just how efficient and environmentally friendly it can be to live in multi-unit buildings. Luxury condos are green by their very nature!

The Benefits of Population Density

The more that a single structural element, utility, or appliance can be shared, the more efficient it is. In a luxury condo, a shared wall does what two separate walls would in houses. That translates to half as much building material to construct the wall, whether it’s wood, brick, concrete, etc. It’s also common for utilities to be centralized in a condominium complex, meaning that the hot water heater serves multiple units, a far more efficient use of energy than heating multiple small water heaters. The same holds true for air-conditioning and heating, which benefit from scaling up and serving multiple residences. By combining these functions that would need to be replicated at each individual home, multi-unit homes maximize efficient use of building materials and electricity.

Space to Breathe

On the other side of the equation, minimizing sprawl by sharing structures and appliances leaves more room on the property for outdoor features. Luxury condominiums have a much smaller footprint, on a per-unit basis, than individual homes. This means that the grounds can be larger and more luxurious, with water features and even small community gardens that would not be possible on many small lots.

The Cutting Edge

While luxury condos are, by their very nature, environmentally friendly, developers are increasingly using multi-unit residential construction to push the boundaries of green living. This is owed, at least in part, to the overwhelmingly green values and trends displayed by young, hip urbanites. Young professionals have shown especially significant interest in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for buildings. LEED certification encourages developers to incorporate alternative energy sources like solar panels for electricity or hot water. Another LEED innovation is the use of so-called grey water systems to recycle sink and drain water into the landscape. This water-saving technology is especially popular in the arid West, where drought has forced cities in California and Arizona to mandate cuts in public water.

Today, many homebuyers are interested in spending on environmentally responsible housing choices. Whether it’s a first home or a retirement pad, more and more buyers should look to luxury condos as eco-friendly options.

Bellevue Builds it Green

Resting in the shadow of Seattle, Bellevue redefines what it means to be environmentally friendly. From establishing green policies and regulations surpassing that of most American cities to adopting a green approach toward community expansion, Bellevue is an ideal location for environmentally-sound development projects.

Bellevue is home to more than 145 Fortune 500 companies, with Microsoft and Expedia headquartered in the city. Many of the region’s high powered executives live in the community and have invested in the civic, cultural, and political infrastructure to enhance Bellevue’s quality of life.

Recently named by Fortune Small Business magazine as the “best place in the nation to live and launch a business”, there is a passion for the growth and a deep community dedication to environmental action and upkeep.

There are a number of both infill and brownfield development opportunities in Bellevue, many of which are in the downtown area. These parcels are generally comprised of former gas stations and retail space that has reached the end of its economic life. In addition, their location along and near Main Street, make them prime candidates for mixed-use retail-residential developments, in which the ground floor would consist of a commercial retailer and the top floors are occupied by residential housing.

While these are not high-end development plays that would likely attract retailers such as drug stores and grocers, they are ideal for the growing population of young professionals looking for just the right location in the center of Bellevue.

The City of Bellevue is also committed to “green” construction as evidenced by its outreach programs to local builders. The uniqueness of Bellevue is its ability to cater to smaller builders, working with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED designation to design programs to encourage brownfield development. As a result, establishing green building standards is often looked upon as a prerequisite to breaking ground in Bellevue and the State and City have placed a high priority on empowering smaller, environmentally aware builders, to take on green projects in Bellevue.

While higher development costs and premiums to meet Bellevue’s stringent environmental standards have created a barrier to entry for some developers, the advantages to building in the city are vast. The financial stability, community commitment and long-term viability of the city make the delivery of green sound projects in Bellevue an ideal opportunity in any market climate.

Garden Apartments

This residential apartment is located on landscaped property that is at ground level. This term loosely describes any apartment on the first floor. It also includes a basement apartment or one in a high rise. If it is a real garden apartment, there will be no household, or apartment, above it. They are spread out horizontally in an open courtyard. You can find these apartments worldwide.

Such an apartment will have one or two bedrooms but you can find some that have three or more bedrooms, especially if they are used as a vacation apartment. The more bedrooms there are the more people they can accommodate when on vacation and renting the apartment. If it is an apartment that is rented out long term it is generally not furnished. If the apartment is rented out on a weekly or monthly basis for vacations, it will be furnished. Garden apartments may also have one or two stories. The common area can include outdoor amenities like a swimming pool, tennis or basketball courts, a spa or clubhouse. The entrance to the apartment could be off the courtyard or the street.

The owners of the garden apartments are responsible for the outdoor area being kept up with the lawn mowed, any outdoor equipment cleaned, clean swimming pool without leaves and other debris, etc. Many owners will plant the area with well cared for trees and floors. If it is an apartment complex and you have a pet you need to find out if there is a special area for the dogs. Make sure that you clean up after your dog once it has finished its business. Your garden apartment may have a small yard or patio. If your garden apartment has either of these two amenities, it would be a good place to have friends and family over for a barbeque.

Each garden apartment is a separate household unit but all of the tenants share any amenities, such as a swimming pool or exercise room and the main outside grounds. The apartments have their own controls for the heat and air conditioning and bathroom and kitchen facilities. In some places, it may be called a walk-up garden apartment because it has an outdoor staircase. With garden apartment complexes that offer premium services like a weight and exercise room or sauna may be charged an extra monthly fee to help with the upkeep and have a key to let them into these facilities. By having a key, it prevents those that choose not to pay the extra fee from using these premium facilities. Some may even have a laundry room for the residents. The rent for a garden apartment would be much the same as a regular apartment but it depends on the location and amenities.

Green Home Building Trends For 2010

Although the building industry had a dark year in 2009, Green building seemed to somehow stick out and shine. According to the Multiple Listing Service date, certified sustainable green new homes actually rose the past year in the northern west coast areas like Portland and Seattle. This trend is believed to spread over the U.S. and green building is expected to grow within new home sales. Already new home sales are on a rise from a year ago with March of 2010 seeing the biggest jump in new home sales in 47 years. So what trends can we expect to see in 2010 in green new homes?

1. Energy Monitoring Home Dashboards. The increasing demand for energy efficient homes, the development of a custom web-based display panel within the home, will show real-time home energy use. This sophisticated produced can break down the real time energy use of homeowners appliances, which will help a homeowner change the way they use their electricity. For example the way an electric car miles per gallon indicator encourages the owner to adapt their driving habits, new homes that offer these Dashboards may encourage homeowners to reach lower energy use. Dashboards will also increase the probability that homeowners of green homes will reach the Energy Performance Score.

2. Energy Efficient Green Home Labeling. Like the miles per gallon label you would find when searching for a new car, energy rating systems for new homes has become popular among legislators. This energy rating system will make it easier for home buyers to see the energy efficiency of one green home compared to another. Each homes score will be available on the MLS.

3. Lenders and Green Homes Make for a Better Bottom Line. Lenders have come to the conclusion that green new homes are better for their bottom line. By seeing a trend of green home owners being more responsible and less probable to default on a loan, due to the fact that most green home owners are more accountable and likely to place higher value on home maintenance. Home owners are also less likely to default due to the decrease in energy coast within their green home. Lenders are now working to get reduced-rate loans and insurance packages for green new home owners.

4. Less Is More. Back when the housing market was booming, a larger homes lead to greater equity. However since that “bubble burst” this is no longer the case. With energy prices expected to rise over time, and the Federal Reserve likely to raise interest rates during 2010, home buyers are likely to feel more at ease with smaller new homes.

5. Water Conservation. Did you know that residential water usage accumulates for more than half of the public water supplied? The EPA decided in December 2009 to implement WaterSense. WaterSense specifies that new homes will need to reduce water use by 20 percent than conventional new home. Mandatory energy labeling in Europe already documents the water efficiency.

6. Net Zero Homes. A net zero home is a green home that generates more energy than it uses over a year. This is done by building a fairly small new home that is extremely energy efficient and uses on site renewable energy like wind, solar or geo-exchange systems.

How To Get Your Solar Energy Tax Credit

There are a lot of good reasons to go solar for your home or business. Many Bay Area homeowners have a solar system installed to protect themselves and their families against rising energy rates. While it is difficult to forecast exactly how much electricity costs will rise, or how quickly, one thing is certain – they will continue to go up. Conversely, an investment in solar for your home or business not only decreases or even entirely eliminate monthly electricity costs, it can also increase the property value of a home and lower the operating costs of a business. A third and very important financial incentive is the federal government’s generous solar energy tax credit.

The solar energy tax credit allows a homeowner to reduce the amount of income tax that they would otherwise have to pay the federal government. This credit is good for 30 percent of homeowner’s investment in their solar system, including solar panels, a charge converter, battery, and inverter, but only for the next three years. The credit will drop to 26 percent in 2020, and 22 percent in 2021. After 2021, the solar energy tax credit for residential customers will be eliminated entirely. While there is a chance the credit could be extended, many homeowners considering solar are planning to install their systems within the next few years to take advantage of the credit.

For commercial businesses looking to go more green, they can qualify for up to 70% off with solar tax incentives. Not only will you qualify for a 30% Federal Tax Credit but you can accelerate the depreciation of your solar system over 5 short years. These tax incentives are equivalent to 60%-70% of the system cost, leaving you needing only 3-4 years of energy savings to recover your entire investment.

In addition to the financial benefits of the solar energy tax credit, many people choose to go solar because they feel solar energy is a more environmentally responsible solution. Solar energy is both sustainable and renewable. Solar energy provides a zero-emission way to power buildings, and appliances, heat water, and refuel electric vehicles. The more popular and widespread that rooftop or carport solar panels become, the more they reduce the load on coal-burning power plants.

With buildings accounting for 38 percent of all carbon emissions in the U.S., going solar can significantly decrease our carbon footprint. A typical residential solar panel system will eliminate three to four tons of carbon emissions each year-the equivalent of planting over 100 trees annually. Going solar is not only a great way to go green, but taking advantage of the solar energy tax credit – before it expires – is a great way to save some green.

Beat The Rising Energy Costs With Green Building Trends

Green building trends are becoming increasingly popular among builders, architects and homeowners with every passing year. With growing environmental awareness, more and more people want recycled and sustainable materials to be incorporated in renovation or construction of their houses. They also favor homes which use design and construction techniques developed to improve the indoor air quality and energy efficiency of the house. Apart from enabling the homeowners to feel great about reducing their carbon footprint, eco-friendly building techniques also provide them lifelong savings on the utility bills.

A green home does not need to be like a geodesic dome or a yurt, like the eco-houses that were built a few decades ago. The idea behind building green homes is to save energy. So, it does not matter what size, style or design you opt for, as long as the house is energy-efficient. All types of green buildings have low cooling and heating costs, as they incorporate the principles of solar designs. Today, green building has emerged as a budding segment of home renovation and construction market. This is the reason why, nowadays, you can find numerous vendors exhibiting eco-friendly building services and products.

Nearly all architecture firms specialize in green or sustainable building designs and offer products, like energy-efficient appliances, recycled plastic roof shingles and many more. These companies can offer great help to families that are struggling financially, by helping them lower their rising energy bills. In fact, real estate agents too feel that eco-friendly architecture components act as an added benefit for their property listings. This is because in the current relaxed residential property market home buyers often get more selective while choosing a house. The long-term savings of green houses therefore make for a tempting property package. This also means green homes sell faster than traditional houses and also, at a better price.

Besides, banks and other financial institutions are also realizing the great investment value of green construction. So, you would also see many of them offering more encouraging terms for loan to customers, wanting to borrow money for buying green homes. All these factors are responsible for the increasing popularity of green building trends. Just as people are turning away from the vehicles consuming high amount of fuel and opting for the ones that are fuel-efficient, they are hesitating to live in the traditionally designed homes.

Today, skyrocketing utility bills is a big concern for every homeowner. Thus, buying a green house or making green renovations in the current house is a great way to beat the rising energy costs. To make the most of green building trends, you can look for a capable green architect, builder or constructor, who can help you build or design an eco-friendly house. Apart from proffering financial benefits, green living can also give you numerous health benefits. For instance, improved indoor air quality significantly reduces the risk of many respiratory diseases.

The Eco Realtor

I am a big talker and doer when it comes to the environment. I believe that with what we know today, it would be disrespectful and completely unconscious to not make decisions based on the environment and what we know, especially considering that there are many choices available today. We all need guidance, so here are a few tips for you realtors to make a big impact.

1. Drive a hybrid. Because 33% of CO² that is being produced is from transportation (Sources of CO² in he US as of 2004). This conscious change in vehicles would make the biggest impact of all. We spend A LOT of time in our cars and when you are in the market for a new one…think green. For all you show-off realtors who need to have the best of the best, hybrids are very trendy and hip. The choices that are coming out for 2009/2010 are swanky. Google “new hybrids” and you’ll see.

2. Recycle and reuse. How many listings do you print off that you end up not using or even keeping? Lots! Please recycle. Or better yet, turn them over and re-print on the good side. I do it all the time. It’s my copy and when it is noticed by the buyer, I can brag how I am saving the environment. You’ll be saving some coin in your pocketbook too.

3. Use electronics. Instead of driving all over to get signatures, please fax, scan, or email. As long as you pick up the originals in the end, it all works out. You’ll not only save emissions from driving, money for gas, but your time as well. Another great electronic device is the PDA (or Blackberry, iPhone…whatever works for you). You’ll be saving a lot of trees and you can sync it with your computer making you more organized.

4. Encourage your work to go eco. If they don’t already recycle mention it every time you go in. They’ll get the idea. Ask to receive notices by email and not by paper. Ask them not to put junk mail into your mail box. Tell them about natural cleaning products. If that doesn’t motivate them, donate some!

Love your work and your environment. Passion goes a long way and so does thinking (and doing) about what type of impact your have. Or….just ignore the environment, it will go away.

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.