When buying a home, most people are not very clear on what to look for. Some would prioritize location, pricing and developer branding. Others would look for amenities like a homeowner clubhouse, swimming pool or gym. However, people do not pay enough attention to the features that really matter.
Green building principles are not superfluous practices that come from environmental activism. When applied properly, they are practical because they can result in lower utility bills, lower maintenance costs and improved occupant well-being, while at the same time being good for the planet.
What homebuyers should look for instead are the conditions inside the house that will allow them to live comfortably and sustainably.
In the building industry today, there is a lot of greenwashing, which means false or misleading claims regarding environmental benefits of a product or service. This greenwashing becomes very evident when the homebuyer knows what to look out for. The following are some of the most important criteria to identify if the house you are buying is really green:
• Location. The living conditions in a house vary greatly depending on location. Before buying a house, one should be aware of incidence of flooding in the area.
Some studies show that there may be a correlation between living near transmission lines and incidence of leukemia.
Living in an energy-efficient green home far away from one’s workplace translates into high carbon emissions from long commuting, not to mention gasoline expenses and fatigue from travel.
If your concern is soil erosion and the flow of rainwater from your neighbors, the best time to go house-hunting is during the rainy season.
• Air-conditioner dependence. Model units of houses or condominiums are so attractive and enticing that many potential buyers are easily convinced to buy the unit. Sometimes they even include very high ceilings and lofts that are two stories high. These showcases are normally centrally air-conditioned to make the visitors comfortable. In practice, most units are not air-conditioned, meaning you have to provide the air conditioners. And this is where it pays to be conscious of air-conditioning.
For many houses the usual source of heat is solar radiation from the roof. Installing thermal insulation inside the ceiling helps but a more effective strategy is providing roof vents. These are outlets that naturally flush out accumulated heat inside the ceiling. A simple ocular inspection can confirm if a house has roof vents.
The color of the roof affects the energy consumption of a house. The rationale is simple: Light roofing repels heat while dark roofing attracts heat. The surface temperature of a dark roof can be as high as 80°C on a sunny day compared to a light roof which is substantially lower. This heat is absorbed into the air space under the roof and eventually affects the rooms below, thus increasing the need for costly air-conditioning.
Go house-hunting during the hottest time of the day, perhaps at noontime or around 3 p.m. This will reveal the intensity of the heat inside the house. If the house is not properly oriented, most of the major rooms are directly exposed to the morning or afternoon sun, and this means that you will probably spend a lot on air-conditioning.
• Daylight. Going house-hunting during a very sunny day is a good time to check if the house depends on expensive electric lights for illumination. Beautiful ceiling lights and table lamps when switched on may look great at night but wasteful when turned on during the middle of the day because the house interior is dark.
Large window openings mean less dependence on artificial lighting. Natural light provides illumination for studying or working.
Many people love colored windows, mostly for aesthetic reasons. However, colored or tinted windows absorb heat which is transferred to the inside of houses.
• Water. When checking out toilet and kitchen fixtures, be aware of low-flush, water-saving fixtures that help you conserve precious water. Examples are the tap aerator attached to the kitchen and bathroom faucet head that dispenses both water and air.
• Longevity of materials. I once had a friend who regularly renovated portions of the built-in gutter in his house. The job required replacing expensive carpentry, tinsmith, plumbing and paint materials. This is what happens with bad design and choosing materials with a short life span.
The general rule for materials is choosing building materials that last and if possible without need for repainting.
When purchasing a previously owned house, look beyond the beautiful façade. Watch out for telltale signs that show worn-out or damaged parts that have been covered up or concealed. If you have a chance to peek inside the ceiling, this may show whether the house has heat insulation, termite infestation, poor construction quality, etc.
• Waste management. It does not matter if you stay in a single-detached house or a condominium. You will generate waste, so it is important how this waste is segregated and disposed. There has to be enough space in the perimeter of the house for you to do simple composting of your wet garbage, whether you use the side garden or flower pots. Otherwise your household will contribute to the mounting garbage problem in our landfills.
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