May 29, 2008

Eco-Friendly Homebuying for Beginners

tokyo.jpgA recent poll of residents of the world's eight richest cities reveals that over 40% of Tokyo's residents don't want to sacrifice a convenient lifestyle to prevent global warming. While these results may seem startling, consider that the average house size in Tokyo is 64.5 square meters, or 694 square feet (not to mention that many residents probably take public transportation to work, and drive cars that put American gas guzzlers to shame). To really make a positive environmental impact, those of us who are quick to pat ourselves on the back for our eco-friendliness must think beyond bringing our own bags to the store and driving hybrid vehicles.

And there's no better time to think about these issues than when buying a home, which leaves a (literally) big footprint. While some features -- energy efficient appliances, CFL light bulbs -- can be added later, some "green" features are permanent. Consider these important factors:

  • The size of the home. A few months back, I read an article about a woman in California's Central Valley who installed solar panels on the 3,000 square foot home she lived in, apparently alone. She was quite smug about her positive environmental impact. But she could have had done even better by choosing a smaller home that took fewer resources to build and could be heated and cooled more efficiently.

  • The age of the home. Older homes sometimes don't have energy saving features, but can often be adapted to include them. Two years ago I had better insulation sprayed into my attic; it almost paid for itself with the rebate from my utility company, not to mention my lower heating and cooling bills. Again, fewer natural resources are spent when an old home is updated than when a new one is built.

  • The size of the lot. A large grassy lot could mean a great place for dogs and kids to play, or it could mean heavy water use, toxic weed killers, and hours of upkeep time. If you don't buy more lot space than you need, you'll save yourself hassle, money, and environmental impact to boot.

Alayna Schroeder