More and more Connecticut homeowners are looking for energy-efficient, eco-friendly alternatives when building, buying or renovating their homes, despite the fact that year over year, electricity and gas prices have been flat and oil prices are down by 33 percent, according to the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“Every year people are getting more and more interested in energy efficiency,” said David Popoff, broker/owner of DMK Real Estate in Darien. “I would say 10 to 20 percent ask about it; a couple of years ago it was like 5 percent. The younger buyers are especially keen on it. If they buy a home with no green features, a lot of them will install them.”
Popoff, who has over 25 years of experience in building and remodeling homes and is a certified green expert by the National Association of Realtors, said interest is widespread. Buyers who are over the age of 50 are attracted to high-efficiency components and homes for the reduction in operating costs, while younger buyers (those under 50) are attracted to saving money, but also want to minimize their environmental footprint, he said.
“They’re interested in energy efficiency; they like homes with tons of insulation, have Energy Star appliances and new HVAC systems,” Popoff said.
Some buyers are also interested in solar panels, but the 10-year payback on the cost of installation means it doesn’t make sense for every buyer.
Popoff recommends homeowners visit www.energizeCT.com – the site is funded by Connecticut utility companies and is dedicated to educating residents and professionals about the benefits of energy efficient choices when renovating or building their home or business.
The website offers residents and business owners money-saving tips, helps them connect with contractors and assistance in choosing from among the dozens of approved energy suppliers and aggregators in the Nutmeg State. It also tells consumers how to apply for and receive rebates on high efficiency equipment.
“I used it when I replaced my HVAC system,” Popoff said. “I put in a high-efficiency system that cost $1,000 more than an average system, but I got a $500 rebate and made the other $500 back in energy savings in the first six months.”
Popoff said net-zero homes – homes that produce as much energy as they consume in a year – are becoming more common.
“They’re beginning to build more net-zero homes,” Popoff said. “The people who are doing those, it’s usually because it’s their passion. I think it’s a great idea. Now, they’re even building net-positive [homes that produce more energy than they consume] homes. There are a couple of homes like that in Connecticut.”
Putting The Pieces Together
It’s not a trend on the wane, according to Elizabeth DiSalvo, principal architect for Trillium Architects in Ridgefield. She’s been designing energy efficient homes for more than 20 years and, in 2015, won both the U.S. Dept. of Energy Housing Innovation Award and the Connecticut Green Building Council Award for the net-zero Taft Faculty house in Litchfield.
“Many more people are getting interested in this now, compared to even five or 10 years ago,” she said. “Overall health is a bigger trend now, like the whole organic lifestyle.”
DiSalvo’s energy-efficient homes don’t have to cost much more than a traditionally built home; the extra cost of super-insulating walls is offset by the savings of purchasing much smaller heating equipment, for example. And every year the house is occupied greatly reduces energy costs, the savings add up and make the energy-efficient home a better bet.
“Usually, our houses cost between $225 and $275 per square foot,” DiSalvo said. “Others are building for 3$00 or more. Plus, most contractors who are building a hyper-green house are more conscientious.”
DiSalvo said her energy efficient homes are indistinguishable from traditionally built homes, and while the differences are many, they’re not obvious.
“Basically, you’re insulating and air sealing a house so well, that the loads for heating and cooling are very low,” DiSalvo said.
That means exterior walls that can be a foot – even two feet – thick or more and filled with insulation. It also means that windows are triple-paned and filled with argon gas, making them stop twice as much heat as typical double-glazed windows.
When the building exterior or “envelope” is super tight, a gas or propane furnace is sufficient to heat it, or sometimes a mini-split HVAC, which can both heat and cool a home and runs on electricity.
If a house gets a lot of sun, has solar panels and the envelope is tight enough, it can be a net-zero house. In that case, it’s totally off the grid and DiSalvo designs a small battery backup for cloudy days.
“The batteries are super expensive,” she said. “The Tesla house battery isn’t quite out yet, but we’re all looking forward to seeing that.”
DiSalvo said energy efficiency features much more prominently in the conversations she has with her clients these days and she thinks that will continue to be the case. And as the trend becomes the norm, more information will become available for consumers and agents alike.
“They’re ‘greening’ the MLS,” DiSalvo said. “One thing that should be included on every listing sheet should be average annual heating and cooling and maintenance costs.”
For more information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, visit energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver.