Portraits of the Green Home Owner

Green homes represent the cutting edge of residential green technology and lifestyle, and a growing segment of the housing market. There are many reasons for building a green home, some of which are included in the summaries below. These help give a sense of which types of individuals can appreciate green homes (almost anyone) and why Americans want them.

The Modern Eco-warrior

By nearly all accounts, environmentalism has entered the mainstream of American thought and culture, shifting attitudes in regards to how we treat and steward the Earth’s natural resources. As a result, the ranks of today’s eco-warriors constitute a wide cross-section of mainstream America – a far cry from the fringe, grass-roots “tree-huggers” of the 90’s, widely criticized for their controversial tactics. In contrast, today’s eco-warrior is more likely to be a mother choosing greener products at a grocery store over conventional alternatives, an architect who designs energy-efficient buildings in order to add value to their clients, or a CEO looking to minimize the environmental impact, and thus negative PR, of his company’s operations.

In other words, going green has become a pervasive desire espoused by a majority of Americans. In the housing industry, this green sentiment has driven a surge in interest from homebuyers and builders in homes that reflect green values such as placing greater emphasis on recycled material, reducing the use of toxic pollutants, and increased energy efficiency. In fact, green homes constituted 17 percent of new home construction in recession-plagued 2011. With innovations in green technology at the stage they are today, it is even possible for many modern American eco-warriors pursuing their own green home dream to live in homes that can operate entirely off-grid if need be.

The Farmer

For many of America’s farmers, global warming is a very real concern. Climate shifts as a result of carbon emissions, and subsequent natural disasters have dramatically impacted the ability of farmers from around the world to produce crops. In the United States, changing climates have most visibly manifest as one of the nation’s worst droughts in recent history. However, the benefits of being electrically self-sufficient extends well beyond concerns about a climate in flux. While America’s farms and fields have long had access to electricity, it is not always reliable or cheap for that matter. In fact, many more remote dwellings often find renewable systems to be a cheaper alternative to grid power, and with battery backup systems, more reliable as well. In rural areas, homes and farms may be isolated for days after a bad winter storm or a summer supercell takes down power and telephone lines. In these situations, having power for heat during a severe blizzard, or being able to cool the air during a summer heatwave, can be the difference between life and death.

Of course, being surrounded by the countryside has its benefits. Since farmers typically have more real estate space at their disposal, larger systems such as wind turbines, ground mount solar arrays, and high capacity rainwater tanks, become practical and effective options not available to most suburban and urban-dwellers.

The Survivalist

Of course, you needn’t be a rural dweller to feel a need to live off-grid and close to the earth. Some people prefer to be self-sufficient in any and all situations. These suburban and urban survivalists often find the promise of a comfortable green home an appealing proposal. It’s always good to have a plan for any contingency, whether it be inclement weather, a terrorist attack, or even simple human error. considering how absolutely necessary reliable electrical power is for our modern lives. Investing in a home that can power itself may seem like a great idea to those who prefer not to leave things up to chance.

The Health Conscious

Considering that the average human being spends more than 90 percent of their time indoors, much of it in the comfort of their own homes, it stands to reason that the environments we make for ourselves would protect us from harm, from the weather, and from the prying eyes of strangers. Unfortunately, studies show that that is not the case when it comes to our health. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), a common toxin in many conventional building materials, can be up to 5 times more concentrated in indoor air compared to the outdoor environment. Noxious agents of Sick Building Syndrome found in many residential homes include methylene chloride, formaldehyde, benzene, lead, asbestos, and numerous other poisonous substances. Homes built to green specifications often build with low-VOC or VOC-free materials and assemblies. Furthermore, zero-energy homes often incorporate passive ventilation techniques, such as cross-ventilation or stack effect, which help to promote healthier air, and a healthier home. When personal health is of the utmost importance, why skimp on the dwelling in which we spend the majority of our lives?

The Concerned Scientist

Americans admittedly have their plates full when it comes to things to worry about, but anthropogenic global warming ought to top all those lists. After all, few if any of our worries are globe-spanning conundrums that will negatively affect generations to come and potentially result in death and destruction on a global scale.
Those of us who are worried about the effects anthropogenic global warming will have on the planet, its species, and in particular on Homo Sapiens, and are anxious to put a stop to it, will find living carbon neutral a practical step towards minimizing the waste and excess that is the modern American home. No serious scientific body denies the existence of climate change, while a vast majority agree that it is caused by mankind. For Americans who do not scoff at common knowledge, the avalanche of scientific evidence can be quite alarming. Green living may not seem like a drastic step at all when the fate of the world is in the balance.

The Rest of Us

The truth is, when given a choice, most of us would like to go green as a result of a combination of the reasons stated above, and some unwritten. Buildings alone contribute some 40 percent of the United State’s massive carbon emissions, and consume 70 percent of the nation’s electrical output. Yet it is well within our capabilities as a nation to build buildings and homes that not only consume very little energy, but can also produce their own power. Innovations in renewable power combined with rapidly falling renewable energy system prices continue to push clean energy closer to grid parity. In all likelihood, a few decades from today, our childrens’ children will be living in comfortable net-zero homes wondering how our generation, the millennials and the Baby Boomers before them, ever lived in the inefficient and incredibly wasteful homes of the early 21st century.

In that sense, the portrait of the green home owner would very likely reveal the faces of our children and grandchildren in the near future. However, much of the technology necessary for green and zero-energy living already exists. So why wait? In light of the global economic and environmental changes, the home we choose to live in is one of the few things we actually have control over.