It’s easy being green for Jesse McGrath and Gary Quateman.
Everyone talks about going green, but what does it really mean for a luxury home? What green features should you look for in a new residence or expect to add to an existing structure? Brokers Jesse McGrath, licensed architect and LEED AP, and Gary Quateman, licensed contractor and HERS-and BPI-certified energy auditor, specialize in helping luxury buyers who make sustainability a priority when they look for a home.
So what does “green” really consist of, especially in luxury real estate? GARY QUARTERMAN: It’s a nebulous term. Houses are marketed as Energy Star, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), or high performance, but there are varying shades of “green” and the price of a home doesn’t reflect its efficiency. I’ve seen 15,000-square-foot homes get LEED certification, which seems antithetical to the concept. But you can save a lot of money on a home’s operating costs with a range of energy efficiencies. JESSE MCGRATH: Energy Star measures the efficiency of the mechanicals, systems, appliances, and electronics in your home, so it can be everything from your HVAC to the windows and AV system. It also measures the building envelope, which is any penetration in the building’s exterior. LEED is a rating system for design, construction, and the performance of an entire structure. The qualities that are really important to luxury buyers are comfort, health, and efficiency because they’re educated and wise about their money.
So where do you start? JM: It depends on your goals. Are you building, buying new, or rehabbing? I show my clients the options. If they want to build, they can use a lot that has good light for passive solar. Or anything can be renovated to be high-performance. GQ: No one buys a place for its green quotient first, and the key to more sustainable options is code, which is raising the bar for the criteria in this arena. New IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) standards went into effect in January to make the energy efficiency requirements for construction and renovations more stringent, and the codes are going to keep getting tougher.
So how do you gauge the sustainability of a home when you’re buying it? JM: That can be tough, especially given all the different terms, like green home, smart home, high performance, and so on. There’s a lot of “green-washing” going on. The homes look the part, but don’t measure up. Just make sure that the building envelope is blower-tested. GQ: The only real way is with an energy audit, if they aren’t giving you the HERS rating. It tests everything and tells you about the envelope, windows, doors, combustion equipment, insulation, energy consumption, and so on. Most importantly, it gives you an idea of how much remediation you have to do on a place.
How do you make a home more sustainable? JM: It really boils down to testing your home and addressing the issues one-by-one. You can seal the envelope, super-insulate, improve the mechanicals, and save as much of the existing building while improving other technologies. GQ: The envelope is definitely the most critical element to improve. You have to reduce leakage. It goes from sealing all small leaks and penetrations to super-insulating ceilings and walls and installing high-performance windows and doors. At the very least, Energy Star appliances and the proper lightbulbs can save you hundreds of dollars a year, but high-efficiency mechanicals can save you thousands. Jesse McGrath, @properties, 312-545-2775, firstname.lastname@example.org; Gary Quateman, Near North Realty and Q Construction, 773-793-3823, email@example.com