Mike Holmes, host of Holmes Inspection on HGTV, recently published some thoughts and questions on building a green home.
When you buy a new house, before it’s built, you get to choose from the variety of styles and floor plans the builder offers, as well as options and upgrades on details and finishes. Depending on the builder, sometimes the options and choices of upgrades are very limited. Most times, those options are limited to finishes. Rarely do they offer green upgrades, or upgrades on what matters most: what’s behind the walls.
A lot of builders and building companies have model homes, or even a design centre you can visit to help you decide on the finishes and upgrades you might want to add. What’s on display is always finishes. It’s never the insulation, the drywall or tile underlayment. You’ll never see air purifiers on display or added as an extra appliance.
Energy Star appliances are standard now with new homes, and they are built to minimum code standards with regard to construction, building envelope, insulation.
But what about green upgrades?
Some leading green builders offer features such as solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) and solar hot-water pre-heating rough-ins for those who want that option. And lots are coming on board with low/no VOC paints, and maybe some bamboo flooring. But that’s about it, I’m sad to say.
That’s all driven by consumer demand. Builders will build what sells, so it’s up to you to demand upgrades that will really increase the value of your home.
What do homebuyers think is important when they invest in their new homes?
Everyone is concerned about indoor air quality, and the effects of mould and allergens on their families’ health. But how many people are even aware of the upgrades they can have that will improve that indoor air quality? The type of insulation you choose, the type of cabinets and flooring, all contribute to the indoor air quality. What about adding an air-purifying system or premium HEPA filtration to your HVAC?
Some people will advise you to choose your upgrades based on future resale of your home. That’s fine, but who’s to say a brushed nickel faucet will still be fashionable when your home goes on the market? Will cherry cabinets be in, or will painted wood? Is your money better spent on a granite countertop or on a properly insulated basement and attic?
A finished basement is a popular one. But for me, this is one of the real traps of a “builder upgrade.” Guaranteed: If you opt for this upgrade, you will have a basement finished to minimum code. That’s all that’s required. And that will be a complete waste of your money — in either a short time or a slightly longer time — when you need to tear everything out because it’s tainted with mould.
Conventional wisdom says that spending your upgrade money on kitchen and bathrooms will repay you. But I say that every penny you invest in an upgrade that improves your home’s efficiency will repay you, too.
I say, when your budget is limited — and whose isn’t? — spend your upgrade money on the places you can’t get to later: behind the walls. You can always upgrade a standard finish to something pricier later, if you want to. But you can’t easily change your insulation or the underlayment beneath your tiles or replace your standard drywall with mould-resistant.
The consumer decisions always seem to be: Do you want the premium kitchen cabinets or the standard? Do you want a granite countertop or laminate? What kind of tile do you want in the bathroom?
People spend hours discussing choices of light fixtures, door handles, cabinet hardware, plumbing fixtures, paint colour, crown moulding and style of baseboards. Who cares? Seriously.
What about the level of insulation — code or above code? What kind of insulation — blown-in cellulose, batt, or spray foam? How good are the windows?Are they high-performance? BluWood or standard? Mould-resistant drywall or standard?
Can you choose sustainably sourced hardwood for your flooring?
Ask the questions. Make the right choices on your upgrades.