Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Green Misnomer & Other Issues

I just received a comment today about our house design being too invasive and "commercial looking". Well folks, I'm not building a conventional home, so prepare for something cool, hip and yes GREEN. And first of all, looks are a matter of personal taste, not a factor of how green is your green built home. I happen to LIKE MODERN. I don't want our house to have A-line gabled roofs, fake shutters or embellished exteriors that aren't the original thing (don't get me wrong, I like old European architecture, just not on our new house!). So, if you're looking for a green lawn roof or an Earthship looking abode, this is not our house, nor is it a point to make it look any more different than another modern house. The point is building green any way you like it (and to your taste!)

As I said in my post, just because it "looks" commercial, doesn't make it any less green or lower impact. Low impact doesn't only encompass natural building materials and making it "look natural" (which is just a facade anyway). Low impact also encompasses energy efficiency (our's is super efficient at 950 sf per ton HVAC, compared to 350-400sf per ton HVAC!), as well as sustainable (our SIP home will use a lot less dimensional lumber than normal stick built and that combined with our geothermal will save us about 60-70% in energy).

So, here's how I see how our house is GREEN:

- Sustainability by way of reducing the use of non-renewable resources (by our house using less energy and naturally efficient geothermal heatpump, we are reducing our carbon footprint by many folds, as well as using very sustainable bamboo, sorghum and local natural stone)

- Increased energy efficiency (like fiberglass windows and high quality insulation (SIPs)).

- Reduction in pollution (like using more fly ash in your concrete or using less electricity)

- Healthier environments (like the no VOC paints)

- Lower impact on resources (like our rainwater tanks)

So you must look at the entire picture, and not just one part of the whole green movement. It irks me that someone is calling our design unsustainable without seeing all the factors. Just wanted to make my point on my blog.... thanks for reading.

p.s. Our original goal was to make it more affordable, but I have come to realize that there are huge hurdles in this industry and a lot of people monopolizing on the green building effort. For example, subcontractors want to charge a hefty premium just because their unfamiliar, it's "new", and it's hip at the moment. This is VERY unfortunate, but only people like us can change this. I guess the only way is to raise awareness and get more people to build like us so that we can have more competition in this field. I have a few tips on this, how to make it more affordable, but it still needs to be worked on!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Financing, appraisal concerns for green homes...

I'm starting to feel sorry for myself :-(... nah, I know I shouldn't, but it's been tough because I am finding that this house and lot appraisal method is so frustrating because we are building green.

Why? You see, in order to get a construction loan for your house, you have to get your houseplans and lot appraised so that the lender can base the loan on the total appraised value. They basically compare your house square footage and the area where you're building and try to find comparable homes in your neighborhood. The problem is, there aren't too many green built homes to compare to, so they end up comparing your house to the shoddy stick builts and it's simply NOT FAIR because stick built is much cheaper to build so the price/sf is a lot lower!!!

I've been talking to appraisers around town and they are saying the same thing... it doesn't matter because we have to go by what is around you. So tell me, how are we going to get comparables around us when they make it so hard for people to build green in the first place? Add the fact that they don't appraise green features/building for a higher value, even though you're saving thousands a year in energy costs, you're not breathing dangerous vapors, as well as being the benevolent and eco-conscious hero of your neighborhood.

And so I ranted and vented and said, but we're building with SIPs, got geothermal and rainwater collection and all these other cool features but to no avail. I am so thinking of going political over this. If anyone has any insight on how I can go about lobbying for making it easier for green built homes, then I'm very open to suggestions and will put on my marching boots.

Here's our situation, and I'll be an open book (as if I haven't already exposed enough):

We need to appraise both our house and lot at about $740K so that we can get 100% financing for our construction costs which came to be approx $590K (80% of the appraised value). This allows us to put no money down because in essence we are using our equity (difference between appraisal value and costs) for the 20%. We are doing this as owner builders with U Build It. And if that's not hard enough, building green can be costly upfront, and so we require more of a loan than if we went conventionally stick built. Then add on the fact that the nation is under a housing decline at the moment....

We did find ONE appraiser who has specialized in green building in Austin, can you believe that? Here's his info (free PR for him):
Ward Appraisal Services

I guess when people build green, it's their 2nd or 3rd or more house, but of course, we are the pioneer-spirited ones who decided to build our very 1st home properly and green! Woohoo! :-D

The hope is that our land has appreciated enough to cover any large differences. Acreage lots around the Hill Country are getting expensive, so maybe that will be a good thing for us. It's almost becoming a mini California out here (pre 2006). They even built the Hill Country Galleria 8 miles from us, so there's a lot of development coming out this way.

Despite the above, I am trying to stay positive. Really truly, because we deserve this house and want to do it right!!! I am SO HOPING we get the appraisal we want. Wish us luck and as always I'll update with what I find out!

I should do a before and after picture of us when we start the building.... :-)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Quick 3 minute video on SIPs from HGTV Pro

Some more SIPs cheering... here's an excellent 3 minute video showing you the benefits of building with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) from a non-sales biased point of view (HGTV Pro's website). It also shows how they are put together, saving you time, money and the planet!,2595,HPRO_20196_55073,00.html?c=484&videoid=66936