In a recent meeting, we were discussing the advantages of having your home certified “green”—advantages that now include an eco nod in MLS listings (some kind of acknowlegement of whatever rating system the building is certified under), a 3-5% premium in real estate sales due to projected energy savings, and a shorter sale time. Now thems some real perks. But then I got to mulling.
When you did a little deeper, you might just ask yourself, well, what the hell does that green certification mean? Sure, in 2009 a homeowner puts in a high efficiency furnace and some insulation, but what does that actually mean when you want to sell the house in 10 years? What if you buy a house with a tankless water heater and then replace it with the cheapest piece of junk you can afford years down the line—does the building lose its green certification? What if changes are made to the home like additions with south-facing sun rooms that bring in so much solar gain that they could cook a future owner’s cat and throw him/her into foreclosure because the central air bills are more than the mortgage and cat funerals are extremely expensive in the coming years? Yeah, bet you didn’t think of that.
Well, some green rating systems are better at tracking these things than others, but I’m guessing none of them will audit a home until the end of its life—if LEED has some plan to do this, please by all means let me know as so much changed with LEED 3.0 and I still haven’t gotten off my laurels and learned it all.
Basically, any kind of quality control would require something like every green home being audited on a regular basis, as most changes that are made to homes to make them green don’t require permits, so there is no way to flag a review for quality control.
Now to be fair, the same can be said for a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once you’re on the list, you’re on the list unless you are Soldier Field or Federal funding is somehow monkeying with your property—like someone wants to build a highway through your collection of Charlton Heston paraphernalia in the extra bedroom. Why anyone complains about property owner’s rights in terms of being listed on the National Register is completely beyond me because you can only stand to benefit as nobody will EVER ring your doorbell and make you explain why you used Type N instead of Type O mortar on your wingwalls. Seriously, I promise you this.
That said, local landmarking is a different story. Each municipality is different of course, but if your building is a local landmark in Chicago and you do work that requires permitting it will flag a special landmarks permit review. Which I, of course, think is completely appropriate, especially if you have benefited from tax incentives from your landmark status. These reviews are pretty basic, as they focus on materials or changes in the building massing—your building no longer looks historic if you add a giant metal-clad addition to it. Of course others will get all “cowboy” about property rights and whine after they have a) often bought the house for the very reason that it looks so charmingly historic, and b) have used the tax breaks to fund repairs to their home. But I digress.
So we know how to determine if a building is historic. The whole point is that it doesn’t change too much and we just look at a bunch of pictures and/or plans to determine that. But how do we know if a green building is still green, even if it’s listed that way on the MLS? How can changes to mechanical systems or insulation be flagged for review as they are so totally crucial to energy efficiency? Should these certifications only be good for 5 years? What happens when what was green one year is not green the next, like all these green materials that are now being outed as toxic? As basic building code continues to change and today’s green measures becomes tomorrow’s baseline standard, what will these rating systems mean anyway when you’re prowling the MLS listings? I would love some feedback on this one because honestly, I have no idea how to answer most of these except to say that, er, I’m a preservationist.