Sensible Home Buying in Central Texas
This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman.

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The Green Home

Sensible Home Buying in Central Texas

Jill Mayfield and Mary McLeod
City of Austin Green Builder Program

The great quality of life in Central Texas is attracting an ever-increasing number of new residents, resulting in a boom in home building. This growing market is attracting new builders as well, so competition for customers is fierce. That means 1996 should be a banner year for you to get what you want in a new home.

But before you buy, the City of Austin's Green Builder wants you to consider how to get the best possible home for your money--one that's better for your f amily, your community and your planet.

Everyone wants a home that's comfortable, healthy and safe, and that's easy to maintain, as well as one with low monthly bills. Many of the best ways to achieve these benefits will not increase the purchase price of a home (or they pay back quickly), but they do require the home buyer to know what to look for and demand.

Buy a home that's energy-efficient. Making a house payment is tough enough without having to pay a sky-high electric and gas bill every month. One of the most important things that makes a home energy-efficient, without increasing initial cost, is having the right design for the lot orientation. The design should take advantage of the sun's path, prevailing breezes and tree shading to provide warmth in winter, avoid overheating in summer and enable good cross-ventilation.

Some examples of other features that will reduce energy use in your new home are: continuous ridge and soffit vents combined with a radiant barrier to cool down the attic; well-installed insulation; high-efficiency heating, cooling and water-heating equipment combined with a properly designed, air-tight duct system; a good lighting design and efficient light fixtures appropriate for their purpose; and light colored finishes inside and outside the home.

Buy a home that is water-efficient. By national standards, new plumbing fixtures are very water-conserving. However, about half of summer water use goes to lawn and garden care, so it's important to pick the best shrubs and turf for conditions on your lot. St. Augustine grass is fine in the shade, for example, but it requires way too much water to stay alive in sunny areas to be practical in Central Texas. Buffalograss or common Bermuda is a far better choice in high sun areas.

Buy a home made of durable, low-maintenance materials. Having to replace rotten siding or do frequent repainting, for example, can add a lot to the cost of owning a home. Local brick and stone are always a good low-maintenance exterior. But for a more modest budget or a different look, consider fiber-cement siding. It won't deteriorate even if you never paint it. Inside, a good example of a durable, low-maintenance feature is a tile floor. It will usually add to the cost of a house, and may never have to be replaced.

Buy a home that's made of healthier materials. Be aware of the chemicals in common building materials, especially in interior finishes. Products such as carpet, paint, glue and cabinet materials emit fumes for many months, even years, after installation. They affect the quality of the air in your home, sometimes causing stuffy noses and headaches. Major manufacturers of building products are rapidly changing the formulations of their materials to address these problems, but it's often up to the consumer to demand the healthier choice. If your builder is unfamiliar with these aspects of building, call the Green Builder Program staff for help.

Buy a home in the right location. Location, location, location! This is a major factor in determining which house you buy, but be sure to consider location in a realistic way. You may get a great deal on a house far from an urban center, but are you going to spend a fortune on gas and car maintenance getting to work, shopping, schools and entertainment? Selecting a home convenient to amenities and to your workplace will save time as well as money and cut down on air pollution from auto exhaust.

Make sure your home choice contributes to the quality of life in Central Texas. We have a legacy of protecting our natural environment...which is just good business, since that's one of our biggest drawing cards for new companies considering relocation. Ask your builder to help preserve this legacy.

If you have questions about building or buying an energy-efficient and environmentally-sound home in Austin, call or email the City of Austin Sustainable Sources has a list of builders, architects, designers and suppliers who are members of the Green Builder Program.

You can also find more information including the Sustainable Building Sourcebook compiled by the City of Austin's Green Builder Program at the Sustainable Sources website.


copyleft 1996: You are encouraged to copy and redistribute this article provided that you acknowledge the City of Austin's Green Builder Program as the source. Please attach this statement.

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