Climate Considerations Every Homebuyer Should Know
Four considerations for climate-responsible homebuying.
By Asiyah Choudry
July 10, 2023
A home purchase is one of the largest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. Integrating climate considerations into your home purchase is financially prudent and a way to use your money for climate good. Approximately one-fifth of US emissions come from residential energy use, and without deep cuts in emissions, we cannot achieve the Paris Agreement target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Let’s look at four factors to consider when buying a home, focusing on reducing emissions and safeguarding the value of your investment.
#1: Is the property exposed to climate risks?
The physical risks of climate change (i.e., extreme weather events - floods, fires, droughts) mean that some properties are vulnerable to physical damage. For example, between 8 and 10 billion dollars worth of property in California could be underwater by 2050 due to climate-related sea level rise. More and more data is available to assess a home’s exposure to climate-related risks. For homes listed on Realtor.com or Redfin, you can find risk statistics including a flood factor, a fire factor, and a heat factor (e.g., for one San Jose home, the wildfire factor is “moderate - wildfire risk increases in the next 30 years”).
Climate risks can affect the long-term valuation of your home. An analysis by realtor.com found that flood risk is reflected in home prices, concluding that “the cumulative price growth of low [flood] risk homes consistently outperformed the rate of high [flood] risk homes…”.
#2: Walkability and access to services
When essential services aren’t walkable, car travel becomes necessary. In the US, transportation is the largest source of emissions. Walkability reduces the need for cars to get from place to place. The 15-minute city is a concept in urban planning where services like education, work, hospitals, and grocery stores are within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. If you input an address into walkscore.com, you can find city and neighborhood-level walk scores from 0 to 100. With a walk score of 89, San Francisco is rated the most walkable city in the US.
In addition, cities with well-connected public transportation systems mitigate emissions from cars. Public transit use reduces nationwide carbon emissions by 63 million metric tons each year. In addition to walk scores, you can find transit scores for cities and neighborhoods on walkscore.com. Access to transportation infrastructure is also positively associated with home prices.
#3: Green building design, certifications, and standards
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers a voluntary labeling program called ENERGY STAR. ENERGY STAR certifies new homes, buildings, and products that meet the EPA’s energy efficiency specifications. Another certification is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, issued by the U.S. Green Building Council. A home with a residential LEED certification uses less energy and water, producing fewer carbon emissions than a typical building. If you want to purchase a new build, consider finding a home with the ENERGY STAR or LEED stamp of approval.
Climate considerations can also be incorporated into home design and construction. Passive solar is a design method that uses solar energy to meet a home’s heating and cooling needs, minimizing the need for energetically-intensive appliances. Another option is prefabricated (also called modular) homes. Building components are prefabricated off-site before assembly. Some potential benefits of prefabricated construction are reduced waste, reduced cost, and lower energy use.
#4: Find a home outfitted with energy-efficient appliances, or consider retrofitting
ENERGY STAR recommends six home upgrades to improve energy efficiency for existing homes. These include switching to a heat pump, installing a smart thermostat, and ensuring there is adequate insulation. If you don’t know where to start, Wildgrid can help you create a plan and a budget for energy-efficient home upgrades.
Additionally, a home energy audit can help you understand your home’s energy inefficiencies better so that you can decide which upgrades to prioritize. There are federal and state incentives you can use to reduce the upfront cost of these upgrades. If you want to know more about the different incentives available, check out IncentiFind.
Net zero and the buildings sector
In conclusion, buying a home is a significant investment that should integrate climate considerations. Factors such as walkability and climate risk have the potential to affect a home’s valuation, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, the buildings sector accounts for 39% of emissions, and reductions in building sector emissions will be essential in achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
If you’d like to find other ways to support the decarbonization of the built environment, check out our recommended list of investment funds, which includes funds that support green building development.
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