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Green Housing Trends

(Editor's Note: this article first appeared on The Home Story, a newly launched Fannie Mae website. Please visit The Home Story to read the article in its entirety.)

Every homeowner has nightmares about losing power and water, and many have seen those bad dreams become reality with the extreme weather of recent years. But you'd sleep soundly if you lived in one of architect Michael Reynolds' "radically sustainable" homes.

Even if an entire region's electricity, water and other public services suddenly came to a halt, a dweller of one of Reynolds' ultra-sustainable homes called Earthships would barely bat an eye. The toilets would still flush, the lights would turn on, and — perhaps best of all — any trash that can't be composted would go to the community waste station for reuse or disposal.

Reynolds' homes, which at around $225 per square foot cost about the same to build as conventional ones, are engineered for the growing number of homebuyers who want to be less dependent on municipal utilities and have a smaller environmental footprint.

These homes demonstrate that the goods and services that seem like an inescapable part of modern life — electricity, water, sewage, food, garbage — don't need to make a significant dent on the environment.

Burgeoning Industry

As more and more people catch on to these green living options, it's likely the market for sustainable housing will continue to expand.

In California and the Pacific Northwest, nearly half of the homes being sold have some degree of sustainability built in, whether it's Energy Star certified or a less formal green design feature, says Roger Platt, senior vice president of global policy and law at the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

Some states are already incorporating green building codes to their legislation, or providing tax incentives for those adding sustainable features into their new home. You may also be able to take out a larger mortgage to buy or refinance an energy-efficient home, including several programs supported by Fannie Mae.

Want to Go Green?

Here are some things to look for when shopping for or building a sustainable house:

  • Does the home get any wind or solar power, or does it depend primarily on municipal utilities?
  • Is the home well insulated and designed to take advantage of natural light?
  • Are the home's building materials repurposed or recycled?
  • Are there facilities on the property for capturing and using rainwater, or for composting and treating waste?
  • Does the landscaping take advantage of plants that are native to the area and need minimal watering, fertilizer and pest control?
  • Is the property close to public transportation or within walking distance to schools and supermarkets?

Whether you're considering building an Earthship from the ground up or just greening your remodeling project, resources like the U.S. Green Building Council's Green Home Guide can help get you get up to speed, notes Platt.

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