Pedal Pusher

I got an unusual real estate referral a couple of weeks ago.  A young woman from Colorado who is moving to the DC Metro area requested an agent who had an extensive knowledge of DC area bike trails.  Well, that would be me, of course.  It was the first time I’ve had such a request from a potential buyer.  Leisa will be working at Crystal City and absolutely wants to bike to and from work.  Her biggest fear was to wind up working with a real estate agent who would under estimate the importance of being able to cycle to work.  “When I asked a Realtor friend to refer me to a Keller Williams Realtor in the NOVA/DC areas, the most important request was not gender, not experience, not numbers. My future Realtor had to be a cyclist!  Because I intend to ride my bicycle to work, I wanted a realtor who understands the cycling routes and one who could relate to my bike-minded ways,” Leisa said.

Of course the DC Metro area has some of the best biking routes in the country. On a couple of occasions I have considered moving out of the area and each time, one of the main reasons I changed my mind was the lack of connected and extensive urban biking trails in the areas I considered moving to.

You might be thinking about reducing your carbon footprint or getting some needed exercise by biking to and from work. There isn’t a better area to safely pursue this goal.  I tell people all the time how amazing it is to be able to travel through the entire DC metro area including the states of Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia without using the city streets. And if you do have to use the city streets, bike lanes abound, especially in Arlington and DC.  Both Arlington and DC are making a concerted effort to reduce car traffic by increasing bike lanes in the city.  But if you aren’t ready to try cycling to and from work, you might just want to run some weekend errands by bicycle or see some Washington sights without the hassle of traffic and parking.  Sure you could take the metro but you won’t burn as many calories and it’s a much better view.

If you’re selling a home, being near a bike route is a great selling feature and the agent who markets your home should know this.  If you’re buying a home, even if you aren’t going to bike to work, having easy access to the bike trails is a real bonus.  I live about a mile from the W & OD, Four Mile Run and Mount Vernon bike trails.

Figuring out the bike routes is easy. DC has great maps for biking downtown to work.  We all use Google Maps right?  Well you can even map bike routes on Google! Bike Arlington is a wonderful site that features bike sharing, bicycle friendly businesses, all the news on biking in Arlington as well as route maps.

And how’s this for a real estate niche?  There is actually a real estate company that shows properties by biking to them. Petal to Properties is a full service real estate company with offices in Boulder, CO, Sonoma, CA, and Northhampton, MA. Hmmm, this has got me thinking………

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.


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If I Want a Green(er) Home Where Do I Start?

There are no national standards for what a “green” home really is.  The USGBC (United States Green Building Council) has the most recognized green building and retrofitting/remodeling  standards in the country.   But there are others—all with different standards.  There’s the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Build It Green and Built Green (yes, different organizations).  Then there are local standards such as Arlington, Virginia’s Green Home Choice Program.  Well you get the picture–whose standards do you use.  But here’s the thing—right now, in the Washington Metro area where I do business, there just aren’t a lot of new homes being built to any particular “green” standards.  Many builders are at least building all new homes to EnergyStar standards.  But as I said last week, energy efficiency alone does not a “green” home make.  And with the exception of USGBC, most of these ratings are for new construction.

So most of my clients are just trying to figure out what things they should do to upgrade and retrofit their older existing homes—either the one they’re buying or the one they’re selling—to make them more eco-friendly.  What is the first thing you should do?  Well I believe reducing your energy consumption is one of the most important and cost effective things to do first.  This isn’t necessarily sexy like putting in cork or bamboo floors or ice stone countertops. But it will have a measurable effect on reducing your impact on dwindling and non-renewable resources as well as significantly reducing utility bills.  Even if your home is only ten years old, it probably pretty energy inefficient.

First, insulate. I know—BOOOORING.  Oh well—so use the money you save on utility bills to buy an Ipad or something.  The cost of heating and cooling a home is 50-60 % of the total energy bill.  A few hundred dollars spent on insulation alone can cut a home’s energy bill by up to 20% per year.  There are many types of insulation and I’m not going to discuss them here.  But there are environmental concerns  to some degree for most of them.  So check out this link that discusses the pros and cons.  Some of the cons do have indoor air quality issues.  I will tell you that my favorite insulation is made from blue jeans. It’s the ultimate in reduce (get rid of some of your 10 pairs of jeans), reuse, and recycle thinking.

Second, air seal–also not exciting.  But like insulation, air sealing stops you from paying to heat and cool the outside of  your home. You can find many leaks simply by feeling the air coming in around doors and windows.  However, many leaks that come from spaces holes in attics, basements and crawl spaces.  These can be harder to find and a much bigger energy waster.  You might consider having a professional energy audit.  Energy auditors use equipment, such as infrared cameras and blower doors,  designed to suss out all the leaks in your house.  Some state energy departments have programs that are free or for a nominal fee, will do an energy rating on your home.

Oh, and by the way– there’s a 30% federal tax credit (up to $1500) on energy efficiency purchases until December 31, 2010. So this is the year to give that home you’re buying or selling, an energy makeover.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

If It’s a “Green” Home, Can I Afford It–And What is a “Green” Home Anyway?

So you’re thinking about buying a green home. What does that mean, actually?  Does it mean buying a really big expensive home with “green” features?  Does it mean buying a really small home with a tiny ecological footprint?  Does it mean solar panels and a wind turbine in your back yard?   Does it mean you’re being a hypocrite if you don’t use rainwater barrels and stop driving your car?  Does it mean spending a lot more money than you ever would for a regular house?  “Forget it.  I’ll just buy a regular house.  It’s all to complicated, expensive and politically correct for me to figure out,” you might decide.

Or, you decide to sell your home that needs some work to get it on the market anyway.  So you decide to do all green upgrades.  Well, what does that mean exactly?  Do you have to replace your 5-year-old hot water heater with a tankless one?  Do you have to install all new windows that are triple paned and very expensive? Do you need to replace your oh, so ordinary hardwood floors, with bamboo?  Do you have to invest in solar panels to say your house is energy efficient? Will you recoup the investment?  “You know what, I’m just going to do the old standard stuff—paint, carpet, replace a couple of appliances and be done with it,” you might think.

NO, NO, NO and more NOs to all of these questions.  The myths about what a green home is, and how much it costs are many.  So I’m going to tackle some of the myths in my next few blogs and suggest some articles along the way.

The biggest myth is that buying a green home means buying a home that is many, many thousands of dollars more expensive than a regular home.  ­­First, there are nuances to what a green home actually is and that, in and of itself, is confusing.  Unfortunately green can be in the eye of the beholder.  Most new homes calling themselves green really just have some green features.  Until there are nationally agreed upon standards, what’s green will remain open to interpretation.

Buying a home with better insulation, a more tightly sealed envelope and EnergyStar rated appliances, HVAC systems and windows, does usually add a modest premium to the cost of the home.  But what is ultimately saved in energy costs and energy use, more than makes up for the additional premium.  But these are green features and do not give the builder the right to call the home a green home.  In fact, some new evidence is showing that homes that are tightly sealed but that still have VOC (volatile organic compounds) in cabinets,  carpet sealants, hardwood floor finishes, paint, etc—may be causing damage to the health of the home’s inhabitants!

There are some really great reasons to consider using sustainable standards when you buy or sell a home.  So, the bottom line is—buy or sell your home with an expert—someone who can guide you, advocate for you and protect you from greenwashing.  That would be ME–your EcoBroker certified, NAR Green designated Realtor.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

What’s in a Floor?

If you’re planning to make some flooring changes in your home you can do it using sustainable, earth friendly and IAQ* safe products.  I’d say hardwood floors are  the main level flooring choice these days.  Certainly the majority of my clients want hardwood floors in the homes they buy or want to install them.  They’re not just beautiful and easy to keep clean, but hardwood floors greatly reduce allergens if they’re not finished or stained with toxic chemicals. If anyone in your home has asthma or other allergies, hardwood floors will go a long way towards improving their quality of life.

Many buyers want to know when they purchase an older home that is carpeted, whether there are hardwoods underneath. Recently I listed an older townhouse for sale and the seller was going to replace the carpet that had been there since she purchased it.  When the carpet was pulled up absolutely beautiful hardwood floors were revealed that didn’t even need to be refinished. That was great.  But what if the floors need to be stripped, sanded and refinished?

If the floors need to be refinished, find a company that uses low or no-VOC finishing products. These finishes will not leave highly toxic fumes circulating in your home for months. Osmo is one brand of floor finishes and stains that Universal Floors, a DC metro area hardwood flooring company uses.  CCI  Wood Floor Specialists is a small Virginia company whose owner, Jimmy Stallings, only uses VOC compliant products when he finishes floors. The Green Home Guide has a lot of information on hardwood floor finishes.

If you are installing hardwood floors you should look for FSC certified wood floors. The Forest Stewardship Council is an organization that promotes responsible forest stewardship to reduce the worldwide destruction of CO2 life giving forests.  Look for this symbol.

Reclaimed wood is another way to install beautiful hardwood floors with minimal environmental impact.  This is the ultimate repurposing. Its previous life may have been in a North Carolina tobacco barn or railroad trestles in the midwest.  This wood is generally more expensive because reclaiming and milling it adds to the labor costs. It can have really unique qualities and looks that for some, may be worth the cost. As always, be careful on sourcing reclaimed wood to make sure the company is not greenwashing.

Illegal, unsustainable and unmanaged wood (tree) harvesting is destroying large quantities of the world’s forests in places were the ecological balance of nature is being seriously compromised such as Indonesia and the Amazon.  China, which makes most of the wood products used in the United States, is scouring the world buying up wood because deforestation in China is a huge problem. The World Wildlife Fund reports on the global impact of deforestation.

*Indoor Air Quality


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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.