Buy a Home or Build a Home: Which is Greener?

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My husband and I have a vision board posted in our kitchen. On it are all the things we want out of life, from the building my husband would like to buy to house his dream business to a multi-million dollar check to plans for the dream house we’d like to build. We’ve always had this unspoken agreement that we’d like to build our dream house, because we have distinctive, modern tastes, and in Georgia, we have only ever seen one or two homes that match our desired style. But lately, I’ve been thinking about that long-term plan. I’ve been wondering whether it would be greener to build a new home, or buy an existing one.

buyorbuild

Here are some things to consider when making your decision:

Buying an Existing Home

The idea here is that you are using an existing resource, thereby reducing the need for new materials. That is an inherently green idea, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the obvious choice. You must also consider:

  • Is the home move-in ready, or will you need to do major renovations?
  • If you need to renovate, can you afford to upgrade to eco-friendly materials, and will you be able to recycle what you remove?
  • Is the home energy efficient? If not, can you afford to upgrade major components like the HVAC system, water heater and appliances?

How many of these you can check off the list will all weigh into whether the house you’d like to purchase can really be considered “green.” And the sad truth is that because green building hasn’t been a mainstream concept for very long, many existing homes just won’t fit the bill without renovations.

Building a New Home

The alternative, of course, is building a house from the ground up. This requires buying or leasing a plot of land and all new materials. Neither of these things is really a sustainable choice, but the green strengths come from the choices you can make during the build.

Starting from scratch will allow you to make sustainability a consideration in every decision, and purchasing buildings insurance at the outset will protect your investment. You’ll be able to:

  • Choose a green builder who understands how to make sustainability a priority.
  • Decide how to best position your new home on the lot to take advantage of sun exposure.
  • Choose green materials for everything, from building blocks like treated wood and insulation to finishes like radiant heated flooring and eco-friendly countertops.
  • Energy efficiency can be made a priority, whether that means installing solar panels or choosing a tankless water heater and a programmable thermostat.

Of course, looking at these lists reminds me that the biggest difference between the two is likely to be cost. But since we’re talking about our dream home here, I’m going to make the assumption that cost isn’t an issue. And if that factor is eliminated, it feels like building a new, energy efficient home with sustainable materials is probably going to be greenest long-term choice.

But there is a third option: “Build” a green, pre-fab home.

The dream home my husband and I have on our vision board is actually a modern, pre-fab home from a company that builds sustainability into their business model. So instead of having to make decisions about every part of the building process, you can simply choose a model that meets your needs and have a home built in a fraction of the time.

So what about you? Is sustainability a consideration when you’re considering a new home? Which do you think is the greenest choice? Share your opinion in the comments!

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1 comment… add one
  • Anna Doug Helvie January 16, 2017, 12:30 am

    Hi there,

    Good question. My husband and I bought a very small, 1974 ranch and are slowly DIY’ing it to where I want it to be. In our area, that was the greener choice. OTOH, we are retirees and don’t have kids so tiny is okay. For a *dream* home, however, I think your two building choices are greener … not just because of being able to use natural materials, site it to take advantage of sun, etc…but also you’d be investing in the companies that make green products, and so you’d be helping them, too.

    Great post!

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