Chris' Corner: May 2011

"Green" or "Greenwash"?


Jay Markanich, a home inspector from Bristow VA and fellow Active Rain Blogger recently posted this great little reminder for us to scratch a little below the surface and when a builder or manufacturer or salesperson says "green", exactly what do they mean, and whether the benefit (whether in reduced operating expense or in reduced environmental damage) is in proportion with any premium charged fro the "green" product


On new construction inspections, I have learned a couple of things.  First, everyone wants to say their product is green, although I am not sure why.  And second, when they do, when builders say green, find out what they mean.

My clients on a recent new construction said that the builder told them it was a "green house."  I asked which standard was used to determine that and if he was going to give them a certificate.  They knew nothing of that.

So I asked, "Why do you think it is green?" 

"Well, the appliances are Energy Star, we think he used good windows and he said there is a thick layer of cellulose insulation in the attic."


I think builders or sellers use the word "green" because they think it lends marketability to their homes. To me, it's faddish.

Energy Star appliances are not that impressive anyway.  Why do I say that?  To me, green means mo' money, but not consumer savings!

For example, the dishwasher in this house was GE Profile.  The Energy Guide sticker said it was mid range in terms of efficiency (green?) and given national averages would cost $35/year to use.  To qualify as Energy Star this dishwasher should use 20% less energy in operating costs, based on 322 uses per year.  Well, that's $7 per year!

I looked up the price of this particular dishwasher at a local discount retailer and it sells for $569.  A "regular" dishwasher, not rated Energy Star, sells for $259.  Do they mean to say that this Energy Star rating saves $7 per year, but comes at a $310 premium?  If that's true, the break even is 44 years!  I don't think that unit will last that long!   What the benefit is to the consumer is above my understanding.

Looking in the attic I wanted to see this "green" insulation.

There it is!  This insulation is NOT cellulose!  It is blown-in fiberglass.

Cellulose insulation is super masticated newspaper, treated with boric acid so bugs won't eat it and it won't burn.  It has a higher R-value per inch than blown-in fiberglass.  Cellulose is 3.7/inch vs. blown-in fiberglass of 2.2-2.7/inch.

Right here near the ruler, it had been built up to appear to be 13" deep.  That is not the average overall.  If I had to say given my measurements, it averages 10 or 11" deep. Also, there are footprint holes everywhere and lots of disruption to run electric cables to lights never filled back in.  Not impressive overall!

We in Northern Virginia are in Zone 2 when it comes to insulation R-values.  This would indicate an R-value need of 38.  This fiberglass in this attic has an R-value, at 11", of 24 - 30.  And that is being generous!  This amount of insulation is certainly not "green"...

This house has been on the market for some time, unknown why, but perhaps inconsistencies such as this have quashed sales.  So, remember my sing-song title - when builders say green, find out that they mean!

My recommendation:  when builders say things, find out exactly what they mean.  If they tout particular standards, find out what those standards are.  Request certifications and to see who provided those certifications.  If you are going to pay a premium for things in the name of energy savings, you may as well get your money's worth!



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia

Chris Smith CSSBB
          Sales Representative

Interested in Buying or Selling Real Estate?

  ph: 1.866.936.3500

Chay Realty Inc.,

Comment balloon 0 commentsChris Smith • May 02 2011 10:35AM
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