There are important questions to ask when evaluating how green a community is, both currently and its potential in the future. The answers should be easy for the knowledgeable real estate agent or developer and apply to both new developments and existing ones. Location may change the importance of some of the questions as is the case in nearness to wetlands where yard maintenance will drastically impact the health of the ecology in the area.
Some of the positive information that should be available:
- ENERGY STAR®--the homes should be ENERGY STAR® certified with the identifying label on the circuit breaker box. The HVAC systems should be sized appropriately for the region, installed in the correct area of the homes, and have the ENERGY STAR label for less energy use, less maintenance and longer warranties.
- green homes--is a whole other topic but briefly the materials should be green, indoor air quality should be a priority, there should be good waste management of building materials, and homes should be positioned for best use of sun
- grading--must be done properly with water flowing away from the house during rain so there will not be problems with moisture or termites and other insects; tree roots should not buried deep in soil; top soil should be retained for planting
- landscaping plants--must be native, non-invasive plants which will not need excessive watering and use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, planted in groups for easier maintenance and natural look with proper sizing and not too close to foundations, sidewalks and streets
- native tree and plant protection--should be obvious from designated areas for discarding construction debris and chemicals away from trees and plants to maintain proper soil pH and keep toxic chemicals from leeching into the earth. Trees should be fenced during construction all the way out to their dripline to protect root systems.
- water protection and conservation--should be maintained with proper irrigation and storm water systems, retention ponds, and water conservation devices. Buffers should be maintained between land and any wetlands, ponds or other water areas to keep the water free of chemicals
- environmental covenants--should be spelled out for issues like pets confined to leashes and not allowed in wild areas for wildlife protection, dead trees left where possible for wildlife, prohibiting invasive plants, native landscaped lawns allowed if 80 percent lawn is required in the front, conserving natural resources
- community feeling--should be promoted with open green spaces to be outside along with trails and sidewalks to remain out of wild areas, curbside recyclables, porches in front and garages in back, common areas for gathering like playgrounds, pools and community center, and a maintained website for community news
- permeable surfaces--should be used instead of asphalt and concrete so more water can return to the ground and not run into stormdrains; mulching on walking areas and around vegetation
- grasses--should be a variety appropriate to the region and need little water and fertilizer, if any. Ask the turf type
- recycled materials--should be used for durable benches and tables and playground equipment and built structures like gazebos
- green transportation--should be available with biking paths and green public buses like Greenville, South Carolina's Proterra bus system
- green certification--should be sought or obtained by the developer
- environmental education--should be overseen by a full-time community conservation manager in an office providing a program with a well-maintained website, brochures given to new homeowners and activities.
If the real estate agent and/or developer do not seem to know this information, take that as a sign that community sustainability is not a priority to them. Explain to them why there is a need to look elsewhere for a green sustainable community. The more homebuyers make known their demand for green communities, the more the supply will increase.
Watch the attached video about the problem homeowners in one community which is supposed to be green are having with fires in their solar panel roofs resulting in lawsuits.