Wood stoves fueled by pellets, energy-efficient windows, gas fireplace inserts, new siding, geothermal systems, composting toilets: Any energy-efficient feature that will save a buck, make a home more comfortable and, for some, fulfill a green dream is high on both buyers’ and sellers’ lists. So say a number of Realtors and remodelers throughout the country.

“Energy efficiency is a gigantic subject,” says John Abrams, founder and president of South Mountain Co., a design/build firm in West Tisbury, Mass. “In the last couple of years there has been a staggering change in what people are asking for. We’ve been doing this for the last 30 years and have been pushing our clients further and further, sometimes with very limited success. Now they’re pushing us and challenging us to do stuff that’s not easy to do. They’re asking for homes that don’t use energy but produce it. Composting toilets in a million-dollar house. Pretty good stuff. It’s way beyond windows for us.”

Window Dressing

Peter Hoey

But windows are still high on a number of homeowners’ must-do/must-have lists. Not surprisingly, window replacement continues to rank high in the Cost vs. Value survey, both in terms of value at sale and cost recovered. According to the Efficient Windows Collaborative, the heating bill for a 2,000-square-foot home with high-performance, energy-efficient windows is 39% lower than a comparable home with single-pane, aluminum windows. Even the Yellow Pages traditionally sees a boost in interest right about now. “Windows” ranks 85th out of more than 4,000 headings and generates 26 million references annually, with the greatest frequency coming in October. “As the summer progressed, people were asking more and more about the energy efficiency of homes,” says Brian Boardman, owner of Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman Realty, in Burlington, Vt. “We never had questions in the past, but now people are requesting energy audits and asking what it would cost to replace the windows.”

Even Realtors in temperate markets are seeing an increase in interest. “I believe that buyers particularly are looking for homes that are energy-efficient, especially with the market being flooded with homes for sale,” says Shelley Watkins of Lawrence Arendall Humphries Real Estate, in Birmingham, Ala. “Windows seem to be getting more attention.”

Green Concerns

Of course, in the high-end market, installing new windows is often just small potatoes. “This year, probably 50% of our clients have asked about or are implementing geothermal heating and cooling systems,” says Cress Carter, co-owner of Old Greenwich Builders, in Denver. “That’s new. The cost has finally come down enough that it makes economic sense to do it.” Carter’s difficulty, though, is finding subs who can handle the work. “A lot of these green-build folks are new to the business and don’t know how to work with builders.”

James Madsen, founder and president of James Barton Design-Build, in Apple Valley, Minn., has a similar concern about the whole green world. “If you do enough paperwork, everyone can put the green label on their stuff,” he says. “Green has become so whitewashed now. If we’re gong to do something, we’ll do it right whether you call that ‘energy efficient’ or ‘green.’”