real estate

Now's the right time for going green

Steve McLindenq_v2.gifDear Steve,
I'm considering buying land to build a small home using green-building concepts. I think I have found the perfect piece of property for it. Is this a good time to start a project like that? Any advice on how I might go about realizing this dream?
-- Sabine

a_v2.gifDear Sabine,
It's refreshing to get a letter about "green" these days in the midst of all this red ink that's bleeding from the housing market.

Yes, it is a very good time to start a green home-construction project, based on several factors. Land prices are cheaper, the number of certified green contractors out there is growing and green is going mainstream as global warming and energy issues on the front burner. Additionally, federal tax incentives for some new-home construction elements have recently tripled following the recent passage of the stimulus package.

Instead of the previous 10-percent incentives offered, you can now write off 30 percent of the costs of buying and installing solar panels, solar water heaters, fuel cells and small wind-energy systems and geothermal heat pumps. There are dollar caps on some of these credits. See this page on the Environmental Protection Agency Web site for the latest information. Moreover, it's pretty clear that the latest green heating and cooling systems typically pay for themselves in energy savings over several years.

Several states are offering additional green tax credits as well. Builders can also get tax credits for constructing energy-efficient new homes and should be able to pass some of those savings on to you indirectly. Of course, you can go as green as your imagination and budget allow, ranging from the use of solar energy, natural lighting, energy-efficient appliances and low-emission paints to radon-resistant construction, resource-efficient landscaping and use of recycled or salvaged locally-processed building materials. It's important to check out your local building ordinances to see what is allowed in your area. Most municipalities have become far more progressive in this area.

But be wary. Some contractors instantly mark up a green project significantly without justification merely because people expect to pay more. Carefully screen your contractors. The United States Green Building Council's site has a rating system for promoting the design and construction of high-performance green houses that also features builder resources, green-certified contractor lists and a green-home guide. Also go to the GreenHomeGuide Web site and click on "resource" for availability of local, state, federal and utility incentives. Another organization, Built it Green, promotes green practices in California but also features universal guidelines and checklists that may help.

Be sure to keep up to date on what's being offered. By the time you start construction, there may be even more green incentives available.

Go green!

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