Is It Worth It to Build a Green Home?

I’m a dreamer with a big imagination and a disdain for high utility costs. Over the past several years I’ve kept a lot of green or environmental design websites bookmarked. I visit them regularly, check on new projects or offerings, and overall spend a lot of time thinking “Wow, that’s really cool!” I would love to build a green home focused on sustainability. Things like a solar powered water heater, rain collection to water the landscape, passive or zero energy homes, and modular or pre-fabricated modern buildings are right up my alley.

That is, of course, until we start talking cost.

green home

Green Home Building is Expensive

My interest in green architecture is focused on two things: I like the modern look, and I like low utility costs.

This thought process seems to run directly counter to most green home designs. When I’ve looked at various modern designs the quotes on price are in the $200 to $350 per square foot range. And many times that doesn’t include a foundation, the cost of the land you are building on, permits, and so on.

So if we’re talking about a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom on a 2,000 square foot plan we would be looking at $400,000 to $700,000.

Unless those homes come with free money printers you might understand us being taken aback by the price. In some areas those prices might seem comparable (San Francisco or Miami, anyone?), but not where I live.

Compare Green Homes to Traditional Homes

I can pay $400,000 to $700,000 for a green and environmentally friendly home, or I can buy a traditional home on the market for $150,000 to $200,000. That’s $75 to $100 per square foot, a savings of 50% to 79% off the quoted rates above.

I know utility costs would definitely be different in an older home compared to a brand new environmentally friendly home. But $200,000 to $550,000 different over the life of the home? I seriously doubt it.

Green an Older Home

If you want to talk about sustainability then why not focus efforts on “reusing” older homes? Buy a regular stick built home on the real estate market, and over time invest additional dollars into making it more sustainable and green?

Here’s a few ideas you can use that will save you money in the long run while helping the environment out as well.

Rain Runoff Collection

Anyone can setup a rain collector for water flowing off their roof. You can buy pre-built systems and simply install them yourself, or buy the parts and put together a system on your own.

It’s a relatively simple concept thanks to gravity doing a majority of the work for you. You just need a barrel to collect the water in, and a way to get the water both to the barrel from the roof and from the barrel to whatever landscaping needs water.

Low Flow Toilet

If you own an older home you could save at least 50% of the water that is being used with every flush. Old regulations limited toilets to 3.5 gallons per flush. In more recent years the government has pushed those regulations down to just 1.6 gallons per flush. By making the switch you would be looking at saving 54% of the water used by toilets in your household.

Low Flow Shower Head

The same is true for shower heads. The government mandate is 2.5 gallons per minute, but there are low flow shower heads that can limit your water use to 0.50 to 1.5 gallons per minute.

These shower heads usually employ a vacuum technology that gives the sensation of more water coming out than actually is. Using less water will save on not only your water bill, but your utility bill for heating up the water.

What do you think? Is buying a green home worth it, or are you better off buying a traditional home and bring it up to the current environmental specs?

Photo by nikcname.


By , on Jul 15, 2012
Kevin Mulligan Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He's building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for, Discover Bank, and many others.


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  1. Now-a-days, green building is getting really close to traditional building costs because many code requirements and regulations have adopted these new buildings materials. Now if you decked out your entire roof with solar panels then yes, the building cost of your house will skyrocket, especially if you don’t live in a city that has a solar panel rebate. I don’t know what the exact stats are currently for the difference in building costs but it is probably only in the range of 5%.

    With the rising energy and water costs, building green is really a no-brainer. We definitely know that energy and water costs won’t even go down, so building a house that saves now and in the future will only keep more money in your pocket.

    • That is so true, Chris. Even now, green home are getting better and better. I still prefer green home because it is eco-friendly and energy saving.


  2. Lynn:

    What about saving where you can and then using the savings for the green features you want? I’m inclined to believe that trying to modify a traditional home will lead to all sorts of logistical issues. Modular building is cost-effective and efficient way of building your own home and you can integrate green systems while you build.

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