What Are Green Homes? A Great Way to Save Money and the Environment

Green home appliance

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Today’s real estate buzzword is decidedly colorful: green, as in green homes. But since these types of houses aren’t usually painted that verdant hue, they can be hard to pick out of a cul-de-sac. So what exactly are green homes?

If you’re looking for a poetic description, “a green home is built with a much larger home in mind—planet Earth,” says Ryan Fitzgerald, owner of Raleigh Realty. A nuts-and-bolts description is a home made with environmentally friendly materials and sustainably built, with a focus on the efficient use of water and energy. And with demand for these types of houses rising (hey, there are even green Realtors®), it’s a perfect time to learn just what makes a home green.

The history of green homes

Historically, homes were constructed “with the traditional standard building code in mind, leav®ing little leftover budget to consider energy efficiency,” says Nick Falkoff, owner of Auburndale Builders in Massachusetts.

As a result, energy currently used by residential buildings is largely generated in a not-so-green way—by burning fossil fuels that now account for nearly half of global emissions. 

The soaring energy prices of the 1970s jump-started the idea for eco-friendly homes. But today’s concern over global warming—along with an increasing shift to organic products and overall demand for structures that gobble up less energyhas accelerated the green home movement. The real estate market reflects this trend, with more and more buyers seeking energy-efficient homes that will shrink their ecological footprint. 

What makes a green home?

In the 1990s, the U.S. Green Building Council and the LEED building standard were created to provide a framework for certifying buildings designed sustainably. The aim is for the full life-cycle of the home—from initial construction to the finished product—to have a minimal impact on the environment, says John Oppermann, a real estate broker, lawyer, and founder of GreenRealEstateNYC.com. A building that implements a variety of the holistic techniques below can meet green building standards. 

  • Location. Green homes maximize the resources offered by a home’s surroundings, without harming them, and they also take advantage of the local climate. For instance, if practicable, green homes are oriented to face the south to maximize solar heat gain.
  • Materials. The physical materials used to construct a home are locally sourced, biodegradable, non-toxic, repurposed, and/or renewable. 
  • Energy consumption. Green homes use energy-efficient appliances and strategic insulation/ventilation methods to reduce artificial heating and cooling.
  • Water usage. To conserve water, a green home uses efficient plumbing fixtures or a rainwater recapture system. The landscaping might include native plants, which require less water than their nonnative counterparts.

How to make your home green

The less energy and resources a home uses, the greener it is. One of the biggest ways to go green is to install clean, renewable energy like solar panels or wind turbines. If that’s not in the cards, there are plenty of smaller ways to be eco-friendly. Try a few of the following ideas:

  • Buy appliances with Energy Star ratings, which means they consume less energy than their counterparts.
  • Add an on-demand hot water heater.
  • Install high-performance or triple-paned glass windows.
  • Swap incandescent light bulbs for LED lights that use a fraction of the electricity.
  • Unplug the biggest energy drains—TVs, computers, printers, video game consoles, microwave ovens, and cell phone chargers—when they’re not in use. By simply switching off everything on a power strip, you can save up to two months of the average home’s energy use, according to Oppermann.
  • Turning up your HVAC two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter can save the equivalent of 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
  • Use cold water for your laundry, to save 80% on your energy consumption while washing your clothes. 
  • Sealing up air leaks in windows and doors to prevent energy loss will lower heating and cooling bills. 

Now who said it isn’t easy being green?

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What Is a Pressurized Wall? A Way to Temporarily Turn One Room Into Two

pressurized wall bedroom partition

NY Handy Man NYC

If you’ve got a space you’d like to divide into two rooms rather than just one, you may have heard about pressurized walls. These walls are so named because their spring-loaded interior pushes against the walls and ceiling surrounding them—and that’s what keeps them up.

The beauty of pressurized walls is that they stay securely in place without nails, screws, or glue, which means that it’s easy to put them up and take them down later, without damaging the existing property. This is a huge plus if you want to divide a room temporarily, or rent your apartment and aren’t allowed to do major construction.

Cost and installation of pressurized walls

Pressurized walls typically cost between $800 and $2,000, and take four to five hours to install. They can be custom-made to feature windows, french double doors, closets, and built-in bookshelves, and made to fit the aesthetics of just about any apartment, with custom paint colors and baseboard styles. Another bonus: If noise is a concern for you, many of the walls can be made with sound-proofing materials.

In essence, pressurized walls have all the benefits of real walls without the permanence, making them a potentially ideal solution for spaces where you’re pining for two bedrooms rather than one, or even any bedroom (as opposed to an open studio space).

“I had clients recently that took an apartment that had space off of the living room and created a nursery for their newborn,” says Chip Peoples, a real estate salesperson at Compass in Manhattan. “When considering the building, the ability to convert the space and the money it saved ultimately was their deciding factor.”

Still, pressurized walls do have some legal logistics you’ll want to be aware of before you move ahead (more on that next).

Are pressurized walls legal?

In 2010, a New York City fire resulted in the death of two firemen who were disoriented by pressurized walls not shown on the floor plan. This tragedy forced the city to reconsider how the walls impact housing maintenance codes. After this, some landlords outlawed pressurized walls in their buildings. Others only allow partial walls—also called walk-around or walkabout walls, that are also installed without screws or nails but that have an opening rather than a door and stop about a foot before the ceiling.

Does this mean that pressurized walls are illegal? Not necessarily. It is possible to erect one if you prepare plans and apply for permits. This is true whether you own or just rent, although in the latter case, you will definitely want to ask your landlord about the possibility of erecting a pressurized wall—ideally before you move in.

“Whether a pressurized wall can be installed is something tenants will want to know before applying,” he says. As an alternative, some buildings that don’t allow pressurized walls do permit room dividers that don’t completely enclose the space. It’s not as private, but at least it’s up to code and won’t get you in trouble.

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What Is ROI? Return on Investment, Explained

What is ROI? Return on Investment explained

Rawpixel Ltd/iStock

If you’re thinking of making some home improvements, you will want to understand a concept called ROI. What is ROI? It stands for return on investment—how much money you stand to get back on any particular renovation whenever you decide to sell your home.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t renovate for other reasons, of course—like the sheer enjoyment you’d get out of new soapstone countertops or the addition of a half bath near your home office. But it turns out that certain upgrades aren’t just highly valued by you, but by many other people who might pay a premium for them if you decide to put your house on the market. In other words, a lot of that money you poured into renovations could come right back atcha! Read on to learn exactly how much.

How to calculate ROI

A return on investment is calculated using two numbers: the cost of the investment (in this case, a renovation or addition) and the investment’s gain (how much it will increase your home’s selling price).

Let’s say you replace linoleum flooring with beautiful oak. The contractor charges you $2,500—that’s the cost of the investment. But when you list your home, your real estate agent says you can increase the selling price by $3,000. Thanks, rad oak floors! That’s your investment gain.

Subtract your costs from your gains to get $500, then divide that number by the original cost. Ta-da! You’ve got a 16.7% return on investment. Or, another way to look at it is to merely divide the gain by the cost. In the above example, that would be $3,000/$2,500 = 1.2, or 120%. That’s the cost you’ll recoup from the upgrade; in this case, you’ve actually made money, which is why that percentage is over 100%.

Sadly, though, the above example is more fantasy than reality: As much as we’d like to think that the money we pour into renovations will come back at us in full when we sell our home, that’s rarely the case. According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, homeowners will recoup an average of only 64% of what they paid for a renovation.

That said, ROI runs the gamut from great (think the renovation equivalent of Apple stock) to abysmal (Bear Stearns during the subprime meltdown), depending on which reno you do. So, it pays to know which home improvements have the highest ROI, if you hope to make some of that money back down the road.

Renovations with good (and bad) ROI

Determining with any degree of certainty which projects will result in good ROI may feel like gazing into a crystal ball, but there are a few tried-and-true guidelines.

  • Energy-efficient modifications pay off. New fiberglass attic insulation is actually the one renovation that will reap you more cash than you cough up, at 116.9% (not to mention savings on your energy bill!).
  • Buyers love safety improvements. Installing a steel entry door recoups 91.1% of its cost, and new garage doors will return about 90%.
  • Less is more. In general, lower-cost projects result in better returns. According to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value Report, four of the five projects that cost less than $5,000 rank among the top five for money back when you sell. For instance, the renovation with top returns, attic insulation, costs a mere $1,268.
  • Big isn’t better. The five renovations that offer the worst return on investment all cost over $40,000. The addition of a master suite, for instance, will run you $245,474 but only add about $140,448 to your home’s sale price, recouping only 57.2% of your costs.
  • Small kitchen changes can have a big impact, like replacing the hardware (new knobs often cost $2.50 or less). Or go big: 82% of homeowners prefer wood floors in their cooking area. A minor kitchen remodel will return about 83% of its cost (and think of all the great meals you’ll make).
  • Skip the major bathroom remodel, which only earns back 65.7% of the cost, to focus on smaller projects. For a few hundred bucks, a modern sink will make the entire place look sleek. And ever-popular subway tiles only cost about 21 cents each.
  • Curb appeal can add 28% to your home’s value. A tree sapling costs $10 and can add up to $10,000 to the value of your home. But skip the swimming pool, which recoups only 39% of its cost.


Want more info? Check out this Top 10 list of the renovations that offer the best and worst return on investment. Or, since ROI can vary greatly by region, ask our friendly local real estate agent, who can also help you understand the potential gains in your area.


Watch: 3 Home Improvements That Pay Off Big Time (and 1 That Won’t)

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Mobile Home Remodeling Ideas That’ll Create Curb Appeal in Spades


While about 20 million Americans—or 6% of the population—live in mobile homes, this affordable form of housing has long had a bit of an image problem. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Like the bespectacled-but-beautiful girl in a teen movie, all your mobile home may need is a makeover. Check out these changes that can boost your home’s curb appeal—and ultimately, its value.

Create a fake foundation

Who said a mobile home can’t have a foundation? A fake one, that is. According to Dave Morris of Front Porch Ideas and More, stone-look skirting can make a mobile home look just like a traditional one.

fake stone foundation on mobile home
A stone foundation gives this home an attractive appearance.



Build a deck …

Texas-based architect Ignacio Salas-Humara recently helped a couple upgrade their mobile-home weekend getaway into a stylishly rustic retirement home.

It turns out that a brand-new deck and stairs can make a mobile home look completely different—and much more inviting. Salas-Humara made the industrial-chic railing with galvanized pipe and stainless-steel cable. This enhances the outdoor living space and allows the owners to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings.

mobile home
Before: The rear of the home is a little drab and doesn’t make the most of the space.

Ignacio Salas-Humara

mobile home with deck
After: Talk about upping the “wow” factor! It’s as if they’ve gained another room, thanks to this deck.

Ignacio Salas-Humara


… or a deck plus latticework below

If your deck is elevated, consider adding lattice in a shade that complements your home, as Morris did below. Made from high-quality PVC, panels don’t warp, nor will they fade, since the color is ingrained. Plus, they’re easy to cut and install, says Morris. If you’re hoping to stash a ladder or tools underneath, this creates a much more attractive hideaway.

mobile home with lattice
Custom black lattice panels in a square design add color and class to this deck.



Add a stone patio

Salas Humara’s clients’ trailer originally lacked a covered porch at the entry. The architect kept the existing decking but added a stone patio, and spruced up the landscaping to add instant curb appeal. A new front door, complete with sidelights, is a crucial part of this face-lift.

mobile home
Before: The front of the home has great potential, but needs a bit of work.

Ignacio Salas-Humara

mobile home with covered entranceway
A covered entryway is perfect for bad weather days and adds charm and character to an otherwise plain entrance.

Ignacio Salas-Humara


Construct a carport

Salas-Humara also created a rustic carport that suited the agricultural setting, using cedar columns and beams with exposed cedar rafters. The vine-covered pergola on the right leads to the deck, a welcome addition that elevates the home’s character, yet looks as if it’s always been there.

mobile home carport
Before: Just a plain, old driveway that doesn’t afford much protection from the elements.

Ignacio Salas-Humara

After: The new carport gives the home a much-more finished look.
After: The new carport gives the home a much more finished look.

Ignacio Salas-Humara

Slap on some shutters—or a fence

Decorative shutters, available in aluminum, wood, and vinyl (the least pricey option), make a home look more welcoming, while adding a bit of charm and symmetry.

Meanwhile, fencing also defines the property line and can be dressed up with wreaths and lights during the holidays or bright potted plants in warmer weather, to lend the feel of landscaping without the hassle of maintenance.

mobile home with front porch
A small front porch and gate give this home a much more finished appearance.


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8 Houseplants That Could Kill You and Your Pets

Houseplants That Could Kill You and Your Pets

GavinD/iStock; Fredex8/iStock

Houseplants are a decorator’s best friend, adding pops of color and a vibrant touch to even the blandest home interiors. And studies show that they also improve air quality, lower your stress level, generally make you happier, and just might even make you smarter.

But what if those seemingly innocent buds are doing just the opposite? What if they’re actually trying to kill you?  Maybe even your pets?.

Whether they emit toxins or poisonous sap, some plants are far from harmless beauties. Wondering if you just brought home Audrey II? Read on.


1. Oleander

Oleander houseplant

Flickr/Vasile Coardos

With its intoxicating fragrance and clusters of bright buds and glossy leaves, oleander is popular both indoors and out. But get ready for a buzzkill: every part of it is poisonous. Ingesting it can cause a range of symptoms, from dizziness to vomiting, and may even lead to death (especially in the case of pets and small children).


2. Peace lily

Peace lily houseplant
Peace lily

Flickr/Øyvind Sandåker

The peace lily, also known as the Mauna Loa plant, is a popular gift because it needs very little maintenance and blooms nearly nonstop. With a little water and a little sunlight, the peace lily can survive forever. However, it’s poisonous both for humans and for pets. Ingestion can cause skin irritation and swelling, trouble speaking, and burning. Doesn’t sound like “peace” to us.


3. Sago palm

Sago palm
Sago palm

Flickr/Paige Filler

In a pot, sago palms stay cute and small, making them ideal for desks and bookshelves.

But don’t be fooled by their adorable appearance—the leaves and seeds are toxic.

While humans may only suffer some discomfort if they ingest it, the plant is extremely dangerous to dogs. (In fact, sago palm poisoning is the No. 1 reason for calls to Animal Poison Control in South Carolina.) If your dog is the curious type, it might be worth getting this plant out of the house. So long, Sago!


4. ZZ plants

ZZ plant
ZZ plant

Flickr/Forest and Kim Starr

ZZ plants grow quickly, aren’t picky about what kind of light they get, and are generally easy to care for, making them a favorite choice for indoor greenery. They’re extremely common and sold at pretty much every garden center in the country. They’re also noxious to humans and pets. While not as dangerous as oleander, we probably wouldn’t keep any around if we had curious kiddos.


5. Snake plant

Snake plant
Snake plant

Flickr/Forest and Kim Starr

Because they do just fine in low light, snake plants are common in office spaces and in homes. They’ve even been used as herbal remedies in some parts of the world. But the plants are also poisonous if ingested. Large doses can cause nausea and vomiting, and the poison found in the plant has a numbing effect that can cause the tongue and throat to swell. The plants are more toxic to dogs and cats, which can suffer from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.


6. Lilies



While not generally dangerous to humans, all lilies are highly toxic to cats. And it gets ingested by your kitty, can lead to kidney failure and even death.


7. Areca palm

Areca palm
Areca palm

Flickr/Forest and Kim Starr

While most houseplants actually suck in the stuff in the air that is bad for you—pollutants, carbon dioxide, you name it—some plants do the opposite.

A study from the University of Georgia’s Department of Horticulture found that some plants, such as the areca palm, actually release volatile organic compounds into the air (in addition to removing others). And it’s not just the plants themselves—microorganisms in the soil they grow in were also to blame for releasing VOCs. It’s important to note, though, that researchers haven’t adequately studied the longevity of these compounds, so we don’t know their impact on humans.


8. Weeping fig

Weeping fig
Weeping fig

Flickr/Forest and Kim Starr

The sap that the weeping fig emits is highly toxic. Contact with the sap can lead to itchiness in the eyes, wheezing and coughing, and skin irritations. The weeping fig is poisonous for pets, too—especially parakeets and cats. If any of the plant is ingested, they’re likely to experience irritation of the eyes and skin.

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