Luxury Buyers Pursue Green Bragging Rights

Can a luxury home really be green? The question is a topic of debate among conservationists, especially since — until recently — "luxury" has typically meant sprawling complexes that consume large amounts of resources while housing relatively few people.

Luxury homes are getting smaller and are becoming eco-friendly

"There's a bit of push and pull with the green concept," says Nicholas Downes, a luxury developer in Newport, R.I., who builds houses in the $2 million to $5 million range. "There will always be a luxury market; there might as well be a green one. People say you can't do both, but I would disagree. What we're doing is true green and true luxury."

As with other demographic groups, Downes says, luxury green buyers respond to smaller, more efficient homes, although small is a relative term. "The McMansion era is over. The new 'it' house is not an 8,000-square-foot home with five garages and a craft room." Instead, he says today's luxury buyers require a certain amount of space — 3,000 square feet seems to be about right. With a huge lot, Downes says, "You could get away with a 4,000- to 5000-square-foot house."

luxury green buyers respond to smaller, more efficient homes

Upper-end buyers tend to put more of a premium than do other groups on the home's relation to its surroundings. "The home has to fit the site," says Downes. In other words, it has to communicate "green" to everyone who sees it.

However, luxury green buyers also want to keep amenities like the Sub-Zero refrigerator and the Wolf range. They typically want to hang on to high-end home theater systems and heated pools, neither of which is particularly green because they consume lots of energy. To offset, these buyers respond favorably to products that offer extreme energy savings: super-insulated, super-tight walls; recycled, long-lasting metal roofs; and solar panels, wind turbines, rainwater harvesting and irrigation systems, and geothermal heat.

Image courtesy of Sub-Zero, Wolf & Cove Appliances

Luxury buyers install cost-efficient, green energy amenities in their homes

For example, Downes is scheduled to start a house that will include such features as an oil heating system that uses a biodiesel mix, programmable thermostats, dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, halogen lights, a HEPA filter system, high-efficiency HVAC equipment, a water catchment system, xeriscaping and a remote-access home automation system.

While luxury buyers want the health and livability provided by green features, they also want bragging rights, and there's no better way to give that to them than with some form of green certification. "Certifications are the ultimate and easy brag value for these buyers, and they respond to the highest LEED Platinum and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certifications," says Brenda Be, principal of Boston-based Be™ Interior Design and Project Management and a LEED Green Associate.

energy efficient, green-certified products are popular with luxury home buyers

Be says luxury green buyers also want materials that aren't commonly found in lower-priced homes. For instance, granite countertops and hardwood floors don't interest them. Instead, these are the people who will spend $250 per square foot on 100 percent recycled glass countertops, and who enjoy being able to tell the story behind their wood floors that were reclaimed from a local historic building. "They want recycled metal tile backsplashes or tiles made from unusual materials, such as coconut shells," Be says. "It's anything which makes the home stand out and pop visually."

Downes agrees. "Granite is overdone," he says. "There are far more exciting choices now. Stainless steel, concrete, recycled glass and wood counters are all fine where appropriate. A lot of designers say they'd be happy never to see another piece of granite again."

Luxury home buyers like to use recycled and eco-friendly materials for countertops and flooring instead of granite