by David Goldstein, VC PWA, IWMD

Realtors are known for using certain terms to describe homes, and those terms sometimes can have an unexpected meaning. For example, as points out, if a realtor describes a home as “quaint,” it could mean cozy and charming, or it could mean tiny and cramped. “Close to transportation” could mean a block from a bus stop, or it could mean next to a railroad track. 

Some homes are described as being “within walking distance” of the beach, a park, the mall or some other amenity, but, as George Carlin pointed out in a famous comedy routine, technically, “everything is within walking distance.”  It just depends how long you want to walk.

In contrast, the term “green” can have only one meaning if you want it to reliably add value to a home, according to Andy Pletcher, with Century 21 Everest. Pletcher recently completed training to obtain the National Association of Realtors Green Designation, and she pointed out the importance of using real data to quantify the term “green.” In contrast to the “soft” or “subjective” terms a realtor might want to use to convey a feeling about a property, if you want to make the green features of your home add value to your sale, “you must know how to quantify the economic value of those features as well as speak about the environmental benefits,” she said.

Pletcher uses utility bills to document the savings available. Also important, she points out, is whether solar panels have been fully purchased, or whether the new owner will have to take over a lease payment.

Fred Evans, the co-founder of RE/MAX Gold Coast Realtors, agrees some green features need to be quantified to have value, but he also points to other features providing environmental benefit but installed mainly for comfort. For example, a comfort pump, which links to a timer and conveys hot water from a water heater to a distant faucet during times of day, can conserve water while also providing the comfort of instant hot water.

Eric Werbalowsky, a sustainability consultant based in Ventura, emphasized the importance of green features which cannot be monetized. “To progress toward sustainability, there has to be a vanguard, a group of people who aren’t waiting for an emergency to get on board” with environmental measures, regardless of monetary payback. Also, he pointed out, some features considered “green” in a large home may not really make the home “green.”

Roofing is one of the most important environmental decisions the average person might make about their home, and roofing clearly affects value, according to Jerry Vandewater, a retired consultant who testifies as an expert witness in court cases involving roofs. He lauds the economic and environmental value of tile roofs. Although clay tiles take energy to fire and cement is an energy intensive material, only about one third of the body of tile is cement. More importantly, tiles are durable, their thermal mass moderates temperature, and the air space between the tile and the roof keeps the roof deck cooler in the summer. Tile roofs are also prized for appearance.

Calling a house, or its features, “green” or “environmentally friendly” can sometimes just be another term used by realtors to convey a feeling, and such claims are legal with housing, but regulation of the term is possible. The Federal Trade Commission regulates terms when used to promote manufactured products. The FTC’s “Green Guides” call terms like “eco-friendly” a “broad, unqualified claim” designed to “suggest the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits” without actually guaranteeing any such benefits.

Besides, just from a grammatical standpoint, can a house or other object really be “friendly” to the environment? People can be friendly. Objects and environments are simply not “friends,” even if they are compatible. 

David Goldstein, with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or