'Greening' The Housing Industry

Melissa Block speaks to Omar Gallaga of the Austin American-Statesman about how the "green" movement is affecting the housing industry. The two also discuss inexpensive and easy strategies for adding energy efficient and eco-friendly technology to our own homes.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we are joined now, as we are most Mondays, by Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Hey Omar.

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Columnist, Austin American-Statesman): Hi Melissa, good to be here.

BLOCK: You know, we've been talking about energy efficient homes, and it's good to talk about it. Some of us may also walk the walk and I'm not sure my home would apply, but what about yours? Do you have an energy-efficient home, Omar?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, no, not so much. We actually have quite a bit of a different climate here near Austin. We just had our hottest July on record.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Mr. GALLAGA: Though heating is definitely the last thing on our minds but yeah, we built our home about five years ago. And we were so overwhelmed with decisions and options and trying to keep the cost down that really keeping it green wasn't high on our list of priorities. But now that we're seeing our really high summer energy bills, we definitely try to make up for that. Last year, we bought solar shades that we installed on all the windows. And we're looking at doing an energy audit and seeing what else we can do.

BLOCK: For more options. You know, in a lot of these things that really comes down to money and how much it's going to cost. We heard President Obama try to make green-housing options a little more affordable with tax credits when he announced the stimulus plan. But are we seeing green homes like the ones we just heard about really coming to neighborhoods all over the place or they still mostly in designers' brains?

GALLAGA: Well, it depends on the market. I spoke to Stephanie Edwards-Musa who is a certified EcoBroker in Houston. She runs a Web site called Turning Houston Green. And she told me that in real estate, it really does seem split down the middle, at least in what people are looking for. They either really want to invest in green homes and live in green communities, be able to walk everywhere nearby, or they're kind of fundamentally opposed to the whole idea. They kind it's kind of a gimmick, it's something that's for political reasons.

But it seems like even those who are sort of opposed to the whole green-building concept, even they want to see some sort of aspect of green building in their home, whether they know it or not. Everybody wants better energy efficiency, healthier homes for their kids or if they have allergies, or anything that will save the money in the long run or increase the resale value of their homes. But definitely, it's still kind of a custom-home and higher-price-range area.

BLOCK: Omar, if somebody is not going to renovate their entire house or start from scratch with building a new one, what would the easiest things be to do to make it greener?

GALLAGA: Well, you know, I had a fascinating conversation with a woman named Amy Empson who runs MyGreencasa, a Web site for do it yourself green remodeling projects. She suggests people start small and not get overwhelmed. I think people look at the price tag, they think thousands of dollars in renovating my home - it's just too much. But a lot of the remodeling project you can do are very small. And sometimes the most eco-friendly thing to do is to just reuse materials you already have in your home rather than sending the old stuff to landfills and buying new materials. On her site, she details how she turned old VW bus into a jungle gym playscape for her son�

BLOCK: Hmm.

GALLAGA: �and how she installed cork flooring in some of her rooms. Sometimes the most effective things you can do are also the simplest and the cheapest: getting an energy audit and seeing where your home can be improved. You might spend less than $300 and see an immediate impact by looking at just the weather stripping, the caulking and the insulation. And also as you replace older appliances with new ones, if you're looking at dishwashers or washer dryers that are aging or breaking down, you know, look at the more energy-efficient models to replace them. You can do a little bit over time and see a really big impact. And also looking at location specifics stuff, I mean, what works in Boston might not necessarily work in the 109 degree temperatures we're having here in Texas.

BLOCK: Right. Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Omar, thanks so much.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me and we are going to be posting links to a lot of the green building and green remodeling Web sites on the NPR ALL TECH blog npr.org/alltech.

BLOCK: Great. And for our listeners: While you're online we are still looking for your favorite summer photos. We've already had hundreds of submissions but we do want to see more. You can upload them to Flickr and tag them NPR Summer. At the end of the month we will unveil a gallery of your images at the new npr.org.

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