We don’t have to tell you—choosing a home is all about location. But what’s important to some might be less important to others, like a good school system or an area that’s not stifling hot in the summer. Maybe you want to be near family or are moving across the country for work. Whichever location you choose, climate change is already a concern. The question is not if it will be affected by more severe weather and storms, but when and how.
Marc Richmond is a green builder by education and currently works as a green Realtor with Texas Green Realty in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He says all too often agents and sellers don’t know or don’t want to disclose important information that prospective homebuyers should know, especially in his region, which is prone to extreme heat and flooding, and had an electrical-grid crisis in 2021. Another green Realtor, Mark Wheeler of Roots Realty in Portland, Oregon, sees a different side of things, as the weather is mild but the area receives significant numbers of climate refugees from Gulf Coast hurricanes and West Coast fires every year.
If you haven’t found your dream home yet or are hoping to purchase your first home, here’s your four-step checklist with tips from these green experts who focus on pairing their clients with homes and making sure they’re as safe as they can be when climate disaster strikes.
Find a Green Agent
Because real estate agents are often found by word of mouth, many of Richmond’s clients don’t even know about his green expertise, he says. But there are big benefits of working with someone with a green background (many of which you can find on GreenPages.org or Green.Realtor. There, you will be able to find professionals who not only know the industry but understand energy efficiency and climate risks. He says even if you find an agent through a referral, don’t forget to interview them for the job and make sure your goals align.
Use Public Data
Use public data to know the threats and benefits of your community. It’s easy to forget or ignore bad weather if it’s not right in front of you, which is why Richmond likes to show homes in the rain even more than on sunny days—because severe flooding is a big issue in Austin. He says when you’re looking at a house, you can call your insurance company for historic claims from the last seven years (ask for the CLUE report). That way, you may be able to find if the property is already under threat from fire, flood, an insufficient electrical grid, or other climate-related issues. You can also find out floodplain information on RiskFactor.com (FEMA has outdated data that could give a different picture), or get a quote on flood insurance from your insurance broker. It’s also practical to look up drought conditions from the last decade, which while less acute than flooding, can lead to more fires and other problematic conditions.
“I talk people out of houses way more than I talk them into houses. Because I say, ‘Look, this is going to happen here. There’s been flooding here,” Richmond says. “This is part of the resilience of housing and finding a house that’s going to be durable, going to work, and going to make sense for people, because it’s the biggest investment in their lives.”
No tap water is perfect, but the Environmental Working Group uses more stringent standards than the EPA on its database. It is a good place to start to figure out if your new home might be best off with an installed water filtration system. Wheeler says he recommends living somewhere with high quality water.
It’s also a good idea to test for asbestos, radon, and lead, especially in older homes.
Redfin is another resource that talks through the basics of several different climate risks and the markets most impacted by those risks. Redfin collaborates with ClimateCheck.com on this data.
The average American moves more than 11 times in their lives, which means folks might not be thinking of their current purchase as a “forever home,” says Richmond. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think into the future.
“Will this house be able to sell in 10 years?” Richmond says. Even if you might not be interested in living somewhere long term, it is a protection on your investment to think about how big storms, floods, and extreme temperatures might impact the home.
Talk to Experts
Lots of experts are out there to help you make the best decision and green your home once you buy, it if that’s what you choose to do. A Home Energy Rating System Rater (HERS Rater) is an expert accredited to inspect the energy efficiency of the home, to verify sellers’ claims or to see what chances you might have to make efficiency upgrades. You might want to bring in a green builder if you want to talk about the structure and the cost of upgrades like heat pumps, insulation, furnace, or efficient windows.
Make your home efficient. Once you’ve bought a house in a location that makes sense for you in terms of risks, benefits, and affordability, there’s still time to make it the green home you want.
“Sustainability is always a pragmatic choice,” Wheeler says. “Sealing and insulating your home's building envelope gives you the most bang for your buck.” He also recommends knowing the threats your community faces, like earthquakes and wildfires in Portland, and being prepared with two weeks of supplies in case of complete supply-chain disruption.
Keeping the climate crisis in mind while house hunting may mean extra work up front, but in the long run, a resilient home will be more economical, safe, and comfortable for your family.