The knock against environmental upgrades to new or existing homes has been they're too costly for many owners, particularly on the front end.

But green builders and eco-friendly construction backers are calculating how power-reducing steps offer savings short or long term and bring higher values for homes when they're up for sale.

Among the groups to weigh in recently is the Chicago-based Appraisal Institute, which calls itself the nation's largest professional association of real estate appraisers.

The organization in an early October disclosure says it's encouraging home sellers to consider making energy-efficient improvements to properties while urging house hunters to look for properties with the green features.

"The latest research shows that green and energy-efficient home improvements have the potential to pay dividends for buyers and sellers," says Appraisal Institute President James L. Murrett, who is a designated Member of the Appraisal Institute (MAI) and Senior Residential Appraiser (SRA).

“However, it depends on the improvements made. Some green renovations, such as adding Energy Star appliances and extra insulation, are likely to pay the homeowner back in lowered utility bills relatively quickly,” he says.

At the same time, owners may be eligible for federal tax credits if they purchase energy-efficient equipment or renewable power system for a home, according to the Appraisal Institute.

The group highlighted recent research it says confirms that energy-efficient homes sell for more than non-green properties, including:

  • An analysis of 2015-17 sales in northern California showing a nearly 2.2 percent average sale price premium for green upgrades.
  • Sales tracking in Virginia for the past two years noting a 5 percent price boost for properties earning a green home certification in areas that "established a presence and agents are effectively marketing the certification."
  • A report on the value of green homes in the Austin-Round Rock, Texas, real estate market reviewing sales figures 2008-16 showing that green-designated houses sell for more than those without the title and properties with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification sell at an 8 percent higher price.

According to the institute, "The green building trend is expected to continue growing in the coming years." It cited a National Association of Home Builders survey in April that  expects the number of home builders with most if not all of their projects involving green construction to jump from 19 percent in 2017 to 31 percent in the next four years. Remodelers foresee a nearly two-fold rise from 12 percent to 23 percent in the five year period.

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The U.S Green Building Council, meanwhile, notes that at least 370,105 residential properties have earned LEED certification as of last October, and "both certified single-family homes and multifamily projects are selling faster and for more money than comparable, conventional homes."

It points to a study on green properties in the California housing market noting that the green share of new single family residential construction grew "dramatically" from 2 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013. "This 23 percent market share equates to a $36 billion market opportunity," the research shows.

The council reports that green products boost home values. LEED-certified homes are built to use 30-60 percent less energy on the standard $2,150 residential energy bills a year; and green homes' average upfront costs of 2.4 percent are "quickly recouped as a homeowner will save money for the duration of the home's lifespan."

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At the same time, energy-efficient construction is becoming a big business: the 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study, prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton and released by the council, found that the green market is expected to grow from $55 million in 2015 to $100.4 million in 2018, a year-over-year growth of 24.5 percent.

According to the council, the top 10 states in order of LEED-backed construction by square feet per capita are Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, New York, California, Nevada, Maryland, Virginia, Washington and Texas.

Austin-based Excel Green Builders promotes energy-efficient construction on its website, employing a quote from a respected scientist on its potential benefits.

"As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions. The same opportunity lies before us with energy efficiency and clean energy," says Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize co-winner for Physics.

Excel Green Builders notes, "Choosing to build a green or energy efficient home does add an extra expense, but the return on the upfront investment for building a green or high performance home is shorter than most people think."

The costs to upgrade an existing home to a "passive" house, which includes low-energy green features, works out to 5-10 percent more than a conventional home, it says. Meanwhile, the passive home's overall energy demand is reduced 50 percent from a basic home, according to the green builder.

Excel Green Builders further broke down the costs of "improving the thermal performance of a home to a passive house standard" including 1-3 percent increase for framing labor, 1-3 percent more for framing material, 1-3 percent higher for windows, 1-2 more for insulation, 1-2 percent for an energy recovery ventilator and a 2-4 percent cost reduction in the heating and cooling system.