Monthly Archives

February 2018

What Is a Passive House? The Next Big Thing in Eco-Friendly Building

By | Residential Property

What is a passive house? It’s a home designed to require minimal heating or cooling, making it an eco-friendly and economical choice for home buyers.

While passive houses might not sound all that exciting, they’re stirring up plenty of buzz within real estate circles—and that could mean you’ll see a lot more of them in the near future.

So here’s the lowdown on how they’re built, how much they cost, and everything you need to know about whether a passive house might be right for you.

What is a passive house? How it’s built

To qualify officially as a passive house, a home must meet minimum criteria set by the International Passive House Association. Basically it means a house must consume 86% less energy for heating and 46% less for cooling compared with other code-compliant buildings in the same climate.

To reduce or even eliminate the need for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, a passive house is built airtight, using strong exterior insulation, triple-pane windows, and construction methods that ensure no heat is transferred across the exterior of the building. No outdoor air seeps in, and no indoor air escapes.

Passive houses might also be situated to capture maximum sunlight in the winter and shade in the summer.

“If you have large southern exposure, you might plant a tree there that will drop its leaves in the winter so the sun will come in,” says Douglas McDonald, whose company Purehouse designs and builds passive homes. “But in the summer, the tree grows leaves and provides shade.”

This house in Yamhill County, OR, has won green building awards.
This house in Yamhill County, OR, has won green building awards.Jeremy Bitterman/Holst Architecture

Where to find passive houses

Passive homes are popular in Europe, especially Germany, where energy is expensive. And while passive houses are still rare in the U.S., rising energy costs could change that.

“The first passive houses were built in North America in the ’70s, when energy prices were extremely high, but then oil prices dropped and some people lost interest,” says Michael Knezovich, spokesperson for the Passive House Institute U.S. “It’s only been over the past decade or so that passive houses have taken off here.”

There are only 250 certified passive buildings in the U.S., but the number of projects seeking certification has been growing for many reasons: People crave a smaller carbon footprint, protection from unpredictable energy costs, and the independence of living “off the grid” (many passive houses achieve off-the-grid status with solar panels).

The Vonde family's passive house in Boise, ID, means cozy winters and low energy bills.
The Vonde family’s passive house in Boise, ID, means cozy winters and low energy bills.Gabe Border Photography for Vaughn Yribar Architecture

“It used to be that passive buildings were mostly in the Pacific Northwest, because of the eco-conscious culture there,” says Knezovich, “but we’re now seeing them built in more extreme climates, such as New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.”

The below-freezing winters and scorching summers in Boise, ID, are what led Ann Vonde and her husband to build a passive house there in 2015.

“We were attracted to the energy conservation, both for environmental reasons and to ensure lower energy bills in the future,” says Vonde.

How much does it cost to build a passive house?

Building a passive house will typically set you back 10% to 15% more in upfront costs. But you’ll quickly recoup that initial outlay in lower utility bills, since these homes use up to 90% less energy.

“Last winter was a cold one, and my aunt who lives nearby said her energy bills were around $600, while our highest one was $112,” says Vonde.

But there are also benefits you’ll notice even before your electric bill arrives—Vonde felt the difference right away.

“There are no drafts or hot spots, and it’s extremely comfortable to have the temperature so constant,” she says. “Plus it’s very quiet. We don’t hear any outside noise.”

This traditional-style house was the first passive house in the Washington, DC area.
This traditional-style house was the first passive house in the Washington, DC area.Passive House Institute and Alliance US

Passive house benefits beyond energy conservation

Typically in a passive house, fresh air is brought in, and stale air removed, by a ventilation system, which passes through a filter to remove allergens and pollution. Some passive-house owners find that this reduces smells, and even that they sleep better because the ventilation system prevents carbon dioxide buildup at night.

Passive houses can be especially beneficial to people with allergies or sensitivities to mold and mildew, because their tight envelopes seal out irritants.

“When you have hot and cold air mixing in the walls, you get condensation. Water creates mold and environments for bugs,” says McDonald.

Passive house styles

Passive houses tend to have a modern, minimalist look, all clean lines and expansive windows—but they don’t have to.

“It’s possible to build a very traditional-looking passive house,” says Knezovich. “You’re not limited to saltbox designs.”

But there’s one feature of a traditional home that you probably won’t find in a passive house: a fireplace.

“Fireplaces, stove vents, vented dryers, anything that requires puncturing a hole in the envelope of the house can lead to heat transfer,” points out Vonde. For that reason, she and her husband chose a ventless dryer. “Because it creates heat and humidity in the house, I don’t use it in the summer and line-dry laundry in the sun,” she says.

Although the passive house standard doesn’t require the use of eco-friendly building practices beyond minimizing the energy use of the finished house, most architects and builders who work on passive houses also incorporate nontoxic and sustainably sourced materials.

“While we’re building this very healthy, high-performance envelope, why would you bring in your water through plastic pipes?” McDonald asked. “We try to build without harmful ingredients.”

Source: Realtor

Property up North will BOOM in 2018 – but it’s bad news for London homes

By | Residential Property

THE HOUSING market is set to remain stable overall in 2018, although the number of people buying homes may fall slightly, according to forecasts released this week from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and lender the Halifax.

The outlook from RICS for 2018 would appear to be steady yet subdued, with their forecast suggesting that house price growth in the UK will likely come to a halt over the course of next year as the number of transactions reduces slightly.

However, the overall headline figures from the report are expected to remain neutral due to the fact that price growth in some regions, such as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North West, is likely to offset anticipated declines in London and the South East.

Current indications are that the total number of residential properties sold in 2017 is likely to be approximately 1.2million, which if correct when the final figures are available in January from HMRC, would mean that the market was slightly lower than 2016, when a total of 1.23million residential properties were sold in the UK.

However, the RICS report suggests that it’s possible that fewer homes will be sold next year, predicting that the market looks unlikely to breach 1.2 million sales in 2018.

This is due to a combination of declining numbers of pre-existing homes being offered on the market for sale, together with a lower number of new build properties being available, alongside a backdrop of stretched buyer affordability, tax changes and interest rate rises.

RICS Economist Tarrant Parsons commented on the report: “The indications are that momentum across the housing market will be lacking as 2018 gets underway. With several of the forces currently weighing on activity set to persist over the near term, it’s difficult to envisage a material step-up in impetus during the next twelve months.

“A real lack of stock coming onto the market remains one of the biggest challenges, while affordability constraints are increasingly curbing demand in some parts. Given these dynamics, price growth may fade to produce a virtually flat outturn for 2018.”

Tarrant continues: “That said, despite the recent interest rate hike, mortgage rates are set to remain very favourable, with the prospect of further rises seemingly minimal over the coming year. Alongside this, government schemes such as Help to Buy should continue to provide some support to sales activity.”

A similar message comes from one of the UK’s biggest lenders, the Halifax, who also issued their house price forecast for 2018 this week.  They also suggest that house prices will remain broadly stable in 2018, with house price growth likely to be weakest in London and the South East, although their prediction is slightly more positive with a forecasted average annual rise in property values of up to 3% by the end of 2018.

The Halifax report suggests that the reason for the muted outlook in 2018 is due to the continuing effects of this year’s squeeze on spending power as inflation has outstripped wage growth and the uncertainty regarding the prospects for the UK economy next year.  However, the report also states that, “There is little reason to expect any fundamental shift in the key housing market drivers in the immediate future”.

Halifax Bank’s Managing Director, Russell Galley, said: “In contrast to the trend seen for much of the past decade, latest data indicates that property price momentum was strongest in northern England but weaker in the South East and London.  House prices in relation to average earnings are still very high in London; at 8.8 times annual average earnings they are close to the historical high of 9.

“Additionally, mortgage affordability in London is worse than its long run average, the only region in the UK where this is so. These affordability issues suggest that price growth will continue to remain low. Outside London, there are few signs of significant stresses and imbalances at present, limiting the risk of a sharp slowdown elsewhere.

“House Prices in general are likely to be supported, seeing modest growth in 2018, through the combination of a shortage of properties for sale, continued low levels of housebuilding, low unemployment levels and finally good levels of affordability due to the low interest rate environment. Despite the recent rate rise we do not expect this to have an adverse impact on transactions. A further rate rise is not seen as imminent and we may not see one until the latter part of 2018, if at all.”

So, in simple terms, what does this really all mean?  Well, in London and the South East, 2018 is likely to remain a buyers’ market.  However, outside the Capital and its commuter belt, competition for properties at all levels may see the ‘mini-booms’ we’ve seen in a few regions continue, meaning that sellers in these areas may remain in the driving seat for the foreseeable future.

Source: Express

House price growth in surprise pick-up, says Nationwide

By | Residential Property

Annual house price growth picked up to 3.2% in January, according to the Nationwide building society.

The rate was higher than December’s annual rate of 2.6%. The society said January’s figure was “a little surprising” given signs of weakening consumer activity elsewhere.

It also said that mortgage approvals were at their weakest in three years in December, with 61,000 granted.

That compares with an average of 67,000 approvals in the previous 12 months.

Robert Gardner, the Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months.

“Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”

Analysts said the surprising figures did not change the fundamental state of the UK housing market.

Brian Murphy, from lender the Mortgage Advice Bureau, suggested that a lack of homes for sale meant that if a realistically priced property went on the market, in most areas it was selling at a premium, “even against a backdrop of jitters in terms of consumer spending and stalling wage growth”.

Looking ahead, the Nationwide said that modest growth in the UK economy and a squeeze on household budgets would keep a lid on house price rises. Low unemployment and relatively cheap mortgage rates meant that activity would not drop away entirely.

There was a long-term trend of young adults, aged between 25 and 34, ruling out home ownership entirely, it said.

It pointed to the recently-published English Housing Survey, which showed a significant fall in the proportion of homeowners in this age group over the past 10 years from 57% to 37%.

“Rather than just buying later, some would-be first time buyers are not buying at all, perhaps because of growing affordability pressures,” Mr Gardner said.

Source: BBC UK

Asking prices rising across the UK as sellers make it an active start to 2018

By | Residential Property

Record home hunter activity is fuelling a rise in asking prices in most regions in the UK, led by the Midlands where they are rising three times faster than the national average, the latest index shows.

Overall asking prices increased by 0.8% month on month in February and 1.5% year on year to an average of £300,001, according to the index report from real estate portal Rightmove.

All regions have seen asking price rises on a monthly basis except for a marginal fall of just £131 in the South West but prices here are still 3.3% higher than a year ago and there was a 5.1% monthly rise in Scotland.

Year on year price growth was led by the East Midland and the West Midlands with growth of 6.3% and 4.9% respectively. There was also strong annual growth of 4% in Wales. But in London annual growth was down by 1%.

The index report also reveals that January was the busiest month ever on Rightmove with home hunter visits hitting over 141 million and the number of properties coming onto the market was up by 2% year on year.

‘Whilst it is the norm for new sellers’ asking prices to be buoyant at the start of a new year, this first complete month in 2018 is seeing more pricing optimism than the comparable period in 2017,’ said Miles Shipside, Rightmove director and housing market analyst.

‘The political and economic uncertainty is out of sellers’ control, but they are in control of their asking prices, and in general they are not being overly ambitious or setting too high an asking price. This month’s rise of 0.8 % is well below the 1.6 % monthly average at this time of year over the last 10 years, and it is wise for sellers to be cautious and not to over price given stretched buyer affordability,’ he explained.

He pointed out that it is encouragingly for buyers that more properties are coming onto the market. ‘However, with a myriad of local markets with different supply and demand dynamics, those contemplating a move should monitor their area and use the expertise of local agents with their fingers on the pulse,’ he added.

The data reveals that there are signs that the increased home hunter activity is fuelling a recovery in the number of sales agreed, which in the fourth quarter of 2017 were running at an average drop of 5.5% compared to the previous year.

Taking the first full month of 2018 as a snapshot, sales agreed numbers in January have now recovered to a position where they are down by 1.6% down compared to a year ago. Again there are marked local market differences, but Rightmove’s analysis of properties that have been newly listed since October 2017 and have been marked as sale agreed reveals that six out of the top 10 fastest selling locations are in either the East or West Midlands.

However, top of the quick to sell league is Livingston in Scotland, selling at an average of only 17 days, for those properties that have been newly listed since October 2017 and have sold.

‘Many buyers in the Midlands are willing and able to pay more to secure their future home in a faster selling market, resulting in Midlands prices rising three times faster than the national average. Much of the UK still has momentum, with good buyer demand for the right property at the right price, and the recovery in the number of sales agreed is another indicator of pent up demand keeping the market moving,’ Shipside concluded.

Agents in the Midlands have noted the increase in activity. Halinka Connelly, branch manager at Dixons in Bromsgrove revealed that every property that came to the market at the beginning of the year is now sold, under offer or seeing a very good volumes of viewings. Sales have been at asking price or over.

But prices still need to be realistic, according to Kevin Shaw, national sales director at estate agency Leaders. ‘We are certainly seeing greater market buoyancy in the Midlands, with average prices up around 5% compared with last year. Derby, Mansfield, Loughborough and Kings Norton are notable hotspots at the moment, with homes in these areas selling quickly, often at full asking price,’ he said.

Source: Property Wire



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