I am contemplating buying/building a house, for the first time, with no deadline. I haven't selected a site yet (I know that changes things) but I want to know what I can expect. How does the intial cost of a sustainable energy home typically compare with a less green option?
This of course depends on a lot of different factors. But… for the most part it really doesn't cost as much as many people think. Since you are building a home instead of trying to remodel a home it makes things much less expensive. Many people think that to be “sustainable” everything needs to be run entirely off of solar and will cost a fortune. This is very wrong.
First you need to figure out where most of the energy in your home is going to be used.
2. Water heating
3. Major appliances
4. lighting & smaller appliances
So if you can reduce the energy needed by the largest energy users you can almost elminate your energy bill.
Like the first person answered, GEOTHERMAL heating/cooling system. This is something that anyone building a new home that has enough yard to bury some pipes should get. My sister just built a house with one of these systems and it only cost them $3000 more than a traditional system and they will have twice the heating/cooling power. And the system will have paid for itself after 3 years.
The department of energy's page about Geothermal heat pumps
2nd… Heating your water. This is another huge energy use in the home. This can also be done using some Geothermal systems or you can go solar. Using solar Thermal collectors is a great way to heat your water. This method has been used for a long time and is also used in industrial situations for hotels and outdoor swimming pools. A new system for residential can cost around $5000.
Check out this company just for kicks, they build some of the biggest solar heating systems in the world for resorts and Olympic pools.
Spending more on better isulation, windows, and doors is another way to save on energy. People don't realize how much of a difference that can make. You save maybe $20-50 on a cheaper window but in the long run you would be saving a LOT more by getting the better one.
You can add energy generating devices to your home for a lot less than you might think. And by using the solutions above the remaining energy needs should be significantly reduced. A grid-tied windmill that can supply 1000+ KWH a month is only about $5000.
Places like this offer packages for all types.
Most of the places I listed here offer assistance or install by professionals but you can also do a lot of it yourself without having to go to school to know how.