The Greenwashing Effect

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service (courtesy

Like many others, I’m getting tired of all the companies and agents jumping on the preverbial “green” bandwagon with misleading and downright bogus claims of energy efficiencies and being environmentally friendly.

They call what they are building or selling a “green home”, or that it “meets standards” or has some special “designation” they made up that is not recognized by any legitimate organization. They will use terms like “energy efficient materials” or “EnerGuide rated” or say the house is “recognized”. What they don’t tell you is what “standards” they mean, who recognizes them or what the EnerGuide rating actually is. I could have a barn EnerGuide rated – the rating would be awful, but it would be “rated”. And what are these “materials” and how, exactly, are they integrated into the building envelope where they are used in what system?

You’ll hear talk of how a house has an efficient heating system, perhaps using an ETS (Electric Thermal Storage) unit that uses off-peak cheaper electricity, or a heat pump or other systems. What you don’t often hear is details of how the house is actually built to take advantage of these systems and require a small-capacity unit. Simply having an expensive ETS unit or heat pump installed is no measure of a house’s efficiency and may only mean wasting cheaper electricity.

When you start asking pointed questions (as I did of one agent making all sorts of claims in a public ad) you get some really vague non-answers and a very obvious run-around on the subject. Many are misleading the public in the hopes of coercing people into buying their products.

Do your homework on how a house is made to be truly efficient (insulation systems, heating/cooling systems) and start asking questions of a builder or selling agent. If they can’t give you specific answers that line up with your research, then you may need to think twice about what you are considering buying. Your home is a huge investment and in today’s environment, with the available technology and products, there is no excuse for a new home to be an energy-waster. We cannot afford it.

Andrew W. Alcorn, CET

Innova Builders, Inc.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Laurie on August 3, 2010 at 6:31 pm


    I couldn’t agree more with your comments. It’s not just houses either it’s all kinds of products.

    From looking at houses lately, my husband and I have seen these claims and been confused about what they all mean. Everyone seems to think their houses are the best but when we did do some research we found that none of the houses were actually build to a high standard of efficiency.

    What should someone look for?

    Confused in NB


    • Hi Confused,

      You need to look for documentation on the house. If it has an EnerGuide rating, then the builder should have no problem giving you a complete copy of the report. If you still are unsure at all, call the company who performed the testing and wrote the report and ask them some questions to confirm what is in the report.

      Another thing you can do is ask specific questions about the house’s construction, especially when it comes to insulation systems and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) systems. Ask about Energy Star windows and doors. The builder should be able to give very specific answers, not including “it’s really good”, or “it’s up to code”, or “don’t worry, it’s ok”, etc. Any reputable, honest builder will have the information specifics you need.

      Go visit another house the builder may have under construction to see how they do things. Ask around to see if anyone knows the subtrades the builder uses and do research on them as well. And see if you can find some other people who have done business with this builder (preferably not the ones the builder tries to send you to) and find out about their experiences.

      Again, it comes down to you doing some homework and educating yourself somewhat on what is, and is not, a good system so you can identify with the answers you get. Watch some episodes of Holmes on Homes or the new Holmes Inspection, or other new building/renovation shows to see what happens if you don’t get things done right. You are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in your home and deserve to know that you have invested wisely.

      Remember – when it comes to building a home for your family, the lowest price often means low quality, higher energy bills and a host of headaches for you down the road. Protect your investment, and “insulate” yourself from ever-increasing energy costs that take an ever-bigger bite out of your pocket every month.

      Andrew W. Alcorn, CET

      Innova Builders, Inc.


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