The real estate industry is failing South Florida by neglecting to do its part to mitigate sea-level rise.
As the internet-based real estate company Zillow grows, it can help correct that failure by creating a market for rental units with solar panels or exceptional energy efficiency.
Rental unit owners or managers often pay for solar arrays or energy efficiency upgrades, but tenants often receive all of the savings. The result is that few owners install these technologies, which help reduce the emissions that contribute to the warming climate.
As an environmental engineer, I know about these missed solar and efficiency opportunities from having worked for years performing energy audits on rental housing.
The urgency of the climate crisis demands that all of us—as individuals, faith groups, businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations—do everything we can to fight climate change. So, the real estate industry generally and Zillow specifically should do their part by creating a marketplace where renters can find and compare homes with solar and exceptional energy efficiency.
Surely Zillow can tweak its standard rental listing format to add a pair of checkboxes that enable new search filters:
- Does the property or unit have a solar array installed on site?
- Has the property or unit earned a Passive House, LEED Platinum, ASHRAE, Energy Star, or other quantified and verifiable certification for exceptional energy efficiency?
If solar and efficiency became more visible in rental listings, there would be some financial motivation for property managers and owners to invest in them. Units that have them would stand out and be seen by a larger, better targeted audience.
This would reduce the risk of a unit going unrented and make it easier for an owner to find renters who would pay their rent promptly and take good care of their units.
Renters pay more if a unit has the amenities they want. Solar and efficiency are no different, especially when renters can recoup part of their rent through lower power bills. One reason it’s difficult for rental properties with solar or efficiency investments to recoup their costs is because it’s difficult for prospective renters to find properties with those features.
Zillow is perfectly positioned to catalyze this real estate evolution. Its reach is huge. Its website boasts of a database of more than 110 million U.S. homes. Zillow can also go beyond the rental market to encourage solar and efficiency in the home sales market.
This is a great opportunity to implement a climate solution that makes housing rental platforms more valuable for both lessors and lessees. No one has to take any political risk or make any sacrifices. It is market-based and purely voluntary.
We all need to search for creative solutions. Zillow and the rest of the real estate industry can get started by implementing these proposals.
Spencer Almen is a renewable energy professional with experience in wind and solar energy and energy efficiency in buildings.
“The Invading Sea” is part of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.