Green is the color of envy. It's also the color of environmentalism. And now, according to new research, it's also the color of happiness.

The study by McGraw-Hill Construction and co-sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders found that home owners are happier with their new green homes than with their previous homes, and that they are eager to recommend buying green to others

More importantly, perhaps, the research provides the first estimate of the true size of the green home market, screening out green owners from a representative panel of U.S. home owners.

According to the study, less than 1 percent -- 0.3 percent, to be exact -- of all American homes are truly green; that is, the contain elements of at least three of the five environmental building categories.

"Though it's still a small number, builders are already getting it when it comes to the value of real green homes, and it appears homeowners are too," says Harvey M. Bernstein, vice president of industry analytics at McGraw-Hill.

Researchers found that last year, roughly 2 percent of the residential construction market had at least one green building element, such as energy-efficient appliances. But Bernstein maintains that both builders and their buyers "are really starting to commit to building truly green homes."

They are "moving away from just adding energy efficient appliances or one aspect that's green," he said, and starting to paying more attention than ever "to the holistic benefit of green."

McGraw-Hill's study found that owners are extremely happy with their green homes, with 85 percent happier with their new green homes versus their previous non-green ones. And they're not shy about sharing those feelings.

This finding is "powerful," according to Bernstein, because 28 percent of the owners reported first hearing about green homes through word of mouth.

"We're excited that green homeowners are so happy with their homes and that they're willing to share the good news," says Ray Tonjes, chairman of the NAHB Green Building Subcommittee and a builder in Austin, Texas, who specializes in green house.

"NAHB and its members have been leaders in the voluntary movement to increase the energy and resource efficiency and quality of homes, and it is great news that these consumers are so satisfied with their high-performing homes. Green building's market share will continue to expand."

Here are some of the study's other more interesting findings:

  • The new green homeowner is affluent and well educated, in his/her mid forties and married, and also more likely to be from the Southern or Western states. Women are also more likely to be green homeowners.
  • Operating costs matter. Sixty-three percent report lower operating and maintenance costs as the key motivation behind buying a green home. Less than half report environmental concerns and family health as motivators as the main motivators for going green.
  • Lack of awareness, higher costs and scarcity lead the list of obstacles to going green. The top three obstacles, all hovering over 60 percent of respondents, were oriented around education, additional costs involved in green homes and the availability of the homes. But the single largest hurdle was viewed as education, or the lack thereof.
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