The advent of flipping houses, buying a run-down house and renovating it to make a quick profit has seen a surge with shows such as The Block. While the economics of this as a way of making ‘quick cash’ can be risky, we also wondered what the sustainable design benefits may be – or not.

As the outcome for any flipper is to make a profit from a ‘cheap’ purchase, spending as little as possible and making cosmetic changes rather than structural changes seems to be the advice of many flipping gurus. This can result in using cheaper materials and construction rather than sustainable materials and durable construction practices.

Major structural changes made for cosmetic reasons can impact on passive solar qualities if not properly thought through. As well, changes made for the flipped house may be flipped again with the new owner – wasting even more materials and resources. Furthermore, research has shown that flipping can increase housing prices in once affordable housing areas.

However, research correspondingly shows that sustainable homes are easier to sell. While the term ‘eco-flipper’, doesn’t seem to have hit the Australian shores yet, it is a term being increasingly used in the USA. With houses under foreclosure being sold for ‘a song’, adding substantial infrastructure costs can still be affordable.

For these houses eco-flippers focus on mainly energy saving features such as insulation, energy efficient appliances, skylights, Energy Star water heaters or furnaces, and alternative power sources, like wind and solar. While cosmetic changes may also be provided, these are coordinated with the sustainable features, reducing any conflict.

Sales for these ‘eco-flipped’ houses have apparently been widely popular as home buyers are aware of the savings they are going to reap in the long run. For example, a 1924 Seattle home used 43,000 kWh/yr of energy before the ‘eco-flip’ and 15,000 kWh/yr afterwards. That’s a substantial saving for the new owner and worth the additional costs both for the eco-flipper and the new owner.

Back in Australia where flippers may make a nod to sustainable design through the use of some recycled materials or upcycling old furniture, they may well consider the longer-term benefits of their efforts through more sustainable choices. By implementing only cosmetic changes, many flippers are able to duck under the radar of legislative conditions for more substantial sustainable requirements through NABERS, the NCC and other state-based programs.

However, this fails to address the longer-term benefits (and perhaps profits) of implementing energy and water efficient modifications using sustainable materials and products, looking to the long-term future, rather than only the present.

Image: Single Dwelling Alteration Liveable Design greendesign woodcutters. Photo Credit Chris Crerar.jpg