Apr 042013

Owners of green homes said in a survey that 85 percent of the time they were happier with their new green home, due in part to the lower operating and maintenance costs that come with energy- and resource-efficient homes.

But for the 120 million existing homes in the United States, remodeling is the only way for homeowners to incorporate green. The Greater Houston Builders Association Remodelers Council offers suggestions to homeowners who want to increase their home’s efficiency, decrease costs and take advantage of the benefits that going green offers.

Install maximum insulation in the area to be remodeled. Forty percent of energy consumed in a typical house goes to heating and cooling. Adding insulation is an easy way to increase efficiency. Insulation is rated by its ability to resist heat flow, known as “R-value.” The higher the R-value, the better it resists heat flow. Adding insulation will help save energy costs, increase comfort by better controlling temperature, and improve indoor air quality by eliminating gaps through which dirt, dust and other impurities can enter.

Install high-efficiency windows instead of those that just meet the energy code. Ordinary window glass transmits ultraviolet heat rays, which can increase air conditioning bill dramatically. Energy Star windows can help control this. These windows may have two or more panes, warm-edge spacers between the panes, improved framing materials and microscopically thin metal or metallic oxide layers on windows to reduce radiative heat flow.

Seal all exterior penetrations in the area being remodeled. Reduce cold air drafts and heat loss by inspecting your home from the inside and outside and plugging cracks or openings. Be sure to check areas where window frames meet the structure or siding of the house. Use caulking to seal small cracks on non-moving surfaces and weather stripping on windows, doors and other movable parts of the home.

Purchase Energy Star-rated appliances. Energy Star-rated appliances, ranging from dishwashers and refrigerators to computers and televisions, meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. Qualified refrigerators, dishwashers and vent fans incorporate advanced technologies that use 10-50 percent less energy and water than standard models.

Install low-flow plumbing fixtures. In the average home, flushing toilets accounts for some 30 percent of water usage. By using low-flow plumbing fixtures such as toilets, faucet aerators and showerheads, you can save up to 25 percent of that water compared to conventional fixtures while providing the same utility.

Upgrade to an Energy Star-rated or tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters provide hot water on demand at a preset temperature rather than storing it. Replacing an electric water heater with a solar model can reduce costs by up to 80 percent a year. During its 20-year life span, a solar heater will prevent more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A low-cost option is to wrap insulation around your heater, which can reduce standby heat losses 25 to 45 percent.

Purchase the highest efficiency HVAC system you can afford. Over a 10-year period, the average homeowner spends more than $10,000 for heating and cooling. Installing high-efficiency Energy Star HVAC equipment can reduce utility costs on average by 10 to 30 percent over minimum efficiency equipment. It can improve home comfort with more heating and cooling and a quieter operation, and often features higher-quality components that result in longer equipment life.

Original article.

Apr 042013

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ll have heard the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ bandied around a lot by politicians, councils, and even your family and friends. What exactly does this mean though and, perhaps more importantly, why should you care about it?

Carbon footprint explained

Simply put, a carbon footprint is the volume of carbon dioxide, or CO2, that a person uses up in their daily life. Often, the figure is worked out in tons per year and can apply to businesses or even whole countries. China, incidentally, had the biggest carbon footprint at the last estimate in 2010, consuming 9,700,000 tons of CO2.

While you may not have much control over what the world expends carbon wise, you do have the power to make small changes to your life that can drastically reduce your footprint. You’ll be benefitting the planet, your children (if you have any), and your pocket too. What’s more, many of the changes are very easy to make.

Your daily life

Another phrase you’re bound to have come across is the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra. In essence, this means to look closely at your daily life and work out how you can meet your needs without buying more than you require. So, if you have a lot of pets, try buying their food in bulk. This means less CO2 is produced for the packaging and you’ll often find bulk bags are much cheaper.

If you have small children, beg and borrow equipment and clothes from family and friends, and consider reusable nappies. Given that the average nappy bill from birth to potty is around $3,000, you will save a significant amount of money, especially if you reuse these nappies for subsequent children.

Whatever your lifestyle, don’t buy new unless you absolutely have to.

Switching off

Appliances – whether it’s a television, microwave or food blender – consume electricity as long as they’re plugged in at the wall. To avoid this waste of your money, switch them off at the wall, or better still, unplug them completely.

When you need to replace these items, consider an energy efficient model and better still, see if you can get this model second hand.

You could also consider getting an eco-shower head, which can help you save up to $134 on your water bill each year, if you’re on a meter.

Keeping warm inside

Very few people remain calm when you mention heating bills these days. In order to get your costs under control, make sure you keep your home snug. This means getting rid of any draughts (hold a lit candle near to your doors and windows to check for these – if the flame flickers, you’ve got a draught) and ensuring you have cavity wall and loft insulation and underlay. Fitting these types of insulation comes at a very low cost and in some areas may even be free. Check with your local authority or your energy provider to see whether they would insulate your home free of charge.

Check that your hot water tank has a jacket on, and consider the surrounding pipes too. Getting a jacket and pipe lagging should cost you less than $45 and they are incredibly easy to fit.

You could also take some of Grandma’s advice too and invest in a house coat – or, a nice fleece or cardigan that is easy for you to pull on if it’s chilly at home. Even turning your thermostat down a degree or two can save 300kg of carbon dioxide a year and, best of all, you won’t even notice.

Make sure that you have a snug fitting front door and windows as well. Modern windows are very energy efficient, so if your home has single-glazed windows, you could save up to $465 a year. Some local authorities offer incentives, so make sure you take advantage of these – just phone them and ask.

Let it shine – efficiently

Don’t have energy efficient light bulbs yet? Well, go and get some!

Just one efficient bulb can save you around $5 a year, so the average home could save $80 each year. As well as this, energy efficient bulbs last much, much longer than older filament bulbs – usually around 10 years.

Following your dad’s advice and switching the light off when you leave a room is sensible too. You can even have motion sensors fitted to your home that will automatically switch off your lights when you leave the room.

The possibilities of reducing your footprint really are endless, as new technologies emerge, so give it a try and see how far you go.

Remember, you only need to take baby steps to reduce your carbon footprint. Once these changes become routine, pick up another habit – soon enough you’ll be a proper eco-warrior!

Katherine Shields is a part-time journalist who lives in the United Kingdom and likes to think of herself as bit of an eco-warrior. She’s quite tech savvy and loves thinking up innovative ways of saving energy and stopping wastage around the home. When she’s not pottering around in her organic garden, she works for a local double glazing centre on the Wirral in Cheshire. For more information, visit http://www.linwoodwindows.co.uk/

Apr 042013

Green home improvements can increase a property’s real estate value by an average of 9 percent, finds a California-based study released recently.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles examined data on 1.6 million single-family homes sold between 2007 and 2012 in the California residential marketplace for an economic analysis of the value of green home labels.

Of the homes analyzed, 4,300 were certified with green home labels from Energy Star, GreenPoint Rated or LEED for Homes.

They found that, based on the average California home price of $400,000, homes with a green label sell for an average of $34,800 more than comparable homes without a green label.

The analysts found evidence of what they dubbed the “Prius effect” in areas where a high value or premium was placed on a green labeled home.

The “Prius effect” was a positive correlation between a home’s price premium and the environmental ideology of the area as measured by the rate of registration of hybrid vehicles.

According to the researchers, in communities with a strong prior dispositions to thinking “green” – as evidenced by owning a “green” vehicle such as a hybrid – residents seem more inclined make or look for green improvements to their homes.

“In communities with strong environmental values, residents may see green homes as a point of pride or status symbol,” said Nils Kok, visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley and lead researcher in the study.

While the price premium varied considerably from region to region in California, the analysis also found that it is highest in the areas with hotter climates.

“It appears that a hotter local climate also provides a practical reason to value green homes. With both ideological and pragmatic reasons to go green, it’s no surprise that the popularity of these labels is rising,” said Mr. Kok.

Growing awareness about global warming and the extent of greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector has increase attention to green building in recent years. Benefits of green homes are said to be lower utility bills due to greater energy and water efficiency; higher quality construction; more comfortable and stable indoor temperatures; healthier indoor air quality; and other environmentally desirable features such as proximity to parks and shops and access to alternative or car-free transport.

Coming at the heels of the University of California, Berkeley and U.C.L.A. study comes three in-depth case studies of green homes – this time focused in Los Angeles County – that found green upgrades also increased their value by 9 percent.

The case studies, funded by the Energy Upgrade California in Los Angeles County and the Green Label Rebate Program evaluated three Los Angeles County homes before and after they received green and energy upgrades and the GreenPoint Rated label.

Following the green upgrade and labeling, the appraised value of the homes was found to have increased by 5.5 to 9 percent.

The Kienzie House, located in Whittier, had a home value of $720,000 before its green upgrades. After improving the insulation and air sealing of attic and walls and installing better shower valves, a pool pump and weather stripping, a reduction in energy costs of $2,237 a year was achieved and the house was valued at $765,000.

The Brown House in Los Angeles installed similar insulation and water reduction upgrades as the Kienzie House and added solar panels and a heating and air conditioning system with duct enhancements for a reduction in energy costs of $1,600 per year. This also raised the houses value from $475,000 to $500,000.

Lastly, the Gerardo House in San Fernando achieved the biggest increase in home value, from $420,000 to $460,000 with energy reduction costs of $1,963 per year. The Gerardo house improved its insulation, heating and cooling system, pool pump, roof, and also installed solar panels.

Other local residents who wish to follow in the footsteps of these three houses can also earn up to $2,000 in rebates for a green label on their home and an additional $8,000 in rebates for energy and green upgrades through the Energy Upgrade California in Los Angeles County.

It’s estimated that the residential sector in the United States accounts for 33 percent of its energy consumption with a total expenditure of $166 billion in 2010. Increasing the energy efficiency of housing can provide cost savings for consumers as well as help the country meet its emission reduction goals.

By EcoSeed Staff

Apr 042013

“Green” homes aren’t plentiful and materials aren’t cheap. Here’s what to consider before you search.

With Earth Day approaching, the media will soon be singing the praises of people living off the grid with solar panels and water reclamation systems. Meanwhile, if you’re in the market to buy a house, you’re probably hearing about eco-friendly homes and wondering: How can I get in on the action?

Hint: It isn’t as easy as it looks. But if you want to buy a house that’s in harmony with the environment, here are a few points to consider that may help you prepare for your search.

Be ready to look (and look, and look). Environmentally friendly houses and even neighborhoods that are sensitive to the environment are out there, but they are not as plentiful as you might think. Your search will require some patience.

“We don’t get a huge demand in the Northeast from people who want homes constructed with environmentally friendly materials—not as much as you’ll find in the Midwest and South,” says Chris Masiello, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, which is based in Keene, N.H.

What constitutes environmentally friendly materials? Generally, green builders utilize components that are recycled or have been salvaged from other houses or buildings that were torn down. Sometimes, it’s a matter of getting materials locally instead of shipping them from across the country or world. Houses constructed from those materials may be in short supply, but according to Masiello, at least in his part of the country, it is becoming more common to see green add-ons to homes like wind turbines and solar panels.

It is still rare, however. No matter what area of the country you’re looking for a house, unless you’re incredibly lucky or well-connected, you’re going to search for a while before finding your dream eco-home—even on websites designed to help people who are concerned about keeping the planet clean, like GreenHomeFinder.com, which features some perfectly good homes but not enough of them. If you check out quite a number major cities and states, you’ll turn up nothing.

“Eco-friendly, sustainable houses are not mainstream,” says Timothy Woods, both an architect and an architecture professor from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Be ready to spend. That is a big reason the 21st century isn’t yet full of solar-paneled houses built out of recycled steel and walls that are insulated with old denim jeans. These homes are expensive.

“Most new-construction, sustainable houses are more costly than new-construction standard houses,” Woods says, adding that the homes may save money in the long run, but buyers have a tough time getting past those initial costs, which are often 20 to 30 percent higher than conventionally constructed homes.

Woods says he has designed eco-friendly, sustainable houses that are below the average building cost and have energy bills that are one-third of the average home. The trick, he says, is for the architect to design the house to fit the environment. “In other words, it’s better to use an inexpensive window positioned in the right place to take advantage of natural heating and cooling than to place an expensive window in the wrong place to try to solve for a house design that does not take advantage of its natural environment,” he says.

Masiello says eco-friendly homes in the Northwest are even more expensive than those in other parts of the country, due to the terrain and weather, explaining: “Construction costs are higher than in most parts of the country, and you wind up with snow loads on roofs. Houses tend to have to be built with much greater materials, which adds to the costs.”

Be ready to build. Because eco-friendly homes aren’t part of the mainstream yet, you will probably have to hire a builder if you want a house that doesn’t rob resources, or many, off the electric grid. A builder is also likely necessary if you’re seeking a house that conserves water, with elaborate filtration systems that allow the home to recapture lost, usable water, often called greywater (such as water that runs while you’re doing dishes; it is never water from a toilet), which can be utilized for watering gardens, trees and flowers in the yard.

As noted, building an eco-friendly home won’t be cheap, although the costs vary. “It really depends on the geographic region,” says Woods. “California can range from $150 to $250 per square foot. My house [in Georgia] was $75 per square foot.”

If you can’t find an eco-home, you can always add features to an existing house, although that won’t be inexpensive, either. According to a recent issue of Sierra, the Sierra Club’s magazine, the average rooftop solar array in the United States costs about $20,000, although federal and state tax credits can bring that number down significantly.

And if you can’t afford to build and can’t find a home that makes you feel you’re doing something worthy for the environment, take heart that you may still end up doing a lot of good with the house you buy. After all, if you purchase a small home instead of a large house with extra rooms you don’t need and high ceilings, you’ll use fewer natural resources for your energy than the homeowner who lives large.

Furthermore, keep in mind that if you are building a sustainable home, no matter how environmentally friendly the building materials are, there’s almost always a negative cost to the environment when building anything. (Those environmentally friendly materials have to be transported by train, truck or something that uses gas.)

Surreal as it may sound, homeowners who buy a house that’s already been lived in are being better stewards of the environment—at least in the short term—than the environmentally conscious homeowner who builds a new sustainable home from scratch.

By Geoff Williams   Original article here.

Apr 042013

A home called the Treehouse Project is the result of a dream of village resident Merilee Marshall.

“I named it the treehouse because I would rather live in a tree than anywhere else, and trees harvested from the property were used to build it.”

The custom-built, 4,200-square-feet “green” house was designed and built with energy-saving features. Now, it has been awarded the platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design organization of the U.S. Green Building Council. It was recognized for being energy and resource efficient and being more heal-thy and durable for its occupants.

The platinum rating is the highest rating for a green and energy-efficient home. The Treehouse Project is the first custom home in Northeast Ohio to achieve the LEED platinum certification. It was designed by David Krebs of AODK architectures in Lakewood and built by Payne and Payne Builders in Munson.

LEED-certified homes undergo a process that includes onsite inspections to verify that the home is built to be energy and water efficient, environmentally sound and a healthier place to live.

South Russell did building inspections on the house from start to finish, said David Hocevar, the village’s building commissioner. “It’s the first and only platinum house in the county. There is a lot of interest in green houses today.”

Ms. Marshall has had a dream all of her adult life to design and build a home. Located on Bell Road, it’s built with energy-saving features that include a solar panel roof and geothermal heating system with radiant heat in the floors.

“I decided in 2008 if I was going to do it, it was now or never,” she said, adding she met Mr. Krebs in church.

The house was built with local products, Ms. Marshall pointed out. “All the flooring, cabinets and woodwork were made from maple trees I had to clear from the property.”

Local limestone was used, along with other products that created as little waste as possible. “Recycled materials were also used where it made sense,” she said. “We weighed the cost vs. green products. I wanted to make this house a prototype for Northeast Ohio.”

Solar Voltaic panes are used on the roof to harvest energy from the sun. A geothermal system installed in the ground is a network of pipes that harvests energy from the ground to heat the house.

The project includes energy-efficient windows, high-efficiency lighting fixtures and high-density, recycled, wool-cellulose insulation.

The solar system feeds into the electrical grid. “I don’t pay gas or electricity eight months out of the year,” Ms. Marshall said. Although she pays $30 a month in taxes and fees to have a gas account, she’s almost eliminated gas usage. “I get credit for what I produce, and it goes to the meter and turns the meter back.”

Materials that do not deteriorate were used. There is no copper piping, which leaches and seeps into ground water. There are no wood preservatives on the outside deck, which is made of materials that do not have to be preserved.

Siding is cement instead of wood and is made of recycled materials instead of a petroleum product. It lasts longer than wood prevents the use of trees. It’s also more air tight than vinyl siding, according to Mike Payne of Payne and Payne builders.

Mr. Krebs said his architectural firm is doing more designing of energy-efficient, green homes. The design of the Treehouse Project took more than a year and much research.

The platinum award is the highest category in the LEED program, Mr. Krebs said. “This is only the fourth custom home to get this award. It’s very exciting.”

The house on three acres has three bedrooms, three full baths and two half baths. It includes a playroom for the grandchildren.

Ms. Marshall credits interior designer Kathleen O’Neill with the inside layout with large windows that let in light from every angle.

“I like the outdoors, and I wanted a lot of windows,” the homeowner said.

Outside, she planted all native plants with no grass. Along with bushes and trees, there are rock pathways. Rain gardens retain water running off the roof for water management. The patio is made of bluestone, a natural stone from Pennsylvania.

Ms. Marshall’s house was featured in a green home tour in 2010 sponsored by the Home Builders Association and in landscaping tours.

While she did not save on the cost of construction, that is typical in building a green house, she explained. While costs are more than a traditional home, over the years a traditional home costs more to maintain. “That is one reason why it is sustainable.”

Ms. Marshall has lived in the area and in other houses for about 40 years. She indicated she would build again if the opportunity arose. “I have more ideas.”

By JOAN DEMIRJIAN Original article here

Apr 042013

Seems the trend towards living a “greener” life is really gaining momentum. Some cities in California have enacted codes that all building upgrades must be done with an eye toward the future. Meaning greater energy-efficiency, more recycled materials, and less environmental impact. There are even tax incentives for homeowners who take the time to make their homes more green.

I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled. Living a healthy lifestyle has always been important to my husband and me, it’s a value we try to encourage in our children as well. As such, we’ve been committed to creating a greener home for some time now. We want to live long and healthy lives, and we feel the home we live in should contribute to that. Simple things like installing central ventilation in our compactly built home helps keep the air we breathe clean.

“It’s Not Easy Being Green” – Kermit the Frog

It’s hard for me to say that a Muppet may be mistaken, but there seems to be some confusion around what it means to be “green”, let alone live in a “green house”. Most jump to the conclusions of solar panels, water catchments, outdoor showers, composting toilets and going “off-grid”.

While this is true for some, it’s not the prevailing case. For all our green leanings, my husband and I are far from the hippie extremist stereotype. Instead, we thought it was just smarter to make some simple changes that have resulted in a more energy-efficient home that is less wasteful of precious resources (like water) and more healthy for our entire family.

Simple Green

  • Seal Ducts, Doorways, and Windows – Possibly the fastest, least expensive way to make your home more energy efficient is to seal any cracks around ducts, windows and doorways. Any place where your heated or cooled air can escape equates to money down the drain, so seal up these gaps tight, indoors and out.
  • Low-Flow Plumbing – There’s already a worldwide shortage of drinking water, why flush it down the pipes, literally? Low-flow plumbing equates to less water wasted, and more dollars earned in the long-run. Contrary to what episodes of King of the Hill would have us believe, low-flow toilets are able to handle quite a load (pun intended?) without needing extra flushes.
  • Get on a Schedule – Our energy bills dropped dramatically when we put our thermostat and refrigerator on a timer. Automatic thermostats are becoming fairly popular and are easy to install, but few people think to put their refrigerator on a timer as well. This single appliance accounts for a significant amount of energy usage per day, a couple of hours of down-time each day has no negative effects on the food stored within yet it adds up to significant savings each month.
  • Upgrade to Energy-Star – All of our appliances are certified as energy-star, even our windows have the energy-star seal, so we can rest easy knowing that our home is energy-efficient, more green, and has a higher market value as a result of these simple changes.
  • Insulate the Attic – All the duct-sealing in the world won’t reduce your energy bill if all of your heat is escaping through the roof. A simple Do-It-Yourself installation of fiberglass insulation in the attic or having spray foam insulation installed by a professional keeps warm air (in the Winter) and cool air (in the SUmmer) contained within your house, so you won’t have to constantly fiddle with the thermostat.
  • Use Recycled/Reclaimed Materials – Perhaps my favorite way that my family has gone green is in our very own backyard. We built several raised garden beds and planted them full of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens. We’ve reduced our carbon footprint in two ways. First, we don’t need to go to the grocery quite so often now that we grow much of food, and second, we purchased the building materials from a local dealer who sells lumber reclaimed from demolished buildings.

That’s Something You Can Take to the Bank

By investing in greener options for our home, we not only enjoy increased savings as the year goes on, we’re able to rest easy knowing that we are providing a healthy home for our children. From LED light bulbs to aluminum gutters, we’re constantly looking for ways we can invest in the continued upkeep of our home, not just for financial gain, but mostly for the peace of mind it brings.

Written by Sophie Evans. Original post in Energywise Blog

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