Simple and cost effective ways to green your house.
‘Greening’ your house is an ambiguous term. There are many strategies to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient while lessening your impact on our natural resources and saving you money on your energy bills. Not all strategies work for every house.
An easy place to start is to install a water filter at your kitchen sink. Water filters decrease the need for all those plastic water bottles that end up in the landfills. Water filters also save the energy that it takes to process and transport that purified water to you. Drinking out of a filter vs. buying all those bottles saves you space in your refrigerator, your cabinets, your trash cans and saves you hundreds of dollars over the lifespan of the filter. A good filter will cost you about two hundred dollars a year.
Window tinting or shading of the house is another easy thing to do. Simple tinting of windows that are exposed to the sun much of the day can be a low cost way of keeping your home cool. Window tints also protect furniture and floors from sun damage. Expect to pay about a little over a hundred and fifty dollars a window to have a professional do it for you.
Planting deciduous trees at the southern and western sides of the home will keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Deciduous trees fill in with leaves in the spring then shed in the winter months. This allows passive cooling in the summer months and passive heating during the winter months.
Mow your lawn every other week for a taller lawn. A taller lawn uses less water because it shades itself. This will save you money on the gardener and reduces gas emissions from the lawn mower.
Maintaining your heating and air conditioning system can save money and make your house more comfortable. Older AC systems often develop leaks in the Freon lines so they run with little cooling effect on the house. Re charging a leaking AC system will start at about $500 and you will notice the effects immediately. Older HVAC systems often tend to have leaky ducts that can waste significant energy though their inadequate insulation. Having a qualified HVAC contractor check your system’s Freon levels and check for leaks in your ducts will save you considerable amounts of money. Also do not forget to change the filters at the return air grates every six months. Clogged filters can put undo strain on the systems motor and lead to premature failure.
Upgrading your HVAC system for a new high efficiency model is an expensive investment but well worth it if you have an older system and you intend to stay in your house for over 5 years. Today’s AC systems are averaging near 17 SEER compared to the old 8 SEER systems of yesterday. Newer systems have much better insulation at the ducts through the house. I recommend upgrading your HVAC system if it is 20 years old or older.
Below are some Green Building tips that can help educate and guide you through your remodel.
A cool roof reflects the sun’s heat energy back into the sky.
There are many new products and coverings that can reflect the sun’s energy rather than absorbing the heat.
Reflective roofs and coatings have been used on commercial buildings for years. Most residential roofs are sloped and use asphalt shingles.
Recently reflective asphalt shingles where introduced. This new roofing product reflects 75% of solar radiation. It does this by incorporating reflective granules into the shingle to reflect the sun.
Here are some advantages of a cool roof:
- A cool roof can stay 60 degrees cooler on the hottest days significantly reducing energy costs and increasing occupant comfort.
- Besides increasing the comfort of homes cool roofs curb global warming by decreasing cooling costs. Cool roofs reduce air conditioning use by 10% to 30%.
- Reducing energy during these peak hours reduces the need to build more power plants.
- Cool roofs reduce ‘Heat Island’ effect. Heat Island effect is the increase in temperatures in urban areas cased by the absorption of solar radiation by absorptive materials like black top paving and dark roofs. Heat Island effect can increase temperatures in urban areas from 2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Reflective roofs also last longer which means lower cost of ownership and less waste in landfills.
- Other inexpensive ways to cool your roof are installing proper attic ventilation with attic vents or fans.
- A radiant foil barrier at attic roof rafters will also decrease cooling costs.
Heating and Air Conditioning
Heating and air conditioning systems make your home more comfortable.
Are you getting the most out of your system and the highest efficiency? Many older HVAC systems are inefficient for three reasons: the age of the unit, the unit is not installed or designed properly or because the Freon has leaked out.
Air conditioning systems are rated by SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating). Today it is illegal to install an AC system less than 15 SEER. Some older systems are as low as 8 SEER. To qualify for a Federal Tax credit up to $1500.00 you must install a minimum 17 SEER air conditioner.
Heating is measured in furnace efficiency. While 80% efficiency is common you must install a minimum of a 95% efficiency furnace to qualify for the Federal tax credit.
Here are some tips to optimize the efficiency and comfort of your system:
- Check duct integrity with a flow test. Some systems can leak up to 20% of conditioned air into attic spaces, wasting you money.
- Have a licensed HVAC contractor check the Freon levels.
- Install a digital thermostat or zone dampers for occupancy designed comfort.
- Check compressor to make sure the air flow is not obstructed landscaping or other structures. A clearance of 12″ in all directions will help the compressor work efficiently.
- Improve indoor air quality by installing high quality filters. A high MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) filter can remove bacteria from your living space and is helpful in the treatment of asthma.
- Lastly change filters twice a year. This will decrease the load on your unit, increase the unit’s lifespan and your overall comfort.
A house’s landscape serves many purposes.
Whether it be a place for your kids to play soccer or a place for you to sit back and read a book. To get the most out of your landscape you need to start with a good design.
You can create environmentally conscientious landscape that suits your needs by following these basic suggestions:
- Monitor and maintain irrigation systems by fixing leaks and avoiding overspray.
- Watering at night will reduce evaporation and maximize time for absorption.
- Use ‘Smart Control’ sprinkler timers with integral weather stations that can detect rain and outside temperature and automatically adjust system as needed.
- Use native plants that use less water and help maintain the local ecosystem.
- Native plants helps supports local insects that pollinate and regulate other species.
- Leave grass taller in summer to increase shading and add bark to planter beds to reduce evaporation.
- Minimize grass areas or substitute a traditional lawn for Meadow Grass or Deer Grasses that uses 50 % less water than traditional lawns.
- A typical lawn needs 70 inches of water per year and large amounts of fertilizer that can get into our ground water.
- Los Angeles rainfall averages 14 inches per year that means a lawn needs 56 inches more of water per year.
- Group like species together into micro climates to fine tune watering.
- Encourage water permeable paving to promote absorption into the aquifer.
- Decomposed granite or gravel is a good replacement for previously paved parking.
- Passive heating and cooling can be accomplished by using deciduous plants that shade in summer and allow sun in winter.
- Remove invasive plants. Invasive plants can destroy existing landscapes that act as a home to native species that regulate local environments.
Water heating technology is changing. More efficient options are becoming available every year.
Reducing water consumption and water heating costs are the two most important plumbing issues in your home. Homeowners do not appreciate water as a resource because it is inexpensive and easily available by just turning on the faucet. The city of Los Angeles has been to restricting water usage more and more every year. There are many ways and programs available that vary city by city.
To see what programs apply in your area visit bewaterwise.com.
- Tank water heaters run at about 60% efficiency. Tank heaters are inefficient because you keep water hot all the time. You can increase their efficiency slightly by installing a water heater blanket and setting the thermostat lower. A replacement tank water heater runs about $1800 installed. Many plumbing distributors believe tank water heaters will be phased out in the next ten years because of the higher air quality regulations.
- Tankless heaters run about 85% efficiency. Tank less or ‘On demand’ heaters heat water as needed so they have no passive energy loss. Tank less heaters also use more advanced burners. Tank less heaters run about $4000 installed.
- Condensing water heaters are the future of hot water. Condensing units get their increased efficiency by reusing the exhaust from the heater. Condensing heaters run about $5000 installed but operate at over 95% efficiency.
- Other tips to keep hot water bills down are insulating hot water pipes, employ solar water heating and installing a hot water recirculation pump.
Solar power or Photovoltaic power promises to move us toward a future of clean energy for many of our homes and businesses.
The photovoltaic effect refers to converting solar energy directly into electricity. This is accomplished when energy from the sun hits solar panels and knocks electrons into a higher state of energy. This energy is then harvested as electricity. Photovoltaic may sound complicated but the technology has been understood for over a hundred years.
- Today solar power is everywhere.
- As it becomes more affordable you will continue to see its popularity grow.
- Solar power systems are measured in Kilowatts (KW).
- A typical residential system is between 5-10 KW.
- The location needs to be southern facing with minimal shading during the day.
- The cost for a new system runs about $5000 per KW or $25,000.00 for a 4 KW system.
- The most important thing when installing solar is taking care of the roof.
- It makes no sense to install a solar system before checking the integrity of the roof and protecting it from damage and future leaks.
- The Federal government offers a 30% federal tax credit for new systems.
- The state of California also offers from $1500 to $2000 per KW in rebates.
- Battery backup is available at an additional expense. These systems store energy during the day for night time use.
- A photovoltaic system will one day take advantage of Net Metering. This will give you a near zero electric bill and soon allow you to sell electricity back to your utility.
Incandescent light bulb availability is becoming more limited every year.
- Incandescent bulbs cost $1 and last 1500 hours.
- CFL, Compact florescent light bulbs. Cost $5, last 10,000 hours, 4 X the efficiency of incandescent.
- LED, Light Emitting Diode, Cost $25, lasts 30,000 hours, 10 X the efficiency of incandescent and no mercury like CFLs.
- LED releases light when energy is transmitted from the anode to the cathode.
- LED is the future of lighting.
- Edison has light exchange programs where you can turn in old incandescent fixtures for florescent fixtures.
- Incandescent, CFL and LED all cost approximately the same over the lifespan of the bulb.
- Try using dimmers. Complete lighting is not needed at all times. Dimmers save energy and increase the lifespan of your bulbs.
- Install skylights in your home for passive lighting during the day.
- Use task lighting to focus lighting where it is needed rather than lighting the entire room.
- Use motion sensors for exterior lights so lights are only on when you need them.
- Use photo cells for exterior lighting to prevent leaving lights on during the day.
- Install occupancy sensors for lighting so lights go on only when you need them.
(Lead Paint in pre-1978 homes)
Lead paint was banned in 1978. Lead is present in half the homes built before 1978 and 86% of Homes built before 1940.
Lead has been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous to people and animals. Lead causes Neurological damage and is especially dangerous for children up to 6 years old, heavy exposure may even lead to death. In adults lead exposure can lead to increases in blood pressure and reproductive issues.
On April 22nd of 2010 the EPA implemented the Lead RRP regulations (Remodeling Repair and Painting). The Lead RRP implements guidelines for working on pre-1978 homes.
These regulations are designed to protect the inhabitants of housing for the dangers of lead exposure. These regulations are mainly based on containing the dust and scrapings created by construction. Extensive measures are now taken to contain this dust and to document its containment and disposal.
Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to fines of up to $32,500 and possibly jail. It is very important that homeowners contract with re-modelers and painters who are Lead safe certified.
These regulations do add to the cost of construction. A typical paint job will be around 15% more expensive to adhere to these regulations.
For more information consult the EPA’s web site regarding working on homes pre-1978 at www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm.
Please note tax rebates are constantly changing so please consult your tax accountant.
Windows & Doors
Windows and doors are the largest culprit of energy loss in your home.
- There are two issues with inefficient windows:
- Emissivity or energy transmission through the glass
- Infiltration, windows that leak air.
There are two ways to resolve these problems:
Replacement of old windows with new high performance windows:
Replacement is always the best but is more time consuming and more expensive.
New high performance windows come with Low E (emissivity) glass.
Low E glass reduces energy transmission in and out of the house. Keeping your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Emissivity is measured by U factor. Installing windows with U factor less that 0.30 qualifies toward a $1500 Federal tax credit.
New windows are good at dealing with outdoor air infiltration because of better weather stripping and gaskets at openings.
New high performance windows cost from $1500 to $2000 each installed.
Repairing existing windows:
Old windows can be repaired but this is a less reliable way of dealing with the problems of inefficient windows.
Low E films can be installed on the inside of the glass to reduce emissivity.
Existing gaskets can be repaired and sealants introduced to cut down on infiltration.
A window can be repaired and retrofitted for about $300.