Building a Greener World, One Building
at a Time
with Erica Edmond
With ongoing concerns about rising energy costs and
conservation, green building is a reality that speaks to the project
manager within us all. Networks like Planet Green and HGTV have been
dipping their toe into how to “green your home” with simple
solutions like switching to different light bulbs or choosing an
interior paint with a low-VOC. That is a great start to a greener
lifestyle, but let’s dig a little deeper.
There are many other things to consider and execute
to fully renovate your home or to even consider when purchasing a
new home. A big one for most people is to find ways to identify and
correct energy leaks through insulation.
The Whole is Greater
Than Its Parts:
People often think of insulation in parts, i.e.
insulating one room or one area of the home, but to truly spend less
energy heating or cooling your home, you need to look at your home’s
insulation as a whole. For example, you may want to insulate an
unfinished attic. All measures may be taken to ensure that energy
does not leak from the attic, but your efforts will be fruitless if
you do not also properly insulate your walls and your basement.
If your project is
not a gut-renovation, there are few options to serve as a band-aid
in the interim.
Air Leaks and
Stop the air leaks in the building envelope
(perimeter walls, unheated basement ceiling and roof). An air
leak usually occurs around windows, doors, outlets and small
cracks in the floors and the walls.
Paint it Green:
We’ve all heard about hazardous fumes that we
breathe in from interior paints, and household cleaners. Switch
to zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint. You can find
these paints in a wide variety of colors and they are available
in both interior and exterior grade. A lot of brands are
offering a zero VOC line. Make sure you pay attention to
formaldehyde content in millwork and furnishing.
Walls Need to
Walls need to “breathe” (taking up vapor from the
air in humid conditions and release vapor into the air if it is
dry inside) in order to handle the captured moisture content of
the air. Gain control over the air movements to increase the
benefit of the costly insulation. If your home is standard wood
and sheet rock, consider introducing a whole-house mechanical
ventilation program to protect your insulation investment.
Ace the Test:
Try the “blower door test” to identify leaks.
This should be done by a professional, and will would take out
the guess work from your plans and help greatly in the
contractor’s bid evaluation process.
Out the Window:
If your house is
drafty, old windows could be your biggest problem. This should
be in balance with the total insulation value of the house.
Replace drafty windows that have low insulation value.
Retire Your HVAC
If the HVAC system in your house is more than 20
years, you should consider replacing the system. There are very
sophisticated furnaces that run on 90% efficiency. After going
through the previous steps, you may find that your house
requires a smaller system, which could save big bucks in the
long term. If you live in a cold climate, it is a good idea to
install an Energy Recovery Ventilator that transfers heat from
the warm air that leaves the house to the cold air that enters
the house in case you have mechanical ventilation.
Consider installing dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads &
faucets. These low-cost options significantly reduce water usage. If
a new water heater needs to be installed, consider choosing a
smaller on-demand water heater that is close to the point-of-use.
This way you reduce the amount of water that goes down the drain
while you are waiting for hot water to reach the upper bathroom for
a quick rinse.
Let There Be Light:
the best use of natural light in your home and you have an
everlasting, free solution. The best lighting conditions exist if
you install at least two windows per room. Place them on either two
walls or a wall plus ceiling combination. Introducing natural light
will save you money, look beautiful and, best of all, it reduces
interior heat from electric lights which then reduces the need for
Swap your current
lights to an efficient fluorescent or LED type of fixture. There has
been a great improvement with LED technology; you can now find a
wide selection of fixtures that use LED lighting. It is recommended
to analyze your home or work environment carefully to make sure that
you get the same or better luminosity than before. Changing only
bulbs for CFL of LED bulbs could be a good retrofit if you don’t
want to touch the ceiling design.
Another incentive is
that most of the energy improvements needed are eligible for tax
credit through government and local programs.
call it, repurposing materials you already have in your home
saves money and gives new life to something useful.
Reduce waste to a minimum by sorting out structural materials,
hardwood flooring, doors and windows that could be relocated
somewhere else according to your new design. This could save you
on dumpster fees, materials cost and time. What comes out of a
demolition is a potential gold-mine for a wise contractor. There
are places that you can sell or donate unwanted materials. Think
about how much you can save from the waste that goes into
landfills from demolition.
Use a flooring material that is quickly
renewable, like Bamboo and cork. There are a huge variety of
salvaged flooring materials on the market from various sources.
These can add to your design. For countertops, consider one with
large recycled content. For cabinets, try to refinish your
functional existing ones. For example, just y replacing the
doors, you give your cabinets a new face and save a great deal.
Investing in the long-term benefits of all the improvements
implemented will serve you well in the long run. Lowered energy
bills, increased value on your home, not to mention the health
benefits of being around natural materials will all contribute to a
positive impact on your life. Unless you have deep pockets and
unlimited resources, it’s understood that you may need to take this
one step at a time. Have a plan and think about the various stages
that need to happen first, second and third and then break those
down into smaller steps. Treat it like the priority project that it
is for both your wallet and your well-being.
Read other articles and learn more about
[Contact the author for permission to republish or reuse this article.]