Go Green

Green Building: Eco-friendly Homes for Everyone

What is Green Building or Remodeling?

Whelan Builders has heard that question asked many times. The answer really isn’t that complex. It has a great deal to do with the fact that many of the earth’s resources are being used each time a new home is built or remodeled. But, there are many ways to not only save on those resources but also save you money while doing it.

Whelan Builders has learned a great deal in not only giving our clients a great project but also helping them make the right decisions that will make their home much more energy efficient. I will list a few so that you as a homeowner can make your house much more efficient while making it appealing and attractive. I’ll start with the least expensive and work up from there.

Shower Heads: Pretty inexpensive, right? But in the U.S., showers account for 18% of indoor water usage and 39% of hot water usage. A family of four showering only five minutes a day uses 700 gallons of water a week. By installing a high performance showerhead, which uses about 1-½ gallons per minute, you can save 60% versus a non-water saving head. With a small investment, high performance showerheads offer a high return on your investment.

Toilets: Older toilets use 4-7 gallons every time you flush. The newer toilets, besides being more attractive use only 1-2 gallons per flush. If you do the math on that, you may find it surprising.

Faucets: When remodeling, consider changing them. A leaking faucet can use about 15-20 gallons a day and some can’t be adequately repaired. The newer fixtures are better made with some carrying a lifetime warranty.

Consider this regarding water usage: Everyday in the United States we use 300 Billion gallons of water. So, while saving yourself water you also contribute to the environment. None of these things are very expensive but you reap the rewards almost immediately.

Lighting: This is one subject that gets the most arguments. With the advent of Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) comes the complaint “But I can’t see as well” or “they’re ugly” and “they contain mercury”. True on all counts but think of all the factors before you decide. Here are some facts published by the Department of Energy.

Regarding savings: “If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars. ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.”

Regarding Mercury: Since CFLs use less electricity than traditional light bulbs, they reduce demand for electricity and that reduction means less mercury is emitted from power plants.  CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury — an average of 4 milligrams in each bulb.   No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use.

Now, knowing that information, let’s consider what’s the most important. True, CFL’s really don’t put out as much light as an incandescent bulb but they are getting better and the cost savings is great. They’ve never been pretty but incandescent bulbs aren’t either. For most, the mercury issue isn’t that great a risk compared to the savings. If you looked at the warning labels on any product (a pet peeve of mine) you’d never use it. So, to be realistic, you should consider the cost savings. How often do you break a light bulb? Plus, I don’t feel they’re making incandescent bulbs as well as they used to. If you’ve never tried CFL’s, consider installing them in the kitchen and living area first. These areas will give you the best results if they are the areas you use the most often in your home.

LED lighting has now appeared on the market. They are more efficient, durable, versatile and longer lasting than incandescent and fluorescent lighting. As with fluorescents, they’re about 75% less costly to operate and are cool to the touch because there’s no heat from an LED. They do not flicker when used with a dimmer and these fixtures are becoming more appealing. They cost more and some are poorly designed so look for the ENERY STAR rating on these as well. Since LEDS are part of the actual light fixture, they usually can’t be replaced but they last longer than any other type of lighting.

You might also consider solar tube lighting. Solar Tubes help light areas that get a lot of traffic. They’re great in kitchens and hallways. They are attractive, affordable and they don’t create the heat and bright light of traditional skylights. Solar Tubes are relatively easy to install and don’t leak when it rains. Some even have a built in light for evening use.

Appliances: Manufacturers are now building much more energy efficient appliances. Whatever appliance you purchase, take the time to do some research to make certain they have an ENERGY STAR rating. For example, an older top-loading clothes washer can cost you $50.00 a year more in electricity and uses 7,000 gallons of water a year more than an ENERGY STAR washer. The new front loading washers use much less water and are much gentler on your clothes. You’ll find that most new ENERGY STAR appliances, including hot water heaters, will save you money over time.

HVAC: (Heating, Venting and Air Conditioning) If your heating and air conditioning unit is more than 10 years old, you should consider replacing it. The new high efficiency units are much smaller and more cost effective. However, before you even consider a new unit, have your ductwork checked for leaks. This is extremely important. If your home is older than 5-10 years there is a huge probably of leaking ductwork. You may be able to ductwork leaks for yourself, but often the older metal ductwork is covered with an insulation blanket so you can’t see any splits or separations in the seams. In this case the insulation is just hiding the problem, which is similar to tying a rag over a leaking water pipe. There can be 50-100 seams in a home. The first flexible ductwork that was manufactured wasn’t very well made, so if you have that type you may have a problem. You can lose anywhere from 20% to 50% of your air flow and just end up heating and cooling your attic. The first place to check is the plenum. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a big metal box where all of your ductwork connects. Think of it as you would a surge protector that feeds your computer, printer, monitor, etc. Many times the joints have broken loose over the years but can be fixed and sealed. Once again, do some homework.

Adding Insulation: A quick check of your attic insulation should tell you if you need more. Generally speaking, if the insulation covers the joists it’s usually enough. More can be added but you should check with your builder or remodeler first. They will know if it’s adequate and if so, there’s no need to add more. Blown in insulation is normally the best because it gets to hidden areas better. Batts are also fine, as long as they are installed in the hard to reach area of the attic. Two types of blown in insulation are fiberglass and cellulose. Fiberglass insulation looks like cotton candy while cellulose looks like ground up newspaper. My choice would be fiberglass because cellulose tends to settle over time.

Radiant Barrier: This is new to many people. Attics get terribly hot, and this is called radiant heat because it radiates from the roof. Though there is still a lot of research being done on the actual cost savings, so far we’ve learned that a realistic figure will be about 5% to 20% and possibly 30% savings in your heating and air conditioning bill.

What is Radiant Barrier? It’s a foil material, usually paper backed or foil on both sides. Some companies spray foil chips over the existing insulation, others use a foil spray paint, though it’s not as effective as real foil. In an older home it’s usually installed (stapled) to the underside of the roof rafters. It can also be installed over the existing insulation and joists, though after 5-10 years it loses some of its effectiveness due to a layer of dust. Also, if you use your attic for storage the barrier won’t be effective when installed over the joists. Do not add a radiant barrier unless you check to make certain that you have the right amount of insulation. (See “adding insulation”)

Windows: Almost 50% of the heat gain and loss in a home are due to faulty windows. Many technological advances have been made in the last few years that make it sensible to replace them. New glazing materials and double-glazing plus low-e glass contributes to a much more energy efficient window. Low heat conductive materials are now used such as vinyl, fiberglass and the old standby, wood. Aluminum windows are cheap but do not insulate nearly as well as the newer products. The newer windows, like any window, should be sealed around framing and other gaps. Caulk and foam are widely used. High performance windows will leave you with a quieter home, less heating and cooling costs and with the low-e glass they will reduce fading of your furniture. Plus, the newer windows are very appealing from an aesthetic point as well as from the energy efficiency standpoint. You will probably find them much easier to operate and clean. My advice here would be to buy the better brands and compare. Cheap, as with most things, often gets you poor results.

More about “Green Building” When possible, and when economically feasible, we use renewable materials and methods that waste fewer resources to build, less energy to operate and have a reduced impact on the environment. We always consider the following:
• As little carpeting as possible
• Recycle as much of the job site waste as possible
• Solar tube lights to minimize electric lighting
• Cement-fiber siding when possible
• Energy efficient windows and weather stripping
• The use of CFL’s and other energy efficient lighting
• Hardwood floors such as cork, which is renewable

Now you have some idea what “Green Building” is all about. Most of it is common sense and certainly helps our environment while saving you money. If you wish, you may want to check out companies that sell ENERGY STAR appliances and other related products. And remember, buy wisely!

One more note about Building/Remodeling Green. We live in a throw away society but we can all do our share in recycling instead of adding to the waste. We encourage our remodeling clients to think about ways they can dispose of cabinets, appliances, reusable plumbing fixtures, countertops, etc. If you have no way to dispose of them ask your job foreman if he can help. We’ve been able to find people who will use many of those items. You might also check with your church, friends and at work. This is just one way we can help eliminate waste.