Green dream homes

by Claire Dattilo Parker
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Staff photo by Joshua Curry

The Midori On 29th town homes were constructed with concrete board and metal roofing as siding to reduce exterior maintenance. Top: The rooftop container garden gets plenty of sunshine and uses rainwater captured by the rain barrel placed near the garden.


Earth Day is Sunday, April 21, and incorporating sustainable, planet-friendly elements into the home has never been easier. From changing air filters to investing in energy-efficient appliances, there is a wide range of products and services available to homeowners that result in lower utility bills.

Making a house more earth friendly is appealing to new buyers and adds value to your home, said local architect Scott Ogden, and the investments pay for themselves in energy savings and rebates from providers such as Progress Energy and tax credits from the government.

Ogden, of the firm B+O Design Studio, points to the Midori On 29th town homes he designed off Market Street as a great example of how green features such as tankless water heaters, passive solar energy, Energy Star appliances and icynene spray foam insulation adds money to your pocket. The Healthy Built Home-rated residences produce electric bills in the $40-a-month range, he said.

"The design of the house is very efficient. Our electricity bill is between $40 to $50 a month on average, year round," said Keith Nelson, Midori On 29th homeowner. Nelson has lived in the 1,200 square foot, three-bedroom, three-bath town house for a year and a half.

Whether you’re looking for a new house or making changes to your existing one, here’s how you can take a few easy steps in making your home more efficient on a budget.

Testing Weaknesses

Start on the biggest weaknesses first.

Before investing in new products or systems, conduct an energy audit of your home, said architect Eric Jabaley of Dogwood Design Studio.

"Several companies can test where problem spots are and see how your house is performing," Jabaley said.

Determining how leaky windows are, if plumbing is underperforming or if insulation is nonexistent, will steer you in the right direction.

"A house is a complex system and insulation, heating, cooling and construction play a vital role," Jabaley said.

Insulation

Often times, that weakness is inside walls. Installing additional insulation reduces heating and cooling costs and can be a simple do-it-yourself project thanks to several eco-friendly products on the market such as recycled denim or newspaper insulation.

Local stores and big-box retailers carry recycled insulation and, even though it can sometimes cost more than twice as much as fiberglass insulation, you can easily roll it out yourself and use the U.S. Department of Energy’s online payback calculator to estimate how long it will take to recoup the investment.

Spray-foam insulation is another alternative, which seals and insulates at the same time, Jabaley said.

"Insulation is probably the best value for your money. There are a lot of great foam insulations but good old fashioned fiberglass can also provide great results."

With a rebate program for attic insulation upgrades, Progress Energy can put as much as $500 back in your pocket.

Heating and Cooling

In the South and especially so far this season, it can get hot and stay hot well into the fall months, which can rack up some hefty cooling bills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests simple steps for keeping HVAC systems running efficiently if you are not prepared to buy a new unit.

First, change filters regularly, especially when they are getting a lot of use. Now is also a good time to have HVAC equipment tuned up to avoid a broken air conditioner when temperatures climb into the 90s and repairmen are too busy to schedule. You should schedule tune-ups annually, the EPA stated.

Installing a programmable thermostat (around $40) is another option that can save $180 every year in energy. The settings regulate your home’s temperature and the government’s Energy Star website is a great guide for reaping the most energy savings. The EPA stated programmable thermostats can improve the efficiency of your HVAC system by as much as 20 percent.

Energy Star Products

If you are willing and able to spend some money on the front end, replace inefficient appliances with Energy Star rated models for long-term savings that pay for the product in reduced energy costs.

The Energy Star website is a great resource for appliances, building supplies, lighting, plumbing, heating, cooling and electronic products that will improve your monthly bills. Purchasing many of these products result in rebates from local utility companies as well, so check with providers to see if rebates are available.

Learn More on Earth Day

To find out more about how you can make your home more efficient and green, visit two local Earth Day events this weekend. On Saturday, April 21, at Hugh McRae Park, visit vendors such as Biodwell, which sells home solar panels and offers energy audits, and Progressive Gardens, which sells rain barrel and native plants. Both will be on hand to discuss greening the home.

The Bellamy Mansion Museum is also holding an Earth Day event at the 503 Market St. house on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. to explore conservation measures for historic homes.

Both events are free and open to the public.

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