Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Green Home

Hello all, it has been a while since I have posted anything on our blog.  Sunday was the first time in a while where I was actually bored and did not have some looming deadline over my head to address.

My other disclaimer is that while I write this our home is not being very green.  We have 400 lights on a 7ft tree, the gas fireplace is getting used fairly frequently, we keep turning on all the lights then dimming them to make that warm cozy feel, and I am annoyed that our furnace dumps all the hot air into our master bedroom.

I was reading this article Yahoo! Study: American Dream Homes Turn Green and it talked about the shift towards a green home being the dream home for many Americans.  I agree with the shift in people's focus on what they really need over making monster sized new homes sacrificing quality for quantity.  It also points out that while there are "Green Homes," like the ones that compost their own garbage and produce their own electricity, there are also green homes for normal people too.  One option discussed was about Energy Star rated appliances and that Energy Star is looking for a way to provide ratings on homes.  I am a little skeptical on the later as I am not sure how this agency can truly determine the "greenness" of your home.  Energy Star ratings on your appliances is a good place to start, but I think that is a far cry from claiming your home is green.

The other component to the equation is sustainability.  People consider that to be the type of products you use and the impact to the environment, but I also consider that to be how well the house holds up or sustains itself.  This is where I am not sure how Energy Star could have any benefit and the need falls on the owners (you and I) to be better educated.  This requires us to be a little more diligent when we are selecting contractors or working with our General Contractor on home projects.  We need to communicate our expectation that things are installed correctly and not just hire the lowest cost contractor.  How a home is constructed can have a higher impact on the energy costs than the appliances installed within.  The appliances have much shorter lifecycles than the typical infrastructure required to support them.

sealed duct with mastic.jpg

I need to get to an example.  I commented that I am frustrated with how all the hot/cold air blows into our master bedroom.  Our furnace is just outside the room and it is likely that the duct was not sized properly or provided dampers to "encourage" the air to distribute evenly through the home.  It will find the shortest path to the lowest pressure.  Why travel all the way to that front window vent if it can flow freely out of the one above  the toilet in the bathroom.  (Nothing like breaking a sweat during your morning "routine.")  Naturally, I can close my vents in the bedroom to build a resistance and coerce the air to travel down the other ducts.  But this is now assuming that my ducts are sealed and there is not a gap between the duct and the vent cover that I would close.  More than likely closing the vent will reduce the air in my bedroom, but I will likely find out that it is just flowing into the cavity between the ceiling and the floor above.  Dampers should also be installed at the beginning of a branch to divert air and balance the system.  These are literally $0.05 pieces of metal in the duct.  Adding those to our home and having someone spend 4 hrs balancing the system would have cost $200 during construction.  Over the life of the home, it could easily pay for itself 4 or 5 times, PLUS the added benefit of more comfortable spaces.

So which ductwork is yours?  Do you think your contractor or builder did the job on the left or the right?  Most people wouldn't know to ask for sealing the ductwork, balancing dampers, and someone to perform Testing and Balancing.  And when we do ask for these things did we get them done correctly?  The duct should be sealed with mastic like the right, not duct tape which can deteriorate and fall off.

What about hot water?  Are your pipes insulated?  If not, money can be lost heating the inside of your walls.  Is your HW heater in a central place to reduce the piping runs to faucets and showers?  Anyone who waits 5 minutes for HW to get to a faucet is likely a victim of proper planning/installation.

Furnace:  Is it a high efficiency furnace?  Does it have a single stage or two stages?  If you have two stages did the contractor provide the proper thermostat?  Did you get the programmable one?  Did you opt for the cheaper one with less program options to save $15?  Did you consider possibly saving $15 in 3 years of using that thermostat by having more setback times in that program?

Insulation:  I have a lot to learn on this topic.  Properly insulated homes can save a fortune in energy costs.  It also needs to be installed properly to continue to insulate the home.  You can't just buy insulation and get a more efficient home.  The attic appears to be a problem area where improperly installed insulation causes problems with the ability of the attic to breath.

Windows:  Another topic I need to do more research on before buying or building my Dream Home.

Architectural details:  Is that stunning 2 story foyer going to cost you a bundle in the winter?

LED Lighting is a hot topic now.  Granted most of the lamps at your local HD or Lowes are not very appealing.  The price has come down a lot, but those lamps are typically not going to make you happy with your lighting and you will go back to the old style lamps.  During construction or a renovation where the added cost of high efficiency lighting can be absorbed by a mortgage or home equity loan, you can easily justify that added cost.   Also opt for the little more expensive dimmers, preferably the ones where on/off is separate from the dimming function.   Those sliders that turn off at the bottom, typically spend most of their life either off or full on.  The one bellow has the big button for on/off and then a little slider on the side.  If you set that slider a little below full on, you can save 10-15% on lighting electricity costs and your eyes will barely notice if at all.

When you do your research, don't forget to research how to properly install that appliance you spent hours researching on Consumer reports.  Even though you are hiring a contractor to do something, consider searching the internet for the DIY websites and read up on the proper techniques.  When documents go out for bid, make sure that they clearly describe what your expectations are and what you want to pay for.  This way when you get multiple bids, you should be comparing apples to apples.  If you leave room for interpretation, the contractor will chose the cheaper interpretation.  Research the contractor, talk to them, ask stupid questions that you already know the answer to.  If you need to trim budget, trim it out of the cost of the appliance or energy saving feature, not its installation.  You can change the appliance in a few years, but you likely can't change what was installed with it.  If you consider some of these things, you will have a home that is comfortable, easier to maintain, and saves you energy.  You'll likely save more energy than the guy who doesn't ask the right questions and just tossed a windmill on the roof because there was a tax credit.

I guess my definition of a green home is one that a little extra money is spent to build it right with good materials, not necessarily on green gadgetry.

So, are you thinking of building your dream home?  Is it going to be green?  If so, what does that mean to you?


  1. We live in an apartment building built in the mid 50's to early 60's and I hate how the heating is set up. Each room has a radiator which is fine, and now even in Southern Sweden I do not need them, but what is not fine is the two forced air vents that I cannot control. One is in the living room and one in the bedroom and just like you say all the air is dumped in one spot and does not spread around. I so wish I could climb into the walls and fix it!

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