California has always been the trailblazer concerning environmental protection and green living. For decades, the state has been on the forefront when it comes to keeping water, air, and soil clean, using safe pesticides, and recycling/reducing waste. In this regard, green building (also referred to as green construction or sustainable building) has become increasingly popular in California. Our team at October 5 encourages home owners to “green” their houses, whether they intend to construct an entirely new home or wish to make additions to their existing home.
Regardless, there are many different ways to make your home eco-friendly. On the most basic level, you can make small behavioral changes in your household that save energy. Furthermore, you can make more extensive additions to your home that benefit both the environment and your health. Lastly, you can take more advanced, comprehensive steps to green your house, including eco-friendly building materials or energy sources.
Energy-efficient appliances & compact fluorescent lamps
Electric appliances make up about 18% of an average home’s energy bill, with the refrigerator being one of the biggest energy hogs. The EPA recommends replacing any appliances older than 10 years with energy-efficient models that carry the “Energy Star” logo. An Energy Star-qualified appliance like an eco-friendly fridge can save you as much as $150 a year as it uses 10%-50% less energy and water than standard models. Moreover, switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps can save you three-quarters of light electricity, especially when you replace the 60-100-watt bulbs that are used several hours a day. Finally, turn off any unused electric appliances when you leave the house.
A large part of a home’s energy consumption depends on temperature regulation. Turn down the thermostat during cold weather and turn it up during warm weather. A programmable thermostat will do that automatically for you. In cold weather, keep the temperature below 68ºF (20ºC), wear warm clothing, use extra blankets and close the curtains – these measures can save 5%-20% on your heating costs. In warm weather, keep the temperature at 78ºF (26ºC), wear light clothing, shade windows, and delay heat-generating activities until the evening. Use fans rather than air conditioners, the moving air can make you feel 5 degrees cooler.
Basic water management
There is a myriad of ways to reduce the water consumption in your home. For instance, you can put an aerator on all faucets and cut your water consumption by half. You can also install a low-flow toilet which only uses 1.6 gallons per flush instead of the 3.5. gallons of a standard model. Simple behavioral changes also have a significant impact: limit the length of your shower to 15 minutes and keep the temperature of the water as low as possible, turn the water off when you brush your teeth, and clean your driveway/patio with a broom instead of a garden hose.
If you choose to give your home a general makeover with a new coat of paint, avoid conventional paints. They contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have can cause smog, ozone pollution and respiratory problems. These harmful components are released into the air while you are painting, while the paint is drying and even after the paints has completely dried. Do the environment and your health a favor by choosing zero- or low-VOC paint, manufactured by most major paint brands today.
Sealing & Insulation
If the walls, ceilings, doors, floors and windows of your home are properly sealed and insulated, you can substantially reduce your energy bill. Poorly insulated walls will cause significant heat loss in cold weather and heat gain in warm weather. Hidden gaps and cracks can create an airflow as much air as an open window, thus causing your heating and/or cooling systems to work harder. Leaky windows can let cold air infiltrate and warm air escape, which will cause the heating system to run harder. Similarly, in the summer, the cooling system has to work harder to cool the hot air from sunny windows. An experienced contractor is able to identify any voids and can determine which insulation materials to use. Options are, for example, rigid insulation sheathing, double framed walls, structural insulated panels, super efficient windows, or air-tight air handlers.
Efficient hot water systems
In addition to the above mentioned basic suggestions, there are even more advanced water management measures such as installing efficient hot water systems. You can save a lot of energy if you turn down the temperature of the water heater to the warm setting (120ºF/49ºC), insulate the hot water lines so they do not cool off quickly between uses, use low-flow fixtures for showers and baths. A contractor with the necessary expertise can also install “on demand” hot water circulating loops that use a small pump to accelerate hot water delivery to remote fixtures which are activated only when the tap is being turned on. These “on demand” loops save a great deal of water-heating energy.
Good landscaping, especially the planting of trees and shrubs around the house, can actually save a lot of energy. In summer, the foliage provides shade and blocks infrared radiation that would warm the house, which reduces cooling costs. Similarly, planting or building windbreaks to slow winds near the house, thus cutting down heating lost. Wall sheltering like vines can also be used as a windbreak. Green roofs cool houses with extra thermal mass (meaning the “flattening out” of temperature fluctuations) and evapotransportation (meaning the transpiration and evaporation of water from a plant into the air).
There are several eco-friendly options for flooring materials. Bamboo flooring is more environmentally friendly because it is in fact not a wood, but a grass, which grows much quicker. Bamboo is very resilient and comes in a variety of colors and shades. Then, there is marmoleum, a type of linoleum, which is made from natural raw materials like linseed oil, renewable wood products, ground limestone or jute. Marmoleum is bio-degradable, non-toxic, and very durable. There are also some eco-friendly exotic woods used for flooring like the Brazilian Cherry or White Tigerwood from South Africa. These woods are harvested from well-managed forests with renewable resources.
Solar energy can be retrieved through photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that generate electricity. These PV systems can be used to reduce a house’s use of electricity purchased from an energy company. Small scale solar systems often use a solar collector that concentrates heat in either a liquid or in the air which is then distributed throughout the home. Active solar heating systems are cost-effective when they are used for a large part of the year, that is, in regions with good solar resources. They are most economical when replacing more expensive heating fuels, such as electricity, propane or oil heat. Moreover, there are specific tax credits available for solar home heating technologies.
The above listed suggestions are probably the most common greening strategies for residential houses. However, there are many more measures you may take to make your home eco-friendly, such as using lighter-colored “cool roofs,” installing wood stoves, or purchasing green power. October Five provides energy audits to evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. Our experts have the skills and tools to identify the most cost-effective steps to improve comfort and efficiency in your house.