Green at Heart

Improve five core systems in your home for better energy efficiency and savings will flow.

Going green in your home can start with a task as tiny as recycling your cereal box. Slightly more ambitious folks may compost their yard waste or take cloth bags to the grocery store. But if you are looking for ways to save green while going green, take a look at these major systems inside your home for energy and cost saving opportunities.

HVAC system

The heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system in your home is unfortunately the mechanical system that is most likely inefficient; often heating one room too much while leaving another freezing cold. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) also states that the HVAC system is the weakest link in an energy-efficient building. Sometimes parts are put on backwards, sometimes the ductwork is not insulated, sometimes the system’s design simply has inlying errors.

The solution: Work on this system first. Write down your grievances, find a building professional or HVAC contractor to help analyze the problem, then get quotes to fix the errors or work on the system yourself. At the very least, don’t forget to insulate the ductwork. Once solved, your home will be pleasantly cool in the summer and toasty in the winter without paying at a premium.

Lighting system

LED and fluorescent bulbs are 75% more efficient than specialty and incandescent bulbs, emit less heat, and often last as much as a couple dozen years. “If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star-qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than three 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,” according to the Department of Energy on its website, energystar.gov.

The solution: Begin taking an inventory of all the older, inefficient bulbs in your home. Furthermore, look for ideas to redesign part or all of the lighting system. New energy-efficient lighting fixtures and perhaps even skylights could reduce your dependence on electricity and add a thoughtfully-designed lighting ambiance throughout the home.

Plumbing system

Some areas of the country, such as in Ohio, have more of an abundant water supply than other areas such as in Arizona. Nevertheless, as populations increase, the demand grows, causing municipalities to build larger and larger water treatment plants. Homeowners then pay more for the water they use and eventually clean water may become more of a scarcity. Furthermore, supplying and treating cold water requires a significant amount of energy. According to the Stanford University’s Earth System’s Program, letting your faucet run for 5 minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours.

The solution: Begin installing new faucets, shower heads, and toilets with low-flow fixtures. The amount of water emitted from a low-flow faucet is one-third as much as that of a regular faucet; yet, it feels like the same amount when washing your hands. Replace fixtures that are used more often first.

Insulation system

The average household spends over 40 percent of its annual energy budget on heating and cooling costs, making an efficient insulation system essential. The indoor temperature should not have large degree fluctuations such as a cold chill in the air just before the thermostat kicks on the furnace or walls that are cold to the touch in the winter.

The solution: Begin with the most simple and inexpensive step by adding insulating shades and curtains to windows. Consider replacing 15- to 20-year-old windows with new, efficient units. According to the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC), 15 percent of the household energy costs can be reduced by replacing the windows. Plant deciduous trees on the south side of the home that will provide shade in the summer while allowing solar heat to penetrate through the bare branches in the winter. When replacing the roof or siding, ask your contractor to add enough additional insulation so that the roof system equals at least an R-value rating of 30 and the exterior walls equal an R-value of 22.

Indoor air system

Americans spend 90 percent of their time inside, yet according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollutants may be two to five times, and occasionally 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Many people also suffer from poor ventilation, radon, lead paint, mold, unwanted microorganisms, and chemicals from building materials and cleaning supplies, etc.

The solution: When renovating and redecorating, choose materials, furniture, and paints that will not off-gas carcinogenic VOCs (volatile organic compounds that may contribute to cancer). Some indoor air quality problems require special kits that can be used by the homeowner and by professionals alike. If radon and mold are detected, then there are special systems, equipment, and construction maintenance measures that can be done to remedy the air quality problems. It never hurts to run these tests, especially if someone in the home already has asthma or any other compromised breathing condition.

Resources:

sustainablechoices.stanford.edu/actions/in_the_home/lowflowfixtures.html

www.nfrc.org/press/morewindowfacts.aspx

www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidest.html

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