Some pricey features, like replacing windows or buying a solar system, can take many years to pay for themselves.
Investing in making your home more energy efficient can help the environment, lower your utility bills and possibly help you fetch a higher sale price.
But homeowners considering a green remodel should also weigh how long it will take for the improvements to reap savings. Some pricey features, like replacing windows or buying a solar power system, could take many years to ultimately pay for themselves.
“You have to make a decision: ‘How environmentally friendly do I want to get if it takes me 16 years to break even on my investment?’” said Sid Davis, a home renovator and author of “Your Eco-Friendly Home: Buying, Building or Remodeling Green.”
Here are some things to consider as you map out your home’s conversion to a more energy-efficient, environmentally friendly pad:
GET AN ENERGY AUDIT
You want to lower your electric or gas bill. You may even be ready to buy or lease solar panels to generate electricity. But what if you can accomplish big savings by simply re-sealing your windows and doors to prevent air inside your home from venting, driving up your heating and cooling costs? Where do you begin?
During an energy audit an expert sizes up the efficiency of your appliances, air and heating systems, and gauges how much air your home is leaking.
Up to 25 percent of heating and cooling costs result from heat loss, as air moves in and out of a house through holes, improperly sealed windows and insufficient insulation.
Check with your electric or gas company to see whether they offer to conduct home energy inspections. Often, such audits may be free.
MAKE EASY CHANGES FIRST
Tackling less expensive changes first can add up to big savings.
Replacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescent light bulbs, using a programmable thermostat to control when air conditioning or heat turns on can whittle away at your utility bills. Then there’s insulation, the decidedly low-tech but key feature of every energy efficient home.
The cost of home insulation can vary, depending on how much you need and which type you use.
Try this online tool from home-improvement website Homewyse.com: www.homewyse.com/services/cost_to_insulate_your_home.html.
“Adding attic insulation is a good energy saver that does not break the bank,” notes John Ritterpusch, assistant vice president of sustainability and green building at the National Association of Home Builders. “Air sealing older homes with a caulk gun and a steady hand can do much to keep the winter winds at bay.”
Adding high-efficiency toilets can also translate into savings, especially when you factor in potential rebates from water utilities that range from $25 to $200, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That could shorten the time it takes to recover the cost of such toilets, which are typically more expensive than less-efficient ones, to a few years, the EPA says.
LOOK INTO REBATES
From solar power systems and appliances to single-pane windows, certain energy and water-efficient improvements can qualify homeowners for rebates from utilities or government tax credits.
For example, the IRS offers a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of solar hot water heaters, solar electric equipment and wind turbines. If the credit exceeds how much you owe in taxes, the IRS allows you to carry over the unused portion into the next year’s tax return.
To search which energy efficient appliances and other home features qualify homeowners for federal tax credits, check this out: www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits.
Here’s a search portal for rebates on Energy Star-rated appliances: www.energystar.gov/rebate-finder.
CONSIDER RESALE IMPACT
Certain green upgrades may add value to your home, depending on whether you live in a part of the country where those upgrades are seen as more of a selling point.
For example, in the Southwest, homebuyers may be more likely to view water-sparing landscaping, “smart” sprinklers or a solar power system as valuable features of a home than in other parts of the country where water and energy costs are less expensive.
A recent study tracked single-family homes with solar power systems in six states that were sold mostly between 2010 and 2013. The study, conducted by real estate appraisers and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found that the homes sold, on average, for more than other homes without solar power systems. It also found that the sales price gain was higher the bigger the solar system in the home.
The appraisers, on average, found a premium of around $14,000 for solar homes with typical-sized systems of about 3.85 kilowatts.
The green premium isn’t a given. Some home appraisers may not have the training to evaluate the value of green home features. Or there may not be enough comparable homes in the area with such features, said Sandra Adomatis, a certified general appraiser and instructor with the Appraisal Institute. She also co-led the solar power study.
One way to boost the likelihood that green remodeling features are factored into your home’s value by appraisers and would-be buyers is to prioritize improvements that make a visible dent in your utility bills.
“If you can prove dollars and cents (buyers) are more willing to pay a premium,” Adomatis said.
Shepherd wagons of yore were homes that sheepherders brought along on their travels. We’ve seen contemporary variations of these to converted shepherd’s wagonscovered with canvas and actually used as rustic living spaces. Ontario-based Canadian builder Güte (previously) constructed this lovely specimen that seems to be a cross between a shepherd’s wagon, a camper and modernist tiny home. Dubbed the Collingwood, it sports rounded surfaces and nice, clean wooden surfaces inside.
Fully insulated all around and waterproofed, it appears that the weatherproof character of original sheep wagons was one of the major design influences, say the designers:
We built the Collingwood shepherd hut without clear distinctions of where the walls become the floor or roof of this shepherd hut. It is wrapped in and organic shell that fulfills the functions of all three of these important traditional structural elements. We wrapped the roof all the way around the Collingwood in a fluid wooden framed structure that sheds off every kind of bad weather. The exterior shell is fully insulated with batt insulation and waterproofed using the best ice and water shield. We use a combination of two types of roof cladding which will keep the weather out for a lifetime.
There are thermal-paned windows that open, a solid oak dutch door, cast-iron wheels, traditional cast-iron push hardware and brass window locks, cedar shingles and steel roof cladding. It has two electrical outlets, and can be plugged in via the exterior. But there’s a lot of camper-ish inspirations here too, as evidenced by the classic dining-table-turns-into-bed gambit.
The 15-foot Collingwood can fit a whole family, thanks to the bunk bed off to the other side of the space, which has yet another roll-out storage platform tucked underneath, which could probably double as yet another bed. There’s a wall unit that hosts storage and a fold-down table as well.
With no built-in bathroom or kitchen, this is a pretty basic setup priced for USD $23,098. But the meticulous craftsmanship and interesting hybrid design may be worth it for those who want to live the modern shepherd lifestyle.
There’s beauty not only on the exterior of these new homes, but inside as well.
Behind the walls and in the floors, there are many green features: energy efficient radiant in-floor heating, concrete floors and insulated concrete form construction, heat recovery ventilator, a rain screen wall system and sprinkler system are just some.
There is much to recommend Glas, a 21-townhome development in Marda Loop by Avalon Master Builder. The two buildings that comprise Glas offer a collection of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and den, and three-bedroom townhomes in Marda Loop. Homes range in size from 697 square feet to 1,741 square feet, with the end units offering a slightly larger footprint.
The project is under construction, and a 697-square-foot, one bedroom, one bath show suite recently opened, with plans for the launch of a two-bedroom show suite to open in early April.
Learn from industry thought leaders and case studies in the green economy. Get your copy of the Green Economy Journal delivered to your door.
The show suite is a one-bedroom unit, one of seven such units that face south onto 27th Avenue S.W., with tall windows that make the most of the sunlight.
From the street, concrete stairs lead to the upper of the home’s two levels, entering the main living space. Inside the home, stairs to the lower level are straight ahead, while the room opens up to the right.
A wall of windows at the front of the room, reaching from the floor to the nine-foot ceiling, provide bright light through the living space, which is next to the windows, the centrally located dining area and kitchen at the back of the unit.
Further enhancing a sense of space are the cut-outs overlooking the staircase, allowing for more light and longer sight-lines.
The back wall of the kitchen holds the French-door refrigerator with lower mount freezer, oven and stove, with an over-the-range microwave. The white quartz countertop and white tile backsplash provide a bright counterpoint to the dark flat-panel cabinetry made from solid maple that extends to the ceiling.
Facing the great room, a wall-attached island holds a dual sink and dishwasher. The counter extends at the end with room for two stools.
There is space between the kitchen and the living room for a proper dining table, providing a comfortable setting for entertaining or eating at home.
Down the stairs, the lower level holds a full bathroom, stacked laundry and some storage in a closet under the staircase, and the master bedroom. The bedroom has a large closet, and, at 14 foot nine inches by nine feet 10 inches, is a spacious room. It has sliding glass doors that open onto a private 93-square-foot patio with terraced landscaping for privacy.
The lower level features carpet, while the upper level has engineered hand-scraped hickory floors.
An example of this is the Portside building on the Foreshore, which houses FirstRand Bank and Old Mutual. What is of interest is the contrast between visually permeable buildings, and those, which proactively engage with the city compared to the stonework or heavy buildings with small punctured windows.
“Historically the overuse of single pane glazing in appropriate locations on certain buildings has meant that glass buildings have earned a generally poor reputation, despite the many social, experiential and technical advantages of glass,” says Mokena Makeka, founder and principal of Makeka Design Lab
It has even been said that glass buildings are more ‘democratic,’ as they share their content with the public and aside from a few notable exceptions. There has however been much discussion about the wisdom of glazed buildings in the context of climate change, minimising heat gain and managing the running costs of buildings efficiently.
“I would say that most tall buildings in the world will tend to be clad in glass for many years to come. At Portside, another key reason we designed a glass tower is that this is one of the few cities in the world that has the most spectacular 360 degree views, so by creating a transparent building we are giving every single person working in the building a view – it a very democratic approach,” says Derick Henstra, Executive Chairman of DHK Architecture.
With the way construction materials and building technology has advanced over the last decade or so, it has been nothing short of groundbreaking, and materials such as glass will find a resurgence as a preferred modern building material, provided that various technical and ecological targets can be achieved.
“As more regulations take effect developers and clients will be required to adhere for construction approvals, and the market place will continue to find nimble ways to respond to these needs. What is perhaps assured is that contemporary architecture has and will always be preoccupied with architecture that is visually accessible, exciting, functional, sensible and a source of curiosity for the user and the passerby,” says Makeka
“The future of Cape Town will not necessarily be tall glass buildings, but a lot of low-rise hybrid energy efficient green buildings, which relate much more to the architectural history of Cape Town,” says Henstra
Unlike fashion with its very exciting but short lifespan, great architecture resonates across different times, and this (and price/ technical requirements) ultimately informs the choices of the architect, and the implications on the general public, long after the client has moved on.
Follow Alive2Green on Social Media