Will your green home upgrades pay off?

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.”

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Here are some things to consider as you map out your home’s conversion to a more energy-efficient, environmentally friendly pad:


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.


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

“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.

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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:

Here’s a search portal for rebates on Energy Star-rated appliances:


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.

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Source: djc

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Camper-like cabin on wheels is a modern shepherd’s wagon

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.

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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.

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Green Home Fair

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Long gone are the days that eco-friendly products are expensive and only aimed at an exclusive market. It is fast becoming a global norm to choose household products that reduce the impact on the environment and ensure better conditions for the people involved in its manufacture. The Green Home Fair, which forms part of this year’s Sustainability Week, will make its way to Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria to showcase all the fabulous products and services to savvy consumers from 27 to 28 June 2015.

Eco-decorating and finishes, motoring, travelling, veggie gardens, eco-sport and recycling ideas are just some of the initiatives that those with a flair for style, while being environmentally conscious can look forward to at this year’s Green Home Fair.

As part of the overall Sustainability Week, the Green Home Fair will educate people why being mindful of their impact on the environment matters and how it can save money in the long run. There will be public talks about what consumers need in order to be more energy efficient and water-wise. The Fair will also showcase the latest in-home and décor products that are on trend, new and super stylish.

Source: Show Me


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How to build a Passive House off-grid, and without foam

The Passive House Institute is known to have one of the strictest energy-efficient building standards in the world. What does it take to build your own Passive House, and how can you do it with healthy, high-performance materials? This is the second of a three-part series on the challenge of building a certified Passive House without foam or other harmful materials. The challenges are numerous—from sourcing materials to making it as airtight as possible, and keeping an unseasoned team (and myself) on task. For healthy materials, simple substitutes for traditional products are not only typically easy but also cost effective. Take a look at what it takes to build a Passive House in the Colorado Rockies.

Carefully keeping the surrounding Ponderosa Pines safe, which provide critical shading in the summer, we dug out a foundation stem wall and crawl space, a design that is critical to the foamless flooring insulation system. Not only does this minimize the concrete use but 20 percent of the cement was replaced with fly ash.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 12.40.52 PM

To do air sealing right you almost have to find religion and be obsessed with making sure that every place where two building elements come together is properly sealed, well before they’re covered. At the foundation, we applied a plywood “seat” for the I-joist to sit on and a similar detail happened at the wall-to-ceiling connection. Because the walls will be very well insulated, we used vapor open materials for air tightness so moisture does not build up in the wall over time. The air barrier is closer to the living space so water will not condense on it if it gets really cold outside. The ceiling and North wall were wrapped with Intello—a “smart” membrane that changes its vapor profile depending on the relative humidity.

Why is air tightness such a big deal? Passive House requires a leakage test of .60 ACH at 50 Pascals or less because leakage is a fundamental way a building loses energy, and allows mold-making, rot-inducing moisture into a wall. The building’s airtight layer is done so we can test it before we install windows, insulation, and all the other stuff that can cover a potential problem. We hit a respectable .45 ACH at 50 Pascals, or roughly the equivalent of 8 square inches of total opening in the entire envelope.

Next, it was time to make the insulation layer. The primary insulation material is Applegate cellulose, sandwiched with Roxul mineral wool batt on the inside and Drainboard on the exterior. We started with Larsen Trusses—basically a ladder like frame made from 2×3 supported by plywood scraps and wrapped in weed fabric to hold the insulation. The Larson Trusses were screwed to the exterior wall to make large bays, and a 2.3/8″ layer of drainboard was then attached to that. After not finding a competent contractor to insulate the bays with cellulose, I purchased a machine and got dirty, learning the ins and outs of properly filling a 24″ wall cavity so the insulation won’t settle over time. Overall, we installed 1100 25-lb bags of the stuff, which is just about an entire semi-load. The best part is the insulation is all recycled from nearby Denver and produced only 100 miles south. The mineral wool board, on the other hand, had to be specially made and shipped from a factory in Canada.

The Intus windows come from Lithuania, in their own container. While less than ideal, the cost and performance are untouched by any American window manufacturer. They swing inwards and can be placed so the exterior frame can be over-insulated to reduce heat loss through the frame. The PVC windows also are the largest compromise by far from my unhealthy materials list because it is highly toxic to manufacture and very hard to recycle.

Another vital Passive House technology is the Heat Recovery Ventilator. This technology uses two fans: one to extract bad air, and one to provide fresh air. A heat exchanger keeps the energy in the building, and if hooked up to an earth tube the house can be naturally cooled in the summer. The unit I selected was the first in the US from a Czech Republic manufacture called Air Pohoda. It uses an a stingy 32 watts in regular mode (important for being off grid) and is over 90 percent effective at reclaiming waste heat.

In the meantime, the energy model seemed to go haywire when new climate data was entered. I find some interesting issues when I went sleuthing for what happened. Finishes such as siding, drywall, finish plumbing, and electrical all have to be installed—the punch list never seems to end. In the last installment of this series,  I’ll discover if it’s possible to live in a house in Colorado in wintertime with no working heat, and after doing the Passive House Planning Package software modeling for myself I get a huge surprise. We do the final blower door test with fingers crossed, and I decide to submit to the Passive House Academy for the German certification and forgo the Passive House Institute US certification. Ironically, I was the first to report on the US-German split in 2011, and that news became a very personal journey.

Source: Inhabitat



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The three principles of sustainable home cooling

There are three simple principles for keeping a home cool in summer without inflating your carbon footprint, according to architect Steffen Welsch who will be one of the experts giving advice at the Alternative Technology Association’s Speed Date a Sustainable Expert event in Melbourne this weekend.

First, prevent hot air from entering; second, soak up any heat that does enter within the interior; and third, move air around inside to increase comfort. And most are achievable in an existing detached home or apartment, even if it’s a rental.

Keeping the heat out

To prevent hot air entering is partly a matter of sealing the building envelope, but also preventing sun hitting the windows and other glazing, Welsch told The Fifth Estate. The simple solution is vertical blinds installed on the exterior of windows.

Conventional interior design dictates blinds hung inside to block sun, but Welsch says while the blinds might block the glare, by the time the sun enters through the glass they do not block the heat.

It is worth considering the social aspect, too, of people feeling comfortable in your beautiful, green home and enjoying spending time in it. When people want to be in your home, it makes you feel proud of it. – Steffen Welsch, architect

“Vertical blinds are also more efficient at shading glass than horizontal ones, and vertical blinds reduce the effect of radiant heat on the building,” he says.

Another easy cooling measure those in freestanding homes can implement is creating areas outside the house that soak up heat, such as garden beds and other vegetation, or a timber deck area that will absorb heat instead of paving, which radiates heat.

For an apartment, where many have only an outdoor terrace or balcony, plants in pots, timber decking placed over ceramic tiles or concrete, or even a large timber outdoor table can all help add shade and soak up the sun, reducing the amount of heat the outdoor space radiates.

Soak it up

Welsch says the principle of interior elements that will absorb heat is “underrated and often completely overlooked”. The basic principle involves having thermal mass inside, elements such as stone or concrete floors that will absorb heat from the air, or reverse brick veneer, where the brickwork is on the inside. Exposed solid plaster also works well, he says.

Timber floors generally perform better than carpeted floors for absorbing heat, and in homes where there are struts under a timber floor, it is possible to retrofit underfloor insulation.

Options for insulation include the new “phase change” materials that are only a few millimetres thick but deliver the insulation benefits of a 200mm brick wall. They work by absorbing heat, which changes the state of the material from solid to liquid when it is hot, and from liquid back to solid when it cools.

These are still quite expensive, however, due to the current small market share. Welsch does think the price will, however, go down.

Indoor breezes

The third principle of moving air about can be achieved through mechanical measures such as ceiling fans and through strategic window placement.

“When the air moves, then you feel more comfortable at higher temperatures,” Welsch says. Fans also assist with airing a house out when the cooler evening change hits.

“You also need to check the window openings are in the right place. For example, in Melbourne the cool change comes from the south west, so a low window should go there, and a high window in the north-east corner.”

The cool air entering shifts the hot air out the higher window, but window placement is another thing Welsch says is often not being properly considered. Generally, diagonally opposite windows will work better for cooling and ventilation than multiple windows on the same side of a room – a good thing to keep in mind when renovating, extending or planning to build.

Clerestory windows set up high under the eaves are also effective for ventilation and cooling. They rely on the natural stack effect of air at different temperatures. They can be manually operated, or it is possible to install automated window opening, which is particularly effective when combined with a temperature sensor control. These are not expensive technologies at the domestic scale – Welsch says an automated window opener can cost between $60 and $80, and a temperature sensor control for about $30.

More cool, green ideas

Even though sealing the building well is part of managing heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter, some form of ventilation is essential for occupant health. Having well-sealed homes also means it becomes more important to be careful in the choice of interior finishes and materials, including furnishings, to minimise the level of volatile organic compounds and other nasties.

Other things those looking to build or renovate would want to consider are double glazing, insulation and zoning controls for any ducted airconditioning system. These are, however, best avoided altogether, Welsch says.

Ideally, in terms of environmental impact, airconditioning should be viewed only as a back-up system, not the main solution. If there is no shading or other measures, a refrigerated ducted system is “questionable” in terms of carbon footprint.

Check the specs

Welsch says it’s best to do the simple things first, and with a new build, this means checking that what was promised is actually being delivered in energy terms.

“[In Victoria] even mass produced houses or dwellings need to have six star energy ratings. But people getting a new home built need to check the certification of the rating and check that all of the assumptions made in the certificate have been implemented.”

This includes checking doors and windows are sealed properly, and checking that where double-glazing has been specified, that’s actually what got put in throughout.

Commonsense is cooler too

“A lot of the solutions people can use are commonsense and good practice,” Welsch says.

That good practice extends to how people occupy their homes, so that when sustainability measures are installed, they are operated properly. Simple things such as closing bedroom doors and blinds before leaving for work while also leaving some strategic windows open for ventilation to let any hot air out.

“Appropriate use is very important. You have to be active about it.”

Growing green thinking needs to embrace new ideas

He says that over the past 10 to 15 years he has seen sustainability shift from being mainly architect-driven to something clients now increasingly want.

But while there is an increasing amount of knowledge, once the design starts to move into details clients can struggle to reconcile their green ambitions and old ways of thinking about design, construction and materials.

Heavy is cooler

“A high performance building in our climate needs to be constructed with heavy materials,” Welsch says.

“The proposition with concrete [however] in terms of sustainability is the amount of CO2 it takes to produce. It is the ‘bad boy’ of building materials in terms of its embodied energy.”

Solutions for a lower footprint can include using concrete containing fly ash, or with recycled content. The real stars in sustainability terms for heavy materials though are rammed earth, also known as pise, which is very low on embodied energy, or the new hemp composite walls, which work extremely well as thermal mass inside a home.

Hemp walls also have the potential to be carbon neutral, Welsch says, as they are a store of carbon. They are not cost-competitive yet, and he would not recommend an entire house be constructed of them. Instead, a number of feature hemp walls could be incorporated, and the cost of this balanced out through downsizing airconditioning.

Ultimately, he says, the way to approach sustainability in a home is as it being something to be proud of.

“It is worth considering the social aspect, too, of people feeling comfortable in your beautiful, green home and enjoying spending time in it. When people want to be in your home, it makes you feel proud of it.”

Source: Eco-Business



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