There is a tremendous amount of information available to homeowners who want to “go green,” much of which comes directly from companies that produce a product that is, in some way, more environmentally or energy efficient than a comparable product. Well, usually. Some of it just has a green label with a tree on it but enough chemicals to create your own meth lab. Sneaky ad execs and their greenwashing!
Of course, all of this information is daunting and may have you spending more money than you intended, or leave you with a retrofit or remodel that is not what you had hoped. Don’t panic. Just sit back and decide what it is you really want to achieve. If you want to reduce the materials in your home that off-gas (release chemicals into the air through evaporation) and pay less to cool your home in the summer, solutions can be very inexpensive. If you want to reduce the cold air leakage during the colder months, there are many ways to accomplish this without tearing out all of your windows or spending your children’s college fund.
Put away your mountain of marketing pamphlets and evaluate what is most important to you and/or your family before you are seduced by the promise of a new miracle product. Also consider that there is more to a home than efficiency—consider aesthetics and health as well! Here are some first steps:
1. Determine your climate zone and work with it: Different climate zones require different solutions. For instance, to cool a home in a hot, dry climate, additional moisture will help, whereas in a hot, humid climate, the heat would only worsen with humidity.
2. Perform your own energy audit: Tearing out windows and replacing them without an audit is like having a doctor prescribe you something based on one symptom. Address the cause, not just the symptoms. You can perform a mini audit by yourself with the Energy Star “Home Energy Yardstick” on the energystar.gov site, and by walking around your home looking for cracks in your masonry, roof damage, etc.
3. Better yet, hire an energy auditor! These audits will tell you exactly where your air leaks are coming from, how to fix them, whether sealing up your house will make you suffocate from carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. These are so, so very worth it. They cost anywhere from $400-$700, but will likely save you a whole lot of money in the long run in terms of energy savings and preventing you from throwing money at a problem and not seeing results. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like some recommendations on auditors.
4. Decide on a budget and keep your ears open for grants, rebates, etc. They change constantly, but they’re out there! I find this site useful and up-to-date more than most in terms of federal, state and local green grants: http://www.dsireusa.org. For preservation grants, contact your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or local city landmarks board. Or both!
5. Find a good contractor. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s worth the time investment to ask around and research online. There are plenty of yahoos out there right now who claim to be either preservation architects or green architects and are quite frankly neither. It’s best to find 3 contractors and get 3 estimates whenever possible. Make sure the contractors are certified and ask them for references.
I’ll post more on avoiding the pitfalls of bad contractors and next steps in an upcoming post. More on energy audits coming soon as well! It’s getting cold, so I imagine this is on the minds of many.