Old/New Green: Cost-effective Eco Ideas That Add Value

And until the 1950s, the typical American household lifestyle, without Jefferson’s sophistication, was what we could call green. Recycling, reusing and restoring items were standard procedure—nothing fancy or ‘alternative’ about it.

In the last half-century we’ve become a throwaway culture, but due to global recognition of climate change, many ‘eco’ and ‘green’ ideas and products have surfaced. Some add value to our homes; some are not yet cost-effective if resale is a prime factor. Some are easy to set up and use; others require technical installation and know-how. And some are just common-sense ideas that we may have forgotten. We’ll look at a few here that will help us work with the climatic elements, as well as adding value to our homes.

As weather patterns change, major concerns for the southern United States are heat and continuing drought. Winter 2011 was bitterly cold and dry, while summer baked us mercilessly with little rain. Consequently water conservation has been on everyone’s lips, rain barrels proliferate, and you question if you should invest in a few to place at your rainspouts. The unequivocal answer is: if you’re going to use the stored water for gardens and lawns, by all means get the barrels. They are not expensive and credits are available (check with Albemarle Service Authority: www.serviceauthority.org) and they are easy enough to install. However, it is not recommended to use the water for drinking unless you have it tested.

But the operative words for cost-efficiency are ‘use the stored water.’ Research and experience show that the barrels require a bit of care and effort and some people let them sit while they develop mold, algae and provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. They can freeze and crack if they’re not emptied and to get enough pressure you might need a pump or at least raise the barrel for better water flow. Websites that give good information and answer your questions are: www.cleanairgardening.com/rain-barrel-buyers-guide.html; www.rainbarrelguide.com/got-rain-barrel-questions.

Other effective and inexpensive water conservation tips that add value are:

  • Fix water leaks. One faulty faucet wastes at least three gallons of water per day, one ‘running toilet’ up to 30 gallons.
  • Install low-flow toilets and showerheads. Thirty (30) percent of indoor residential water use is flushed down the toilet with older models. Many new models use one gallon (Toto, Kohler) and have dual choices. Low-flow showerhea ds start around $8, have great pressure, and can slash consumption by 50-70 percent.
  • Gray-water recycling (kitchen, shower and bath sink drainage) may be cost-effective if added while building or doing extensive remodeling, but otherwise is not a prudent investment. Traditional conservation of water usage is better.

Heat & Cold
With the heat and cold we’ve been experiencing many people wonder if there still is a “Temperate Zone.” But no matter the zone, season or weather, the sun plays a most important part in our lives and it is with the sun we must learn to live.

Time-honored and cost-effective solutions for protecting against the heat are:

  • When building, face the home to the southeast if at all possible.
  • Landscape with deciduous trees on the south, east and west; with evergreens on the north and northwest.
  • Shades, curtains, blinds on sunny windows.
  • Install ceiling fans (adjust blades for season: summer, counter-clockwise) or portable fans in every room.
  • Tune up air conditioners or HVAC; check filters monthly. Efficiency can save up to 30 percent on cooling costs.
  • Consider a new, much more efficient HVAC system if yours is over 10 years old.
  • Reflect heat with a ‘white’ or light-colored roof. Dark roofs absorb heat.

Working with the sun during cold weather can be the reverse of the above, i.e., open shades, etc. on the south side; switch fan blade direction; remove window air conditioning units. If remodeling, cost-effective additions that add to your present comfort and to later resale value are:

  • Low-E window replacement (especially on the north side);
  • Exterior door replacement (not wood);
  • New HVAC system with minimum 13 or 14 SEER;
  • Supplemental warm floors (electric heating under tile, linoleum, and even some wood floors); and
  • Efficient fireplace inserts to circulate heat.

Standard, time-honored steps to winterize include weather stripping or caulking older windows and doors, and sealing leaks around outlets, etc. For more green remodeling ideas you can check these websites: www.hgtvpro.com ; www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/

Of course, the big green and eco news is working with the sun to reduce electric consumption through solar panels. Over the last 30 years there have been major developments in solar products (including roof tiles) and whether these are cost-efficient depends on too many factors to list here. Generally, the consensus is that they help substantially in very sunny climes and moderately in our mixed environment. For a full analysis of your particular situation, it is best to study websites to become familiar with the concepts and terminology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_panel) and then to contact several local solar businesses (www.getsolar.com; www.dasolar.com; http://altenergyincorporated.com/).

While we don’t live at Monticello, our homes and their value are ultimately important. Implementing old & new green can only add to that value.

Francesca Toscani (Interior Editions) specializes in reworking and remodeling difficult kitchen, bath and other interior spaces to unlock their potential. francesca.toscani@yahoo.com; 434.823.1817.