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Financing Tips
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Homebuying Checklist
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Can You Afford the Home You Want?
Green Building Tips

BUYERS' CORNER

Green Building Tips

As more and more consumers are becoming aware of green building, pressure is put upon builders to offer green construction. While there is still a lot of confusion among both buyers and builders about what makes a house green, there are a few steps that should be considered as green basics.

It begins with site selection and orientation. The home should be oriented to maximize natural heat and light while minimizing the load on the HVAC system, and some trees should be left to provide a windbreak and shade. When possible homes should be located near shopping, schools, churches, to minimize driving.
Low-impact development methods used to minimize storm water runoff. Care is taken when grading to better control drainage and minimize disturbed areas.
Designs should be more energy efficient and should provide better protection from air infiltration. By following certain design criteria and using materials that are both eco-friendly and energy efficient, homeowners can reap the benefits of natural heating and cooling. Bigger is not necessarily better; homes are sized for the owner's needs.
HVAC systems should be high efficiency. With the newer heating and cooling systems it's possible to keep a well designed home comfortable while using dramatically less energy than it's older less-efficient cousin. Such systems should also be designed to provide a healthy indoor environment, dealing with the issues created when we seal homes to prevent infiltration.
Insulation should be both green and efficient. There are several products that significantly increase the R- value of a home's insulation while remaining eco-friendly.
Plumbing fixtures should be "high-efficiency." The latest technology in water-saving fixtures has improved dramatically in the past decade. Toilets and shower heads, for instance, infuse air to improve flow and function.
Sustainable products should be used for construction. New products are being introduced each year that have little negative impact upon the environment, while offering new options in design and style.
Indoor air quality is maintained through the use of certain materials. Mold and mildew resistant products are used in areas of high moisture such as: kitchens, baths, and basements. Low VOC paints are used throughout. Flooring materials are selected for their low environmental impact.
Waste should be minimized and recycled when possible. While it's sometimes less expensive to discard excess materials, it doesn't help the environment. Builders can minimize waste and save money while decreasing their environmental footprint.
Rainwater or grey water should be recycled for irrigation. There should be some allowance for the landscape irrigation without using the normal water supply. New methods of using waste water from sinks, tubs, and showers or capturing rainwater allows irrigation through recycling, saving dollars while protecting our water supply.
Landscaping should incorporate both native and drought resistant plants. Savvy builders are now taking advantage of more native and drought resistant plants to minimize the need for irrigation. Mulch can be provided from removed trees and salvaged building materials.

Energy efficiency in resales

While the majority of older homes were built with little consideration for energy efficiency-some older homes were constructed with no insulation-and no awareness of green building practices; there are some things to look for in older homes that can make it easier to adapt them to greener more energy efficient standards. A major plus that many older homes share is the presence of large shade trees. These both provide shade in the summer, lowering the demand for cooling, and act as a wind break in the winter, decreasing air infiltration. Not only do trees add beauty, but their presence creates energy savings in the hundreds of dollars when compared to similar homes without trees.

Older homes will probably have water-wasting toilets (they may use 3 - 5 times as much water as newer models) and, although it's possible to modify some of them, you'll need to know what you're doing. Consult a reputable plumber if you're not sure. Older homes may also have leaky faucets, wasting as much as 20 gallons a day. Upgrading faucets is a relatively simple repair, and many homeowners choose to do it themselves.

If you're considering the purchase of an older home, below you will find a list of items to check to help you determine what may be involved in making your home more efficient and eco-friendly.

Windows/doors. Are windows double insulated, and do doors and windows seal properly? Is trim, sill, or jamb material rotted?
Exterior veneer. Is the exterior material sound. Are joints cracked and in need of caulking? Is mortar in brick or stone joints cracked or falling out?
Wiring/lighting. Is there adequate electrical service to meet your lifestyle? Is the electrical panel filled to capacity? Do fixtures need upgrading?
Insulation. Is there sufficient attic insulation? Are exterior walls insulated? Is there proper ventilation in the attic?
Plumbing fixtures. Do plumbing fixtures-sinks faucets, shower heads, toilets-need to be upgraded?
Appliances. Are appliances out of date? Can they be easily replaced?
Heating and air conditioning. Is the HVAC system reasonably new? What is its efficiency rating? Is the ductwork properly insulated and sealed?
Flooring material. Does flooring need to be replaced? Is vinyl old and does it contain asbestos?

Easy modifications

Is it possible to retrofit older homes to make them both environmentally friendly and less expensive to operate? Yes it is, and many of the changes are simple and will not "break the bank." There are several inexpensive alterations that can be made that will have a significant impact on a home's energy and resource consumption. Below I have listed some practical modifications, generally in order of cost, which owners of older homes should consider:

Caulking around windows, doors, and siding joints
Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs
Installing electronic "set-back" thermostats
Insulating and sealing ductwork
Upgrading plumbing fixtures/shower heads/water heaters
Adding insulation in attics
Installing a radiant barrier under the roof or increasing attic ventilation
Upgrading appliances to those that are "Energy Star" rated
Replacing windows/doors
Replacing HVAC systems

If you are interested in more information, the following resources may be helpful:

www.energy.gov - U. S. Department of Energy
www.energystar.gov - joint program of EPA and DOE to certify energy standards
www.eia.doe.gov - Energy Information Administration
www.epa.gov - U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
www.pathnet.org - Public-Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology
www.repp.org - Global Energy Marketplace
www.forestworld.com - sustainable products company
www.greenseal.org - promotes manufacture, purchase, and use of eco-friendly products
www.awea.org - American Wind Energy Association
www.ases.org - American Solar Energy Society
www.globalgreen.org - non-profit organization that sets environmental certification standards
www.nahb.org - National Association of Homebuilders
www.nsf.org - not-for-profit testing laboratory
www.dsireusa.org - The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy
www.usgbc.org - U. S. Green Building Council

 

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