Low Hanging Fruit: A Place To Start When Remodeling Green

Faren DancerBy Faren Dancer

If you’re looking to do a major renovation on an existing residence, a large menu of possibilities exist for how to green your project. You might look at, not only, potential energy savings and a lower carbon footprint, but an array of healthful and sustainable solutions to add to your ever expanding wish list. Most of us may not be able or willing to tear off the roof, demo the old wing or leave just one wall standing. There are sensible levels of attainment based on what the budget allows. In our Santa Fe climate a great place to start is your heating system. Your furnace, or boiler if you have radiant heat, can be easily retrofitted with an Energy Star rated unit that can instantly save upwards of 30% on your heating bill. Then one might look to other major appliances. While scanning the horizons of your daily routine, note that refrigerators are notorious energy hogs. Then peak into the laundry where the washers and dryers are gobbling far more BTUs, and water than may be deemed acceptable. To carry on the theme of saving energy, the next time you catch your reflection in your single pane windows equate their R-Value in the lowest of low, single digits. Unfortunately New Mexico in not one of the 40 states that offer tax incentives or rebates on window retrofits. I do recall the sense of pride that came over me when the state officials scribbled feverishly after I mentioned this at a public hearing.

A modest act of greening might be ripping up the old carpet, with it’s synthetic fiber and years of dirt and dust mites. Then polish up the old satillo tile that lay beneath, or lay down some recycled hardwood, maybe from a demolished barn somewhere in New Mexico. Good old ceramic tile can be relatively inexpensive, doesn’t outgas and maintains thermal mass if not too highly reflective. How long have we been staring at that dated Formica? It wouldn’t be so distasteful if it was colored green, but that’s really seventies man. Let’s look to the future. Often when we remodel a natural or earthy approach might feel like “back to the future.” Earthy materials like stone, clay tile, recycled wood, adobe, ceramics and clay plasters add warmth and charm. Going the next level, when tackling the kitchen or bath, might be to lose those old cabinets, but refrain from the cheap or easy… formaldehyde free goes a long way when addressing your indoor air quality but certainly a higher hanging approach then simply removing the carpet. For some added flavor you might try tile made of recycled glass, composite countertops from recycled materials or formed concrete, salvaged interior doors, properly placed trees for added cooling in the summer and entertaining the thought of materials being procured within a 500 mile radius of your home.

This feels like the perfect moment to venture back to energy. It’s fairly common knowledge that a well insulated, tight building envelop, complete with your new dual pane, low-e windows (rebate forthcoming), is a fabulous way to be comfortable while saving energy. It is, however, an expensive and interesting challenge to redo that old, poorly installed fiberglass batt insulation, by tearing out all the drywall and blowing in some cellulose. I recently heard of a local outfit, with some obvious energy consciousness, specializing in re-stuccoing exteriors. You may have opportunity to consider this someday. First, they bring in the spray foam applicator who applies 2’’ of polyurethane to the entire exterior before applying the new stucco. This seals air leakage and adds approximately an R-15 on top of what already exists in the walls. While you’re at it, go ahead, have them redo that needy, old, flat roof. Six inches of foam will do quite nicely. Gee, who ever thought that a tight building envelop could be this much fun!

Let’s see now, we’ve started with the low hanging fruit and got a bit carried away, so now it’s time to rope it back in. Does your toilet have a ring that just won’t go away? It’s the ideal opportunity to switch it out with a brand new, dual flush model. A modest amount of water for number one and the bigger splash for number two. Try one of the new low flow shower heads, replace those aerators in all the faucets, install some rain barrels, plant some drought resistant landscape and bingo! It all adds up to real water savings, relatively painless.

Of course, one of the all time low hangers is paint. But for our next spring freshening let’s go out of our way to use low to no VOCs. Actually, one doesn’t have to travel very far as green is getting a lot of play nowadays. Most all the big paint companies from Sherwin Williams to Dunn Edwards to Home Depot all carry a line of paint that has addressed the issue of volatile organic compounds outgasing into the atmosphere by first finding their way up your nose. Wow, things seem to be smelling better already.

In conclusion, here’s something that everyone might want to consider. It isn’t real cheap, but it’s certainly doable and goes a long way in saving energy, reducing C02 emissions and showing your neighbors you’re up with the times. Give up? Okay, it’s solar hot water. With available state and federal rebates a typical 80 gallon system lands in or around 5k. So when’s the payback? Most money conscious people might ask. Well, here goes. Disabling one C02 spewing conventional tank is like taking one automobile off the road a year or the equivalent of planting an acre of trees, that’s the instant environmental impact. If rolled back into a mortgage refinance the upcharge in the monthly payment is offset by the savings on the gas bill, and keep in mind the price of natural gas is going one direction only.  So, show your patriotism, take the leap and go solar sooner than later. The sun will shine down most favorably upon you. This I promise.

P.S. Oops! I almost forgot the lowest hanging fruit of all…compact florescent bulbs (CFLs). With minimal effort and expense, this operation will provide substantial energy savings. Be on the lookout for ways to recycle …these babies do contain mercury.

Faren Dancer is host of AgeNation’s Green Talk Radio (GTR) – catch more Green Talk each week on AgeNation Radio!

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