Helen Watts Engineering PLLC

Hints for Homeowners #2 - Live Green

Home
About HWE
Structural Engineering Services
Residential and Condomium Structures
Contact Us
Builder Tools
Hints for Homeowners #1 - The Spring Inspection
Hints for Homeowners #2 - Live Green
Hints for Homeowners #3 - Hire a Contractor
Hints for Homeowners #4 - Ice Dams
Hints for Homeowners #5 - Landscaping

A Great Time to Be Green

This IS a great time to be green, to reduce your carbon footprint. Your home, when it is built, uses about 35% of it’s lifetime carbon footprint. The other 65% of the carbon footprint is in using and living in the home. How about a list of some things you can do to be more green with your home?

         When light bulbs fail, replace the regular ones with LEDs. There are great LED fixtures out there for the price of the LED bulbs. The CFLs don't seem to last very long (CFL = compact florescent). Dispose of florescent bulbs properly!

         If you have the four-foot type fluorescents, you can replace the old (fat) bulbs with new (skinny, more efficient) bulbs, but you have to also replace the ballast when you first switch. This is cost effective, and simple to do.

         If you are in the market for a washing machine, or are on a septic system and well and are currently using a top-loading washing machine, pay the extra for a front-loading washing machine. They use less than half the water, and get the clothes more dry. Less pumping from the well, less water used, less soap needed. These washers do vibrate more when they do their extra-dry spin cycle, which is a problem for first-floor laundries. You can find various isolation pads online (look for ones with sorbethane, or get some sorbethane and make your own), and they really help keep the noise and vibration down. And the dryers that sense when the load is dry are wonderful.

         Have your boiler or furnace checked and tuned up every year. An efficient boiler is one that gives you as much heat as possible for each gallon of fuel. Have your chimney inspected every year, and cleaned or repaired as needed.

         Get rechargeable batteries and a recharger; these work best for cameras. I asked for a solar panel kit for Christmas, and now have my batteries and cell phone for my work charged by the sun. This is not cost effective, but it sure feels good – and it’s a start.

The price of solar panels has dropped 50% from 2008 to 2013. Note: the inverters are expensive and last about 12-15 years - the inverters are where the next great leap in efficiency and cost improvement will come. Remember - the price of photovoltaics, like any other system, should be the life-cycle cost of the whole system. 

         Keep the dust cleaned out of the coils of your refrigerator and freezer. The coil is often behind a grill at the floor – which collects dust. That is where the heat is removed from the inside and moved to the outside, after all. Note: be gentle and do not bang the coil. I use the duster attachment that comes on my vacuum cleaner. This is also “green” in that if the coil is clean, it is less likely to break down, so the refrigerator will last longer.

         Make sure that the bathroom vent is used with each shower. The vents can be on a timer, but if the vent comes on with the lights, the hot, moist air from showering is going to be mostly removed even if your teenager doesn’t remember to use the fan. Even better, leave the fan set so it stays on for an extra 10 minutes. Make sure the vent goes all the way to the outside. I often see vents run to the attic or crawl space, making ice dams or mold or rot. Sometimes the vent is run to the soffits – make sure the vent goes all the way through the soffits. Both the bathroom and dryer vents should be made of the shortest possible run of smooth duct possible. This will allow the fan to push the air out best. The cheap plastic flex hose has a high amount of friction, and tends to grab dust which takes on water, then the duct sags and splits apart. Then all that warm, wet air makes mold and rots wood. I’ve seen green mold, but that’s not the small-carbon-footprint green, that’s the undesirable kind.

         Air out new purchases before you bring them in your house. Carpets, upholstered furniture, televisions, computers, particleboard – and their plastic wrappings. Take the wrappings off, and let the new things sit outdoors or in the garage to reduce your exposure to the off-gassed chemicals.

         Maintain your home – replacing things that grow old before they should need replacement is never green – and costs you money.

         Sometimes if you want to make your home "bigger", what you really need is to de-clutter what you have. Have a friend help, and no tossing of your spouse's stuff without their full consent.

         Sometimes if you want to make your home "bigger", adding a window or skylight will work wonders. Not that I like skylights - I've seen them leak and have condensate problems. Make sure you get a good one and have it properly flashed in to the roofing, or don't bother. 

         Many a long driveway will be paved this summer. Reclaim asphalt (ground-up old asphalt) is a good, low-cost durable choice.

Updated 1/1/14 - and go to the website for the Pretty Good House Graphic Handbook too.

Helen Watts Engineering PLLC * 455 Litchfield Road * Bowdoin, ME * 04287 * hcwatts@gwi.net * (207) 522-9366