Healthy home trend trumps green initiative

healthy home
Effects of Living in a Healthy Home (infographic from haywardhealthyhome.com)

Green building practices have been the trend for new homes over a decade.  Housing experts have touted the benefits of green building as environmentally friendly and money saving.  Health experts have also proclaimed the benefits of green home designs.  However, a revealing exposé in Remodeling Magazine discusses the health dangers of living in a green design and/or energy efficient home.  There is a healthy home trend that is trumping the green initiative.

The need for a healthy home

To describe how a green home’s air can become dangerous over time, Marisa Martinez uses the analogy of opening up the air-tight sealed bag of clothes from last summer and getting a whiff of the stale, plastic air (Breathing Easy: An Introduction to Healthy Homes; remodeling.hw.com; June 22, 2017).  Martinez discussed how builders and home owners have focused on reducing environmental impacts of their home and neglected the health effects from the new building directives.

Green building and efficient home designs focus on reducing system operating costs by increasing the structure efficiency, thus reducing the impact to the environment.  One of the outcomes of such a building design is having an air tight home.  The air-tight feature is to ensure that there is minimal energy loss from escaping air.  Owners and occupants of green homes are becoming ill because homes are air-tight.  The lack of proper ventilation and the decreased breathability of a home can make the inside air become stale.  And, over time, the buildup of interior pollutants can make the home toxic.

Increasing the awareness of green and efficient homes was a reason for the mandatory utility disclosures when selling a home in Montgomery County. This requirement was enacted in 2008 as a compromise from a proposed mandatory energy audit.

“According to Montgomery County Bill 31-07, enacted into Montgomery County Code Real Property 40-13b earlier this year, a home seller must provide potential home buyers the last twelve months of utility bills and information approved by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about home efficiency improvements including the “benefit of conducting a home energy audit” before entering into a sales contract.”

Additional potential hazards can be encountered when renovating a green designed home because the air-tight feature can cause air pollutants to accumulate inside the home.  Materials in new carpets, flooring (finished wood or vinyl), and paints can produce toxic off-gases that are not ventilated out of the home.  Dust from drywall and other building materials pose a health hazard as well.

Martinez’s exposé flies in the face of research hyping the health benefits of green homes.  One of the flaws of the these studies is that the health outcome comparisons of occupants of conventional built homes and green designated homes typically focused on new homes.  The air quality issue that Martinez points out should be studied in older green and efficient homes, where the indoor air has had time to “mature.”

The green home movement was supposed to give us environmentally friendly, efficient homes that were also supposed keep us healthy.  But the trend from green and efficient building is now transforming to a focus more on healthy home environments with an emphasis on good indoor air quality.  Martinez stated that the good indoor air quality can be achieved by continuously exchanging the indoor air with conditioned outdoor air.  There are physical and environmental benefits of a healthy home, which include increased emotional well being and reduced respiratory distress.

Leading the effort to educate the housing industry and consumers on healthy home environments is Bill Hayward.  In an interview in Builder Magazine (Advocating for Fresh Air in Homes; builderonline.com; September 29, 2016) he discussed his journey in creating Hayward Healthy Homes after realizing his home was making his family ill.  Hayward stated “Thirty percent of the population has allergies and is physically affected by the indoor air quality. The worst air that Americans breath right now is the air within their house.” More information and a free guide on creating a healthy home can be obtained from Hayward Healthy Home (haywardhealthyhome.com).

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Resurgence of solar power

House Solar Once considered too costly, solar is getting hot (pun intended). Many factors are making it easier for consumers to choose solar; including lower installation costs and tax credits. Solar energy has also become a selling point for some home builders in sunny states such as California; where builders have offered the option of solar panel installation during construction.

Solar technology has come a long way. Manufacturing advances have not only made the technology more affordable, it has paved the way to new applications as well. Besides the panels with which we have become accustomed, photovoltaic (PV) technology is now available as roof shingles and windows; and some companies that can even apply the PV to other exterior home surfaces.

Is the investment worth it? A recent Washington Post piece (March 26, 2014; Real Estate Matters: Are solar panels worth the investment?) explores the value of installing solar panels – and concludes that it depends on your individual costs and savings. Authors Glink and Tamkin take into account the installation costs, tax credits and a monthly power bill of $120. Assuming that their system would supply all of their electricity needs, they applied the $120/month savings to repay the loan taken to cover the solar panel installation; and based on their calculations – there would be no savings for the first ten years.

However, your actual utility savings can vary on a number of factors, including (but not limited to): the amount of solar power produced; system size and placement; and available sun energy. Additionally, the cost of maintaining your solar panel system can vary; regular maintenance is required to ensure your system is producing power efficiently. Maintaining your system typically entails cleaning the panels (debris, dust, bird droppings can collect on surfaces) and testing other components. Furthermore, because the average life expectancy of a solar panel is about 30 years (depending in manufacturer), you should consider the time you intend to live in your home and resale. Home buyer attitudes on existing systems and possible replacement costs is not entirely clear.

If you’re considering a PV system, Energy.gov offers these tips: measure the amount of sun available; calculate the size of the system to meet your needs; predetermine the best location for the system, as well as making sure it will fit; decide if the system is a standalone or connected to the power grid; and how will the safety needs be met (energy.gov/energysaver/articles/planning-home-solar-electric-system).

Before choosing a contractor, energy.gov recommends due diligence. Ask about the company’s time in business and experience installing the type of system you have chosen (technical differences can exist). Check the contractor/company for complaints, judgments or liens. And, of course, make sure the contractor has appropriate valid licenses; according to the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation website, “a home improvement contractor or subcontractor license is required to install solar panels for a homeowner, regardless of whether the panels will be installed on the home or an outbuilding adjacent to a residence, or will be attached to the land next to the residence. A licensed master electrician is required to hook the panels to the electric system.”

Finally, energy.gov also recommends getting multiple installation quotes because panel efficiency can vary depending on the manufacturer. The estimates should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

You can be Green with little effort and cost

By Dan Krell
© 2011
DanKrell.com

Being green has become mired in controversy and scandal. As “green jobs” are being touted to save our economy; the recent controversy surrounding the solar company, Solyndra, is making some people wonder if a green agenda is more than just making your home more energy efficient. Some might even argue “green” is becoming political and getting lost in the eco-debate.

However, after sifting through the rhetoric, being green is about conserving resources and saving you money; and it doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune either (like retro-fitting your home with “green technology” that might take years to break even on your investment). Being green is easy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov) provides a guide on conserving energy and saving money in your home entitled, “Saving Starts @ Home: The Inside Story on Conserving Energy”. The publication breaks down green activities to specific areas of the home.

The guide offers many money saving tips, including these for your appliances: if possible- move your refrigerator away from the stove, dishwasher and vents; check that refrigerator seals are tight; run the dishwasher when it is full (don’t overload); use pots that fit the burners of your stove and use lids on pots to allow for a lower cooking temperature; lower hot water heater thermostats to 120 degrees rather than the pre-set 140 degrees; clean lint from clothes dryer each load to make your dryer run more efficiently.

Lighting is another area where you can conserve energy. The guide points out that there is a wide variety of lighting which should be compared for your specific needs. Comparing lighting should be easy as bulb packaging is required to have information such as light output (how much light the bulb produces, measured in lumens.); energy usage (the total electrical power a bulb uses measured in watts.); voltage, if the bulb is not 120 volts; average life in hours (how long the bulb will last); and the number of bulbs in the package (if more than one).

Certainly, buying a new high efficiency HVAC system might show your ecological awareness; however the guide suggests that you can increase your existing HVAC system’s efficiency through regular maintenance by a licensed professional. Increased HVAC efficiency can be achieved by having a licensed professional seal leaky ducts and ensuring that airflow is distributed appropriately. Also, remember to replace filters as recommended. Additional ways to make your furnace more efficient include: checking caulking and weather-stripping in your home and repair if necessary; installing a programmable thermostat to control air temperature while you’re away from home; consider installing ceiling fans and/or a whole house fan to assist with air circulation; sealing holes around plumbing and heating pipes; and consider installing window coverings.

The guide cautions you about advertisements of energy saving products and services. Some ads are for gimmicks that don’t deliver what’s promised. Take your time to carefully assess claims; and don’t be pressured into making a decision from contractors or door to door salespeople. The guide states, “If you sign a contract in your home or somewhere other than a company’s permanent place of business, the FTC’s ‘Cooling-Off Rule’ gives you three business days to cancel.”

Ultimately, creating green habits can be easy and should not cost you much; green habits not only save resources, but can save you money too.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of September 19, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.

Thinking of updating? Go Green!

by Dan Krell
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If you are thinking of updating your home- think green. As we are increasingly becoming environmentally conscious, home buyers are as well. As the cost of energy continues to increase, home buyers are increasingly becoming aware of energy saving devices within homes, including Energy Star rated products and environmentally friendly materials.

Most of us are familiar with the Energy Star logo on appliances; however, Energy Star ratings or recommendations can also be found on windows, lighting fixtures/light bulbs, HVAC equipment, hot water heaters and insulation. Home improvement recommendations from Energy Star can save a home owner up to 31% in energy costs! Do you think that saving on energy costs would be a selling point to a potential homebuyer? You bet it would!

Energy Star (energystar.gov) is a jointly sponsored program through the United States Department of Energy and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The program began in 1992 by voluntarily labeling energy efficient items. Although computers and monitors were the first items to be labeled, the Energy Star logo is now seen on household, office, and commercial items from fifty categories. On the website, Energy Star provides assessment tools for homeowners in determining the efficiency of their homes as well helping understand what needs improvement.

To make the home more appealing to home buyers, the first items that a home owner thinks of replacing are the kitchen appliances and the washer/dryer. Although high efficiency appliances typically cost more, Energy Star states that the money saved on energy costs will more than offset the cost of an energy star rated appliance. Because Energy Star rated appliances use up to 50% less energy than standard appliances, it is estimated that the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees would be planted if ten percent of American households use Energy Star rated appliances.

Additionally, if your furnace is more than ten years old, Energy Star recommends that a newer high efficiency furnace be installed. Recommended efficiency ratings by Energy Star are 90% Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) for a gas furnace and a minimal Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13 for central air conditioning units. However, if your ductwork leaks it reduces the HVAC efficiency, so it is recommended that leaking duct work be sealed. Additionally, adding a programmable thermostat may save an additional $150 a year.

As your hot water heater uses about one third of a home’s energy costs, replacing it to a more efficient model can reduce the overall energy bill. Hot water heater efficiency is rated by Energy Factor (EF). Depending on the size of the hot water heater, the recommended EF can vary. Newer tankless models heat water as you need it and thereby can save you even more.

Other ways to make your home greener and energy efficient, besides using high efficiency and Energy Star rated appliances and systems, include: sealing air leaks around windows and in basements/attics; ensuring that your home is properly insulated in the walls, attic, and basement; and replacing light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs. Although not all appliances are Energy Star rated, the Department if Energy has a guide to making your home energy efficient at: www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/index.html.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 11, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.