Passive Houses Use 90% Less Energy —Really?

Yes, really.  You think the oil, coal, natural gas and HVAC companies want you to know about this. NOT.  The Passive House movement is in its infancy in the US but it’s already a young adult in Europe.  It’s called “passive” because heating or cooling these homes relies completely on natural resources.  In other words there are no active systems involved in the 90% reduction in energy use!  How is this possible I’m sure you want to know.  Why didn’t I know about this might be another question.

A passive house uses orientation, super insulation, advanced window technology, air tightness, and shading to achieve standards that are set by the Passiv Haus Institute. These standards eliminate the need for a conventional HVAC system or for solar panels and geothermal systems.  Although some homes have an option for solar systems.  An energy recovery ventilation system provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply, a uniquely terrific indoor air quality, AND reduces energy use and carbon emissions, according to the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS)

Do passive houses cost more to build?  Yep.  David Peabody, a Washington metro area architect and passionate promoter of sustainable architecture and passive houses is building a passive house in Bethesda, Maryland.  He found that the increased cost for the home he’s building is about 8%.  For a 90% reduction in monthly energy bills I’d say it’s worth it.  A certified passive house uses less than 1.4 kWh per square foot in heating and cooling energy and uses less than 11kWh per square foot for all energy!  By the way,  existing homes can be retrofitted to meet many passive home standards.

Barbara Landau and her family are building a second home in Vermont.  A Passive House–in Vermont–with no furnace.  When several insurance companies asked what kind of heating system the house would have and were told NONE, they declined to insure the house, thinking the pipes would freeze.  They won’t.  This excellent NY Times article chronicles their story.

The passive house movement was started when conversations between two German professors at the Institute of Housing and the Environment led to the first passive houses being built in Germany in 1990. To date it is estimated that 15 to 20 thousand passive buildings have been built worldwide, mostly in Germany and Scandinavian countries.  The US numbers are far, far fewer.  Remember, the movement here is still a nursing baby, but one that is being nurtured by it’s German parent.

This map represents the Passive projects currently underway in the United States today.  The squares have been certified, the circles pre-certified and the triangles are in the planning stages.  Green represents single family homes, red  education, blue multi-family and gold are retrofits.

Buildings use more than 40 percent of all the energy consumed in the United States.  If builders were to embrace the passive building concept, both the cost of building and the use of nonrenewable energy sources would decline.

 

The Reduce-Reuse-Recycle Approach To Giving Your Home a New Look

WITH A HOME STAGER

Let’s face it, at some point many people feel their home needs a face lift.  If your first inclination when this happens is to go out and buy new furniture or at the very least all new accessories, pictures, etc., think again.  One of the most important tenets of sustainability is to buy and use fewer things that deplete the planet’s resources or wind up in the world’s landfills.  The fewer things that you are responsible for disposing of in landfills, the lower your carbon footprint will be. repurposing is a powerful word and can also save a lot of cash. A keen professional eye can help us to rearrange furniture, accessories, art work etc. to create a home with a whole new look.

Many people know the concept of home staging either because they watch HGTV or because they’ve sold a home in the last few years.  As a real estate agent I was staging listings long before the recent popularity and profitability of staging.  We think of staging as something you do when we’re selling a home and want it to stand out and shine.  And it works.  Staging a home for sale will almost always cause it to sell faster than an un-staged home.  Often after we staged a home the sellers commented, “maybe we won’t move now” or “will you come and stage our new house.”

So recently I had an idea.  Just because we don’t go out and hire an Interior Decorator when we want a change doesn’t mean we couldn’t benefit from a little professional assistance of a less expensive kind.  Why not have a home stager do exactly what she/he would do if you were selling your home.  The idea of staging is to use what you already but arrange it in a more attractive way.  Sometime stagers will have you add extra lighting or accessories but first they work with what you have. Often they have you remove things that you may love but that make your home look cluttered or don’t necessarily add to it’s attractivness. The stager is not attached.

I asked a stager friend of mine about staging homes for people who are not selling and she thought it was a great idea. I’m going to take my own advice.  I live in a small space and have nice artwork, sculptures, pottery, etc. that I’ve collected over the years–too much, I admit, for my small space. I’m also bored with the the way that I arranged my furniture 5 years ago when I moved.  I don’t really need anything new but I desperately need a new look. So this spring I’m going to just do it.  I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’ll take some before and after photos.

BTW, not all home staging is equal.  A good home stager doesn’t make it obvious that the home is staged.  The home should still look livable and lived in.  Occasionally I go into a staged home with clients and they start laughing–at the table set for four with fake food on the plates, or the outdoor furniture used to “stage” the living room.  All stagers are not equal, so if you want a good one, call me.  If you’re not in my area, ask to see homes they’ve staged. Stagers cost $85-100 per hour for consulting.  They can simply tell you what to do or they can also help you to do it.

The Before and After in the photos above was borrowed from www.homestagingexpert.com

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Gayle Fleming  703-625-1358    www.goinggreenhomesva.com    gayle@goinggreenhomesva.com

What’s in a Footprint?–A Growing Market for Smaller Homes

A smaller house is a greener house, plain and simple–even if it doesn’t have EnergyStar this and EnergyStar that–even if it doesn’t have foam insulation, solar panels or a tankless hot water heater.  It’s greener because it’s carbon footprint is smaller.  A small house in a walkable neighborhood is even greener.

I have an adorable 1931 completely remodeled home listed for sale in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA.  Clarendon is one of the most “sought after” neighborhoods in the city because of it’s proximity to shopping, metro, restaurants, night life, etc.  Because of it’s desirability, it’s a fairly pricy neighborhood.  The house has just under 1200 square feet–so not large.  But it has been opened up so that there’s a wonderful flow.  It has large windows and amazing light. The landscaped yard is lovely and low maintenance. And the fact that this small house was not knocked down to build a larger house makes it greener still.

Part of the neighborhood has a dense concentration of high rise condominiums. A condo with comparable square footage could run nearly $600,000 with a condo fee of over $400 per month.  Buildings use 40% of all of the energy used with high rise buildings using the majority of that.  Most high rise condo buildings are not very energy efficient.  So their carbon footprint makes a giant sucking sound.

Why I wonder, would someone be okay living in a high rise condo paying nearly $600,000 for 1100-1200 square feet and a $400 a month condo fee but feel that a 1200 square foot house with no condo fee is too small.  Now I have nothing against condos and I understand that condo living fits a certain lifestyle.  But I do wonder if there is also the perception that a house has to be bigger than a condo or apartment?  If so,  that perception is changing according to all recent studies.  The small home movement is growing.

When I was a child, which was admittedly a long time ago, the first home my parents bought had three bedrooms, one bath, a living room, dining room, kitchen and a big backyard with an apple and walnut tree.  There were four kids and I don’t ever remember thinking our house was too small.  I do remember yelling at my siblings to hurry up in the bathroom and I remember the nightly bath schedule.  By the time I was 13 we had moved to a house that had 4 bedrooms, one and a half baths and a den.  We thought we were living in the lap of luxury!

For many decades most families lived in homes about the size of the homes I grew up in.  Now there is a clearly defined trend towards smaller homes. The changing demographics of the average home buyer shows that  single women made up 21 percent of the homebuyers in 2009.  These women are professional with busy schedules and no time for the maintenance of a larger home.

The National Association of Homebuilders is reporting that the average size of new homes has been declining for the last four or five years and young people and empty nesters are flocking to smaller homes.  And the Wall Street Journal Development Blog reported just this month:

Gen Y housing preferences are the subject of at least two panels at this week’s convention. A key finding: They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, said Melina Duggal, a principal with Orlando-based real estate adviser RCLCO. A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit such as Bethesda and Arlington in the Washington suburbs will do just fine.

“One-third are willing to pay for the ability to walk,” Ms. Duggal said. “They don’t want to be in a cookie-cutter type of development. …The suburbs will need to evolve to be attractive to Gen Y.”

So my little beauty of a listing is right in line with the national trend. Small is beautiful! Have a look.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

Sunday Soapbox–Does It Really Matter?

Does it really matter if you try to live your life more sustainably?  Will it actually help to stop the destruction of the planet?  Can the little things individual people and families do make a difference when the BPs of world seem intent on squeezing every single dollar out of the earth at the expense of future generations?  Sometimes I wonder.  But to use one of my favorite quotes, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Meade).  I have to cling to the belief that it does matter–and that the collective will of world citizens is up to the challenge of taking back our planet.

And although I write most of my blogs from the perspective of how thinking “green” will benefit buyers and sellers of real estate, it is my desire to assure my grandchildren and all the children of the world, have a sustainable future that is the strongest motivation for my commitment.  I want to get the message out that the simple changes we make in our lives do matter, and can make a substantial difference in the future sustainability of the earth.

There can be no one, I’m sure, who was not horrified by the obscenity in the Gulf Coast. We watched daily, wringing our hands, feeling helpless as BP continued the damage to the environment, the economic stability and the lifestyle and culture of the region.

So does boycotting BP gas stations make a difference?  Probably not– not if we insist on continuing to fill gas guzzling cars at competitors’ gas stations.  Recently I had to drive a rental car after a red light runner totaled my Prius.  The only car the rental company had was a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.  OMG!  I spent $70 in 10 days.  I’m used to spending $35 in two weeks!  That’s because I get about 38-40 MPG.  When I questioned a few people and asked how can people do this, they responded with what to me were horror stories, of spending $80 a week on their gas guzzling cars.  How can this make sense to anybody–both because we are a  nation in financial crisis but also because oil is ultimately a non-renewable resource.

Little Things Count

We don’t all have to turn into rabid tree huggers to make a couple of small but significant lifestyle changes.  Consider bottled water.  It takes 17 MILLION barrels of oil to make the plastic bottles used in the United States each year.  This doesn’t even count the energy required to manufacture and transport these bottles to market which severely drains limited fossil fuels.  And then there’s the fact that BPA and PETE chemicals in plastic bottles are suspected to have carcinogenic properties as well as the fact that the millions upon millions of plastic bottles that wind up in land fills (despite recycling efforts) generate toxic emissions and pollutants that contribute to global warming.  So what if you make a decision to put a water filter on your faucet or get a Brita pitcher (that’s what I use) and a couple of stainless steel water bottles to take with you.  Can you do that?  Will you do that?  It is a small sustainable change that will make a difference and also save you a lot of money.

I’m happy to see more and more people consciously using reusable bags.  It takes 60 to 100 MILLION barrels of oil to make the world’s plastic bags.  Yes, recycling helps but here’s the rub.  More and more foreign entities–read that China–are buying our recycled plastic bags and shipping them (more oil) overseas to make things in factories to sell back to us.  They are also exposing workers in these factories to toxins that are making them ill because the worker safety standards are lax and not enforced where they even exist.  That’s not an excuse not to recycle everything you can.  Reusable bags are a better choice.

Electronic Waste-A Growing Danger

Our growing reliance upon and obsession with technology is wreaking havoc on the nation’s landfills and thus on the water and soil we rely upon for irrigation, drinking and food production.  Lead, cadmium, beryllium, and mercury are just some of the contaminants we don’t want fouling our ecosystem.   In 2005, according to the EPA, 1.5 to 1.8 MILLION tons of electronic waste was disposed of.  But only 345,000 to 379,000 tons was safely recycled.  If you live anywhere near a Best Buy, a Staples or an Office Depot you can responsibly recycle all of your obsolete electronic junk–anything from computers, to compact discs, to plugs and cords–anything related to technology. I have an Office Depot Tech Recycling box right now that I keep adding too until its full.  Some U.S. counties have E-Waste recycling centers and if not, you can contact Green Disk Services.  You can mail up to 20 pounds of small electronics and electronic paraphernalia for $6.95.  And don’t forget about donating.  Many non-profits can use your old  computers and other technology.

Because of  the current economic climate many of us buying less, thus reducing our consumption.  Our economy should not be so dependent how much Americans buy stuff.  Trying to stick to the Three Rs–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a worthwhile effort to make.

And finally in the words of R. Buckminster Fuller, “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”

This is one of my favorite videos.  I’ve watched it more than once.


The End is Near and In With the Old and Out With the New

TAX CREDITS END THIS YEAR

On December 31, 2010 it’s lights out for the federal tax credits for energy-efficient windows, doors, insulation,roofs, hot water heaters and HVAC systems. So if you’ve been putting off making some energy efficient improvements to your home it’s time to stop procrastinating and as the Nike commercial says, “Just do it!”  Until December 31st you can get a tax credit of 30% of your costs up to a maximum of $1500.

Now if you want to really trick out your house with solar panels, residential wind turbines or geothermal heating there is no upper limit to what you can spend to get a 30% tax credit. And this credit is in effect until December 31, 2016.  This link will tell you what you need to know to get the tax credit.

BUT before you rush to do any of these things, have an energy audit.  Getting a tax credit for spending money you don’t need to spend is like buying something on sale that you already have and don’t need just because you’ll save money. When you have an energy audit which will cost you around $300-400, you may find out that you don’t need to spend that $20,000 on new windows–you just need to do some serious air sealing with caulking and insulation.

INSULATION

Speaking of insulation–the best and the most cost-effective insulation aren’t necessarily the same.  In a recent blog on the Green Building Advisor website, Carl Seville, an advisor who certifies green homes, discusses the downside of fiberglass insulation.  This is the insulation that most of us are familiar with and the least expensive choice for insulation. The biggest problem seems to be that it’s hard to install properly. If you’re thinking about doing some insulation before it gets really cold, you might want to check out his post.   Foam and blown in cellulose insulation are considered better choices but do cost more.

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

This is a motto we would all do well to live by to reduce the burden on our fragile planet.  But this philosophy can do more than save green trees–it can save green backs too.  So maybe you have some home improvements you want to make.  Most people would head for Home Depot or Lowes, right?  Well how about heading for ReBuild Warehouse or ReStore where you can buy new and gently used home improvement products and save more than 50%!  These are both Northern Virginia locations so if you’re reading this blog from another area, check the web to see what’s available in your area.  ReBuild Warehouse is affiliated with a company call Deconstruction, LLC, an environmental company that disassembles homes for builders or home owners doing major rebuilds or remodeling. ReStore is affiliated with and run by Habitat for Humanity

“BABY IT’S (GETTING) COLD OUTSIDE”

I have a great Energy Saver booklet to share with you.  If you email or call me with your address (if I don’t have it) I would be happy to mail it to you.  It has wonderful cost effective advise on energy savings for homes, appliances, cars, electronics, etc.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

Fed Tax Credits Stimulate Your Bank Account Save Money and Energy

So you are feeling compelled to do something about the fact that your home heats and air conditions the outside almost as well as it heats and air conditions the inside–maybe better.  Too much money being wasted and too many CO2 emissions being created.  Rather than trying to guess where the leaks in your home are, you’ve had a professional energy auditor rate your home and advise you on what you need to do. 

Now it’s time to act.  Some fixes may be as simple and inexpensive as caulking or weatherstripping.  However if the fix requires the purchase of windows, a furnace or a/c unit, for example, there are some great federal and in some cases, state tax incentives that will help offset the cost.  President Obama’s stimulus package isn’t just for the fat cats.  There is something in it for you and me.   There is a 30% tax credit that can be used to make energy efficient home improvements for things such as insulation, roofs, doors, furnaces, hot water heaters, etc.  Now this is a one time tax credit with a maximum of $1,500. 

 The credit can only be claimed once in either 2009 or 2010.   So if,  for instance, you buy a $3,000 A/C unit in 2009, your tax credit would be $900.  Then you spend $2,000 on insulation which will give you a tax credit of $600.  These two improvements will max out your tax credit of $1,500.  So even if you also have new windows installed you can only claim the credit up to the $1500. And at least for now it’s a one time credit.  That could change of course as the Obama administration pushes for more ways for the country to conserve energy.  The EnergyStarwebsite explains in more detail which improvements qualify for the tax credit.  Be sure to bookmark the EnergyStar link because it has all the guidelines and some efficiency factors have changed.

Now if you really get adventurous and are thinking about geothermal or solar heat, the incentives really heat up, pun intended.  Either one or a combination of both of these options could reduce your energy costs by up to 70 percent.  They are relatively expensive to install but over years they more than pay for themselves.  The tax credit for these is 30% tax credit  with NO  limit on what you spend. The credit can be claimed until 2016.  So if you spend $10,000 on a solar system, for example, your credit is $3,000. 

Some state governments have incentives as well, so check with your state’s  Department of Taxation.  In Virginia , of instance, from October 9th through October 12th their will be no sales tax on certain energy efficient home improvements. Sales tax in Virginia is 5%.  This is modest but many states offer even more incentives.  Maryland as an array of state AND local (county) incentives for residents.  Do your homework before you purchase much needed energy saving products and services and take advantage of everything that’s available to save you money.

Be sure to watch the cute, short video on geothermal heating and cooling.

How Many Light Bulbs Will It Take To Change The World

While we wait for the government to make up its mind about carbon credits and/or carbon and gas taxes, the easiest and fastest thing we can do to cut our personal carbon emissions and save money is to change every single light bulb we use to CFLs.  I’m sure there’s no one reading this blog hasn’t already heard this.  I’m going to attempt to debunk some of the excuses I’ve heard for why people aren’t changing their bulbs.

But before I do that,  I’d like to note that since buildings consume 40 percent of all the energy used in the U.S and 70 percent of all the electricity, it is imperative that those of us who daily contribute to this astonishing number take some responsibility for reducing it.  The first place that we all have control of is our homes.  Another astonishing number that I would like to sear into your brain is that the 300+ million people in the United States consume fully 25 percent of all the energy in the world!

There is no doubt that governnments will have to step in to do the heavy lifting.  Some state governments are taking the lead.  Californians for instance, because of policies put in place by the state, currently produce less than half of the green house emissions of their fellow Americans.  California’s per capita electricity consumption has stayed flat for the last thirty years while the rest of the country has doubled it’s consumption, according to research from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the nation’s most important environmental advocacy organizations.

So to address the “why I haven’t changed my light bulb” excuses:

1.    They’re too expensive.

CFLs do cost more than incandescent bulbs. But, they last for up to 10,000 hours.  So you’ll replace them every few years, not every few months.  Besides that, prices have come way down especially if you purchase them in the big box stores like Home Depot.  A four pack of  14watt bulbs (the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb) is only $5.85.

2.   What about the mercury?

“An average CFL contains 4 milligrams of mercury. That tiny quantity of mercury — essential for the energy efficiency of CFLs — is about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen and is far less than the mercury inside other common household objects. For example, watch batteries have 5 times the mercury and older thermometers have 500 milligrams, equal to 125 CFLs.” (NRDC website) Home Depot has a recycling program for CFLs .  Also check with your city or county since they may have a recycling program for CFLs as well.

3.   What if I break one?

CFL’s last so long that there’s less chance of breaking one.  Read more about CFLs and what to do if you break one.

4.   I don’t like the light from CFLs.

It’s true the light is different in CFLs .  So you’ll probably have to adjust your expectations.  This isn’t much different than when we change anything  in our lives to something we’re not used to.  Here is an interesting article about one homeowner’s experience as she made the switch from incandescents to CFLs.

When you’re ready to buy or sell a home, call me, your going green real estate advisor.

Gayle Fleming, Keller William Realty

 www.goinggreenhomesva.com              gayle@goinggreenhomesva.com        703-6251-358   

Follow me on Twitter@ecogayle

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