Incandescents vs LEDs and CFLs Congress Debates

How Many Idiots Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb.  Or, how many members of Congress does it take to screw up a light bulb?  It occurred to me recently that I haven’t changed a single light bulb in three years or more.  And in that three years lighting technology has leapt forward dramatically.  So why then would some members of Congress want to torpedo legislation that many of them actually voted for to phase out the incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy efficient lighting?  Why would anyone in these tough economic times NOT want to save money on energy costs? Seems like a no brainer to me.  But never fear in this age of absolute idiocy in Congress—yes—a move is afoot to save the incandescent light bulb—EVEN THOUGH the major incandescent light bulb manufacturers have said that demand for these energy suckers has dropped dramatically.  David Schuellerman, a manager for General Electric Lighting, said demand for standard bulbs has dropped by half over the last five years, according to the Miami Herald.

In December of 2007 the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed by both the House and Senate and was signed into law by then President Bush.  One of the provisions of the bill was to phase out energy hogging incandescent light bulbs and encourage the use of more energy efficient lighting like CFLs and the more expensive, but even more energy efficient LEDs.  Now remember, this legislation passed by both houses of Congress.  Fast forward to July, 2011.  And wouldn’t you know it.  A group of GOP representatives tried to repeal efficiency standards that would go into effect next year—because, according to Florida Congressman Bill Posey, “My constituents overwhelmingly don’t want the government to decide what kind of light bulb they want.’’  Translate, “my constituents don’t mind paying more for energy as long as they have the right to waste it.”  (My translation, of course.)  Fortunately for all of us the effort to repeal the legislation was blocked. But when you have people like Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Bachman calling the ban an assault on personal choice, as if people wouldn’t choose to save money, well now you see the reason for the title of this post.

When I first switched over to CFLs only a few retailers even sold them.  So I knew things had really changed when I saw more CFLs than incandescent bulbs in CVS.  I’ve gotten used to one of the annoying things about CFLs.  When I turn on the lights in my bathroom the four vanity bulbs over my sink do take a minute or two to completely light up.  So, I turn on the light go put on my coffee and come back.  One of the concerns of using CFLs is that they contain mercury and need to be disposed of using special procedures.  But since I haven’t had one go out I haven’t yet had to dispose of one. LEDs are more expensive than CFLs but can last years and years longer and have no mercury issues.  In fact, if you sell a house and have LEDs in any lighting fixtures you can use that as a selling feature since they last up to twenty-five years!  Or you say, “bulbs don’t convey”.

Congressman Bill Posey voted to repeal the repeal the energy efficiency standards in the Energy Independence and Security Act even though a lighting manufacturer in his own district, Lighting Science Group’s Chief Executive, Jim Haworth says that the company has grown from 100 to 350 employees in the last year.  So here’s a question posed by the NRDC’s Bob Keefe.  Does anyone want to go back to iceboxes or the refrigerators of the 1960’s.

I haven’t switched over to LEDs yet only because my CFLs are still lighting my home for a fraction of the cost of an incandescent bulb.  So, as my mother used to say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And thankfully even though Congress totally blew it on the debt ceiling, so far they haven’t been able to screw up the Energy Independence and Security Act.

Here’s a great post from one of my favorite blogs, re-nest with questions and answers on lighting.

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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

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.


Water–The New Oil

This morning I installed an EcoFlow (Waterpik)* shower head.  Of course I installed it incorrectly the first time because it I’m spatially challenged and it is absolutely impossible for me to complete any mechanical project correctly the first time. But still it only took me 15 minutes to install, even with the mistakes.

So why use an EcoFlow showerhead?  Well, a regular showerhead uses about 20 gallons of water for a five minute shower while the EcoFlow uses about 7.5 gallons.  The EcoFlow showerhead uses 40% less water than a 2.5 GPM showerhead, which is now the minimum standard.  And you can save even more by using the pause button on the showerhead while you lather up.  I love this feature.  Oh, and if you’re worried about not getting a strong water flow, don’t.  The shower is just as satisfying as using a regular showerhead.

Why should you be concerned about water usage, especially if like me, you don’t even pay the water bill because it’s included in the condo fee.  And even if you pay for water, in the US it’s subsidized at artificially low prices, substantially lower than anywhere else in the developed or developing world.  However, safe clean water is becoming a problem worldwide.  Our rivers are at risk, there is diminishing ground water, water pollution and climate change are threatening the world’s water supplies.  In the US the average American uses one hundred gallons of water per day while the worlds poorest people get by on less than five gallons.

The EPA’s new WaterSense program can help you to make wise water conservation decisions and the average family could save about $170 per year by installing water conserving fixtures in your home.  “Giving your main bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by installing a WaterSense labeled toilet, faucet, and showerhead can save your household more than 7,000 gallons annually—that’s about enough water to wash six months worth of laundry.”  Not all water saving fixtures have the WaterSense label because many brands are still being tested for qualification in the program. Currently there are no tax incentives for this program but there are regional incentives listed on the WaterSense webpage.

And when you get ready to sell your home and hire me, the EcoBroker certified and NAR Green Designee real estate professional to sell your home, I know just how to market all of the green and sustainable features to today’s buyers who really care about these things.

If you want to learn more about our endangered water resources, National Geographic’s “Fresh Water 101” is all about water.

Interesting  Water Factoids:

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh and two thirds of that is frozen. That leaves less than 1% to grow crops, cool power plants, supply drinking and bathing water, etc.

Farms and ranches use 64% of all fresh water.

It takes 4000 gallons of water to produce 500 calories from beef.

*There are other brands of low-flow showerheads. WaterPik is the one I chose.

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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.

Climate Change, Energy Costs, Tax Credits & Good Real Estate News

 

Climate Change

As you can see from the title of this blog, there’s a lot to talk about in this last week of 2009.  I must admit that I am both surprised and disappointed by some of the research statistics that have been have been touted in the last few months of 2009 regarding the environment.  For example, even though 93 percent of all climate scientists conclude that the rapid rate of climate change the world is experiencing is a result of human activity, only 43 percent of Americans believe them.  I have to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan here and say,  “everyone is entitled to their own opinions—but not their own facts.”

Only forty percent of Americans say that heating and cooling costs are very important.  Given the fact that the state of the economy is a real concern for most people, it seems incongruous to me that the majority of Americans don’t see a correlation between  energy costs and their personal finances.  Wouldn’t any sure fire way to reduce expenses be a positive for a person or family’s bottom line?

Energy Improvment Tax Credits

The federal government thinks energy costs and climate change are important enough to offer some pretty good incentives to consumers/taxpayers.  You can get a tax credit of up to $1,500 for energy efficient home improvements that you make during 2009 and 2010.  So if you buy Energy Star appliances, water heaters, HVAC systems, windows, doors or roofs you are probably eligible for this tax credit.  This is a onetime credit and can be used in 2009 or 2010.  Be sure to go to the Energy Star tax credit page to get details for receiving the credit. 

But  In spite of this great incentive to consume less energy and save money, a new survey finds that when asked “if someone gave you $10,000 for home improvements, how would you spend it?” A majority said they would pick ways to make their homes look better, rather than burn less energy.  Most of the 508 people surveyed said their energy costs would have to rise by $1,500 per year for them to see these costs as “very important”.  Hmmmmm?

Winterize Your Home

But if you are concerned about saving energy and money and even if major purchases aren’t in your budget, there are many small things you can do to save money and energy this winter. According to the US Dept. of Energy drafts cause 5-30 % of the wasted energy in a home. You can simply roll a towel and use it to stop the draft. If you want to be a little fancier you can buy or make a draft snake.   Buy a window insulation kit at the hardware store.  Make sure to have your furnace serviced twice a year and change your furnace filters once a month during the heating season.  Here are seventeen more tips  for winterizing your home. 

 Good Real Estate News

The economy is showing signs of improvement, jobless claims are way down and the sales of existing homes has risen by 44% year over year from this time last November.  In the Northeast sales have risen 57%!  This is good news. Banks are lending and the first time and move up buyer tax credits have been extended until April 30, 2010. Settlement doesn’t have to take place until June 30, 2010.  A single person can earn up to $125,000 and as long as he/she hasn’t owned a home in the last 3 years, they’re eligible for the first time home buyer tax credit of $8,000. A couple can earn $225,000. Move up buyers who have lived in their home for five out of the last eight years are eligible for a $6,500 tax credit with the same income limits.

Happy New Year!

Gayle

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Gale10

www.goinggreenhomesva.com

www.facebook.com/gayle.fleming

www.twitter.com/ecogayle

          703-625-1358