Does Energy Efficiency Increase Home Values?

It's hard to argue with the fact that efficiency improvements for your home are a good investment. In addition to helping you save money on your electricity, heating and cooling expenses, efficiency also helps the environment by reducing your reliance on fossil fuel power.

But some residents trying to sell their homes have found that making such investments won't necessarily raise the value of their house once it hits the market. A recent article in the San Francisco Gate discusses the unfortunate reality that energy efficiency isn't especially high on the list of priorities for buyers.

"It's the icing on the cake," Julie Reber of Zephyr Real Estate tells the source. "We've tried to evaluate if marketing as green brings in buyers or just helps close the deal. It's the latter, unfortunately."

There is an effort at the federal level to create policies that will encourage buyers to seek out efficient homes. The Save Act would allow them to take out large mortgages by requiring banks to consider the money saved on electricity as part of the buyer's income. But it's unclear if this law will have a significant effect. Many listing services provide only limited information on a home's energy efficiency given that those looking for a new home don't tend to focus on the issue much.

It's important to note, however, that energy efficiency is an issue that will eventually affect all homeowners. Over time, fossil fuels will likely go up in cost, raising electricity and gas prices to a point where it is simply common sense to make efficiency improvements. 

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information about renewable energy and green living topics!

Find Out What Your House Needs With A Home Energy Audit

We spend a lot of time on this blog providing advice on green living and how to improve the energy efficiency of your home, but each house is different, and your particular residence may have it own particular inefficiencies that need to be addressed. This begs the question: How a homeowner can go about identifying these flaws and improving the way their house uses heat and electricity?

The best way to do this is to hire an energy consultant and have them perform a home energy audit. There are many steps to the auditing process, but essentially what the contractor will do is look at all areas of your home that can effect the way you consume energy and determine if there are savings to be had. For example, they'll look at your windows to figure out what kind of insulation they're providing. They'll also analyze your plumbing system and water usage to identify potential savings in that area as well.

Many local and state governments provide incentives to homeowners who go through with this process, and some utilities will even offer a discounted auditing program to give customers a low-cost efficiency consultation.

It's true that installing weather-stripping and a programmable thermostat could potentially save your family hundreds of dollars in energy costs every year, but there are many other areas of your energy use that require some level of expertise to detect. A home energy auditor can provide you with that information so that you can stabilize the finances of your household while also helping the environment.

For more information on going green and energy efficiency, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

Santa Clara Students Design Fantastic Efficient House

The Solar Decathlon, a competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, will be taking place in October, pitting teams of college students against each other to design houses that are energy efficient, affordable and aesthetically pleasing. EarthTechling reports that the team from Santa Clara University (SCU) has unveiled their entry into the competition, and it's definitely going to turn some heads when they transport it down to Irvine, California, for the Decathlon.

One of the most notable features of the structure, which they have named "Radiant House", is its cutting-edge solar panel mounting system. Their racking apparatus requires lower costs and is integrated into the roof much more seamlessly than a typical rooftop solar panel system would be.

The house also has its own smartphone app that allows the homeowner to shut off lights, heating and air conditioning from anywhere in the house.

The SCU team has competed in past Decathlons, placing third twice. While they say they focused on engineering in their first competition and design in their second, the Radiant House is an effort to bridge the gap between those two disciplines.

The Decathlon is an exciting opportunity for students and the public to reflect on sustainable architecture and how green building methods can be brought to a wider audience. Typically we associate energy efficiency and green construction methods with more expensive homes, but the goal of the Decathlon is to demonstrate that clean technology isn't a luxury that only the wealthy can afford. With Radiant House – which the SCU team says was built at two-thirds the cost of their previous Decathlon entries – the public now has a model for how sustainability can be incorporated into a middle-class lifestyle.

Check back again with LifeIsGreen.com for more news about the Solar Decathlon and green living.

3 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Projects For Fall

Autumn is a great time to work on home improvement projects, as it's your last chance before winter weather arrives. With the end of summer approaching, temperatures will soon fall and working outside will be much more doable if you need to patch up holes in your roof or clean your gutters.

Living Green Magazine has some suggestions for projects that are low-cost and eco-friendly at the same time:

  • Install a solar clothes dryer. While the article essentially recommends using clothes lines, there are actually several products available that have vastly improved on the basic clothes line by incorporating a spinning mechanism and canopy that make the drying process more efficient.
  • Switch to cork flooring in your kitchen. Besides being impermeable to moisture (which will help prevent mold and mildew spores) and fire resistant, cork is also sustainable. It can be harvested repeatedly from the same tree without killing it. The manufacturing process itself makes this one of the most environmentally friendly products available, as cork flooring is a byproduct of cork wine bottle stoppers.
  • Use non-VOC paint. Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are carbon-based chemicals that can cause headaches, skin and throat irritation or even cancer. Painted walls with VOC paints will slowly release them into the air, leaving long-term occupants at risk. See our recent coverage of building materials for more information.

Remember that remodeling your home in an eco-friendly way doesn't need to be expensive. None of these options require additional costs above what you would normally spend if you were to choose conventional, unsustainable methods.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more green living ideas.

Straw Bale Construction Offers Improved Energy Efficiency And Safety

Recently we've been covering the movement to incorporate more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in housing and building, as this is an area where there are a lot of potential gains to be made by reducing energy and material waste. One such practice that has grown in popularity over the past few years is straw bale construction.

It's exactly what it sounds like: tightly-compress bales of straw are stacked to form the walls of a structure. They're usually supported by some kind of rebar or bamboo anchoring.

It may seem strange that modern homes could be built using straw, but in fact this process has a lot of benefits. To begin with, straw is a renewable and easy to grow crop that takes much less time to raise in a field than the pine trees and other woods that are used for lumber in housing stock. It's also much less energy intensive than concrete, which requires massive machinery to produce.

But straw has other, more surprising features, such as its resistance to fire. It may seem odd that a pile of dry grass would be a flame retardant, but in fact the straw bales that are used in construction are packed so tightly that there are almost no pockets of air inside, making it impossible for fire to thrive. Straw bales also make an excellent insulator, keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer just as well as the fiberglass insulation that is used in conventional buildings. Concerned about termites? SustainableSources.com, a green building site, reports that there is no evidence straw bales are susceptible to termite infestations.

For more information about green living and sustainable construction, keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com.

Green Building Practices For Home Construction

In recent years, construction of new homes has begun to pick up again as the national economy recovers from the Great Recession. This presents an amazing opportunity for the housing market to make widespread, much-needed changes to the ways buildings are constructed that would emphasize sustainability, low environmental impact and energy efficiency.

But what, exactly, do these terms mean in the context of home construction, and how can the average person looking to build a new house do so in such a way that allows them to maintain their green lifestyle without making major sacrifices in comfort or cost?

The first thing to consider is the procurement of sustainable building materials. Lots of components make up the home, from drywall, lumber and piping to electrical wire, paint and concrete. A responsibly built home will have been made from as many recycled materials as possible. For example, hardwood flooring can often be found on sites like Craigslist as contractors will sometimes buy more than they need when re-flooring a house. Recycled concrete can be used for some aspects of home building, though this is more limited.

Another important factor in green building is the efficiency of the structure. Rather than simply incorporating Energy Star appliances and installing double-paned windows (both of which are good ideas), residents should also consider how windows and doors can be positioned to allow for cross ventilation, thus eliminating the need for an AC unit in the summer.

These are just a few of the things you may want to keep in mind if you're thinking about the possibility of building a new home. Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information on going green and sustainable building.

Keeping Your Patio Cool And Green In The Summer Heat

While hanging out on a backyard patio is a favorite summer pastime for many Americans, it can be less inviting if you live in an area that doesn't get much shade or a summer breeze. Some residents might consider enclosing the area and adding an air conditioning unit, but this has two distinct disadvantages. One is that it takes away the pleasure of enjoying the fresh air, and the second is that AC is energy intensive and wasteful.

To keep your patio cool without using any electricity or closing it off, consider taking these steps:

  • Cover the area, but not with a solid surface. Instead, use slats of wood or a mesh cloth that can limit sunlight but still allow for airflow.
  • Lay down an all-weather rug to keep the surface extra comfortable and cool to walk on. 
  • Paint the ground surface white or a similarly light color, whether it is concrete, wood or tile. White reflects sunlight, and won't absorb heat the way that a dark surface would. This will keep your patio area from turning into a toaster oven, especially if it features an open roof.
  • Purchase a misting system. These devices can lightly spray and blow water, serving as a more environmentally friendly alternative to air conditioning by using less energy.

Going green doesn't have to mean being uncomfortable in hot weather. You can still enjoy some quality time on your porch or patio by using these clever tips to avoid the heat. Check back with LifeIsGreen.com often for more green living ideas.

Be More Energy Efficient While Staying Cool This Summer

One of the challenges for anyone who is going green is to stay cool in the summer without using excess energy. After all, running an air conditioner (AC) uses quite a bit of electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 5 percent of all power produced in the United States goes specifically to cooling rooms with AC. Unfortunately, the U.S. still has a relatively small renewable energy portfolio, so most of that electricity comes from fossil fuel sources such as coal and natural gas.

With that in mind, we've assembled a list of some tips you can follow to save energy this summer without affecting your quality of life or comfort:

  • Hire a professional: Maintenance on an AC unit should be handled by a license professional, who should check your system every year to ensure proper airflow and avoid malfunctions.
  • Install a programmable thermostat: These devices will allow you to set temperatures ahead of time, and more expensive units will learn your preferences over time and adjust the indoor climate accordingly.
  • Place AC units in the shade: If you're considering having a central AC system installed on your home, have the main unit situated in the shade. According to Tom's Mechanical, an HVAC contractor, this can lower your air conditioner's power usage by 10 percent.
  • Purchase Energy Star Products: These are machines and devices that are certified to use less electricity than older, out-of-date units.

By following this advice, you'll be able to reduce your carbon footprint while also lowering your utility bill.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on renewable energy news and conservation tips.

Energy Fair Takes Place This Weekend In Custer, Wisconsin

The Energy Fair, a three day festival that brings together the large Midwestern community renewable energy advocates and businesses, takes place this weekend from June 21 – 23 in Custer, Wisconsin. The Fair features exhibits from individuals, organizations and companies touting the latest sustainable lifestyle, clean technology and green living trends and ideas.

The New York Times reports that the festival began in 1990 as a collection of "homesteaders, hippies, ecotopians and more than a few end-times enthusiasts" who gathered to discuss what was, at the time, a fringe issue. Today, however, the event attracts a far larger audience thanks in part to the efforts of Ellie Jackson, an events coordinator with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, an advocacy organization that puts on the Energy Fair.

"I was thinking, 20,000 people actually come here?" said Jackson, who was describing her first experience at the event to the source. "But after I went to my first fair I wasn't surprised anymore. The quality that we have in the workshops, the people who donate their time — they truly believe in the work that they do."

Among the projects being promoted at Energy Fair are a machine that converts food waste into methane for energy consumption, cheap solar heat generation for low-income families, and methods for substantially reducing power use in large homes, called "milliwatt living."

Overall, the festival will feature over 250 exhibitors, 200 workshops, a clean transportation show with demonstration vehicles and exhibitors, and green building demos displaying sustainable building techniques.

For information about other green living events throughout the country, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

A Quick Guide To Buying Environmentally Friendly Furniture

If you're devoted to purchasing environmentally friendly products, this commitment should extend to your furniture as much as other goods that tend to receive more green living focus, such as food and automobiles. Furniture is made from many different components, from the wood that gives pieces structure to the fabric that makes them comfortable to sit or lie down on.

All of these materials can be procured sustainably and responsibly, so there are certain things to look for when purchasing new pieces to furnish your home:

  • Bamboo: It grows quickly, requires no pesticides and is strong. Even conventionally grown bamboo is a relatively eco-friendly, and furniture constructed from it looks great in any room.
  • Organic fabrics: Materials such as cotton are often grown using pesticides and chemicals that can damage water supplies and ruin local eco systems. Purchasing furniture produced through sustainable, organic agricultural practices ensures that these substances were not used in the making of your chair, couch or mattress.
  • Recycled wood: Wood will last a long time, so there's no reason to buy pieces that are made with new wood when a recycled alternative exists. Many manufacturers specialize in using reclaimed wood, which gives furniture a rustic, antique appearance that is stylish and responsible at the same time.
  • Thrift stores: While not all the furniture in a thrift store was necessarily produced using sustainable practices, it stands to reason that the more used pieces you buy, the less that will end up in a landfill.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on how to maintain green living without giving up style or elegance.