The "Green" House Effect
Tips for making your home more eco-friendly.
Several factors contribute to why homeowners, builders, and even energy companies are making changes to how they operate on a daily basis.
Not only has the economy shifted the mindset of the general public into pinching pennies and making the most of their dollar, it’s spawned a major trend toward “going green,” or becoming more eco-friendly.
This brought on the use of products like reusable grocery bags, fuel-efficient cars, and greener cleaning products, but what about the home? Whether you’re a first-time buyer or builder, or have no intention of moving, these tips and tricks will show you just how easy and cost-effective it is to go green.
Interest rates are at an all-time low, making it a true buyer’s market. That said, it’s also an ideal time to build, if funds permit. In terms of energy-saving techniques, custom building a home is the best way to ensure that every aspect of a home is eco-friendly. “Green [energy-efficiency] is not a feature; green is a certification, and there’s a world of difference between the two,” says Jon Ruch of Ruch Builders, a RESNET Qualified EnergySmart Builder. “An EnergyStar refrigerator is a green feature, but that doesn’t mean the house is green. A certification for a house [verified by a third-party] is what makes a home green.” These types of certifications grant every home a “HERS Score,” or Home Energy Rating System score.
Building a green home starts with the planning long before the foundation is ever poured, considering everything from shading from trees on the property to water line insulation underneath the home. Ruch is the only RESNET certified EnergySmart Builder in the area. “It costs maybe an extra $200 but the payback is a couple of months,” says Ruch. “The key when you’re looking at energy-efficiency is where is energy in it’s thermal form: How do I keep it where I want it and keep it out of where I don’t want it?”
This concept is referred to as the “thermal envelope,” or living space that needs to be sealed off to maximize efficiency. Smart builders are mindful of keeping each step in the process eco-friendly. That includes sealing the thermal envelope through proper window and door installation; finding the right HVAC system, which generally uses half of the energy needed to cool or heat a non-insulated home; insulation; and sealing hard pipe ducts, joints, and returns to maintain proper airflow to the thermal envelope.
“Probably the number-one issue in new construction is the installation of windows and doors. A great window that is installed incorrectly results in a rotting disaster. It has to be the right product, installed correctly to produce high performance,” says Ruch. If the idea of trapping air inside your living space raises questions of breathing in stale air, Ruch says, “I have found that [builders] who say, ‘a house has to breathe,’ use it as an excuse for not doing it correctly. My houses breathe, but I control the breathing.”
Aware that some are wary of the upfront investment of building a green home, Ruch used a 2012 VESTA home as an example for how cost-effective smart building can be long-term. The home is 5,200 square feet and has an average utility bill of $125 per month.
If funds or other factors don’t permit building or buying a green home, several behavioral changes can be made to retrofit houses and make them more energy-efficient. MLGW has programs in place to teach the community how and why saving energy is beneficial, which might seem ironic since it would stand to reason that MLGW would benefit from its customers paying higher, not lower, utilities. In response, Glen Thomas, MLGW supervisor of public relations and communications, says, “Our customers are looking for ways to save energy and save money, and we are being responsive and proactive in helping them and the environment.”
In addition to providing information, MLGW’s Energy Doctor program provides customers with representatives in the field that personally verify homes and help inform customers. “Not everyone’s building; so, we have to be practical as far as what works for what you have,” says Janice Smythe-Tune, former energy doctor and current public relations coordinator at MLGW.
She explains how every household can make changes no matter how new or old using a Memphis home originally built in 1920 as an example. The homeowners, transplants to Memphis, have practiced energy-saving techniques for years and are proof that retrofitting an existing home is easier than one might think. They open windows to avoid using heat or air conditioning when possible, replaced doors with insulated, metal-core storm doors, have a programmable thermostat, use LED lightbulbs, and forgo their dryer, instead hanging clothes on a clothes line.
“They use ceiling fans year-round, reversing the direction in the winter to bring heat down to the living space,” says Smythe-Tune. “Counterclockwise is for the summer; clockwise is for the winter.”
Older homes often don’t have sufficient insulation because building codes were different depending on when they were constructed. So the first tip is to add attic insulation. “We’re trying to put a coat on your house because houses were generally designed aesthetically, not for practicality or functionality,” says Smythe-Tune.
“In the summer, don’t lower your thermostat below 78, and in the winter not above 68. Otherwise it’s wasteful,” she says. This is where programmable thermostats are beneficial because they can be set accordingly to times of day and turn on and off based on when you know you’ll be at home.
“Water heating is the next on this list. We encourage people to lower the temperature because [water heaters] come out of the factory programmed at 140 degrees, and no one would subject their body to that. As you lower the temperature, you’re reducing the amount of energy the water heater has to generate,” says Smythe-Tune.
The benefits of practicing energy-saving techniques are significant and range from the obvious like helping the planet and cutting down on TVA’s energy output, to the not-so-obvious of lower utility bills, increased home value, reduced maintenance, and personal satisfaction. So whether your motivation is lower utility bills or saving the planet, these tips will help you get a better grasp on how you can make your house more energy efficient.
For more energy-saving tips visit mlgw.com.