May 2008

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Comments

D. Mented

I agree; if there were more information out there, the average consumer would probably select the more efficient options, especially now that energy costs seem to have found the turbo rocket switch and taken off for mars.
People have been buying more energy efficient appliances since the efficiency rating is displayed on a sticker.
Say "Thank you Ralph Nader" for creating the consumer information movement - if you don't want all that information - don't read the label. If you do, it's now available.
Again, I say, if your house isn't green to start with, there are things you can do later. If you want to start with the most effective change, it's usually the windows. Then the space below your roof. Then the walls, then the floors. All these can be improved. It would be nice if all new homes were super-efficient, and if enough people start asking, this will be more and more available, but for now, if you want to go green, sometimes the best option for non-rich flks is to buy a bit of a fixer ( still liveable, with a good foundation and frame) and rebuild in phases, each as efficient as possible. You get the house you want, and the price is better than new - especially if you can do some of it yourself. This also has the advantage of re-using an existing object instead of buying new. One more green step.
D. Mented
(we're still doomed)

James

Most knuckle heads don't even set up a budget for themselves and spend more than they make (okay I exagerate)... But with that general concept in mind I don't see how anyone will ever use the energy costs information in house purchases. Most people I know didn't even take a look at the property tax or change in homeowners insurance costs.

In fact most people probably don't have good records of what their current energy costs. Here are some ideas for things that could be accounted for in the costs of a specific home (and you could go ahead and compare this to your existing residence).

===============

1. Space and water heating costs (gas, electric, solar, whatever) - specific to the property, it will vary a lot based on orientation, shade, insulation, air leakage, and even the size of the house.

2. Water, sewer and garbage rates (can easily change based on who provides the service, and if you live in certain "special" neighborhoods they may require you to have a sparkly green lawn in the summer which could change your actual usage quite a bit)

3. Distance between home and common destinations - grocery store, work, gym (hah!), ballpark (season ticket?), other places you go a lot (compare the mileage from the new location to existing location and factor in projected gas and maintenance cost changes based on your specific vehicle)

4. Cable (waste of money), telephone, internet costs - providers again may change based on your location and availability

5. Cell phone provider coverage at a given property - may need to change providers if you wish to use your phone at home, coverage information would be great to have

6. Property taxes - will the assessed value change a lot when you buy the house for it's newly inflated price?

7. Insurance - different structures and locations will affect your insurance costs for surezee.

8. Maintenance costs - depending on your roof, exterior finish, and other housing features, your maintenance costs could vary by a great deal. It would be great if there was a common estimating method that someone could apply for you to determine the recurring costs of maintenance on a given property.

===============

It would be great if all of this could be put together in some sort of online calculator that can make some estimates for you.

Also it would be great if the utility companies had to comply with FOIA laws and make the historical ownership costs for a given property available.

Of course it will depend a lot on who lives in the house and how they set the thermostats (for example). So the best scenario would be to have an analysis that gives a normalized reading so that you can make real comparisons between houses.

AC

Ya know what, Elver? This is one of the freedoms we enjoy here in the US of A, bitching at the government often and in full measure without having to worry about vanishing into the night. Most folks here in the good ole' US of A know how good we have it, hence the tremendous amount of charity work and donations that go out to people around the world. I know others do a lot as well so I am not trying to be arrogant about it.

Many US citizens know the USA is not perfect and many of us are well aware that we have it better than the majority of the world. However, our right to bitch about how things are going in our country is just that, our right. We will exercise it accordingly.

rita mae

Damn it, Scott!! Your first paragraph was almost exactly like the post I entered when you were on your kick about the house you were designing.

[Buyers look at the location, square footage, kitchens, and all the usual stuff. No one even asks about the energy efficiency or indoor air quality.]

Don't you remember me saying that? C'mon, Monkey Bone.

By the way, does anybody ever wonder where Bobby is? Have all your readers abandoned any hope for Bobby? Does anyone even remember Bobby? Help us out here, Scott. How's Bobby?

I took the morning off to babysit so my ex-Marine could go to a friend's funeral. He had promised he would babysit and then his friend died. He didn't want to mess up the kid's schedule, so he asked me to take off work. I figured, hell, I only have 18 days left. Let 'em fire me if they don't like it. They were waiting for me at 12:30 so I could wipe their collective noses and add paper to the copy machine. (Remember -- they don't know how to do that--they are accountants. BWAHAHAHAHA.)

Yes, Muppet, I will continue to post here after I retire. But I will have to be very very careful. We have a computer at home, but the ex-Marine is on it ALL the time. He is checking Fidelity and looking at our finances. I think he gets a woody doing that. Our computer is slower at home than it is here, and since my health issues, I am not as patient as I once was. If it takes too long for a site to come up, I just say to myself "F*&# it" and go watch Law & Order, or work on a crossword puzzle.

I wonder what the ex-Marine would do to me if he thought I said PENIS to all my friends on Scott's blog? He is sooooo proper. We are exact opposites. The kids still don't know how we ended up together. He wouldn't say "shit" if he stepped in it. Me on the other hand........

Geez. Must act like I am working. Later. And Scott, please, just once before I retire ---- tell me you love me?

Rita Mae


Yeeples

>It shouldn’t be so hard to make energy
>efficiency information available

It is widely available. You have simply chosen not to trust the manufacturers who put it out.


>I blame the government.

Ah yes, those trustworthy people. No chance for graft and corruption if the goverment repeats the tests at taxpayer expense, eh? We should have vast teams of Federal employees who buy every household item imaginable, test them, and publish results. Should cost, oh, $75 billion per year tops.

To provide information we already have. Two years later.

Stephen W. Stanton

You blame government?
Why?
What does government do well? (apart from military dominance)
Why would you expect more from government?

That would be like expecting your dog to build you a new garage.

Just sayin'.

If you want change, go make it happen. But home energy usage is hard to measure on an apples-to-apples basis. You need to build all sorts assumptions about home size, climate, interior temperature, home usage, curtains, carpets, interior layot, external shade / wind / etc.

Even building materials are not always installed the same way in one home vs. another.

You're asking for objective measures of efficiency on unbuild lego construction projects.

Green Grant

Yes, the situation is terrible regarding making good choices for our homes. Right now I'm trying to purchase a mattress that isn't soaked with cancer-causing chemicals (which is how they make them flame-resistant) and it's really, really difficult. There are a few companies out there that make mattresses with wool (which is naturally fire-resistant), but it is not easy to find a local showroom so you can try it out (there are only a handful in the entire country at this point). The "mainstream" companies all make products that are the worst for you because that's what's cheapest and easiest to do. It's really infuriating.

Anyway, check out my website (linked below) to find companies that are making an effort to bring us healthier products.

tim

Energy costs will only go up. Green energy will only go down as the technology improves. The rate it will go up or down is unknown. So figuring out how much it will save you next year is insignificant when considering how much it will save in 20 years. Even if you're not still in the same home, the next person who owns your home may factor your investment into savings into the cost of the home (which is partly why used Honda Civics have a higher resale value than other used cars of the same vintage).

I haven't read through all the comments, but maintenance also costs time and money and should be factored in. Solar panels need to be kept clean, and bludgeoned birds wiped off the windmills. There are parts exposed to the elements, and will be subject to corrosion.

To sum up, I don't think the right way to decide to go green should be based on simple cost comparisons. You don't think "cost" when you go to the supermarket, or else you'd be diving through the discount-nearly-expired bin. You don't think "cost" when you buy clothing, or else you'd be wearing flipflops and a tank top every day. I think the next step for our society to advance would be to quit thinking about energy usage and ecological footprint in more than just money tradeoffs, but as a statement about your holistic lifestyle. We're already moving somewhat in that direction with a media bias against "gas guzzlers", but wouldn't it be charming if the solar panels on your house and green roof gave it the same respect as a well-tuned sports car.

Topochicho

We bought our first house last year and went through the same thing. We got the same blank stares and reactions. Even once you find a builder that will offer some efficiency upgrades (very limited at best), you have to be there every day to make sure they are done correctly. We not only got an inspector, but we were on site every day taking pictures and emailing questionable items to the inspector, then we had to ride the foreman's butt to make sure he got them corrected before that part got sealed up and untouchable. Even when they have the options available they don't always know how to install them. Honestly if I had the money I would have gone with a custom home builder instead of a normal builder, because even ones like ours, that I would consider better than average, use outside crews to build their homes, and by the time those crews know how to do it correctly, that neighbor hood is finished and they reshuffle everyone.

The Dude

I was reading a blog on myspace a couple of weeks ago that detailed the bloggers efforts to build an energy efficient home himself. The users name is "Over Unity". I can't remember the specific date of the blog but it shouldn't be too hard to locate since he doesn't blog too terribly much.

Incredipete

Here in Kansas where the tornado took out the entire town of Greensburg, they're rebuilding the entire town "green" - check it out on the Discovery Channel, it's actually pretty neat.

Max Kaehn

Sounds like you have a basis for a new business venture: the one-stop-shopping site for finding all the information you need for green home building and renovation. If life hands you lemons, make lemonade and sell it.

Curmudgeon

Scott,

Not technically "green" but for a way to lower utility costs, check out: http://www.dougrye.com/

Jennifer

Geosolar is a new form of Passive Annual Heat Storage.
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Green-Homes/1985-01-01/Passive-Annual-Heat-Storage.aspx
Earth Shelter and you won't need to heat or cool your home. Add photo voltaic pannels for electricity.
http://www.daviscaves.com/index.shtml

Anyway, when I have the money that is my dream.

GLK

Windows are overpriced and not as big a deal as people would have you think. I live in the NE where winters are brutal. In two different houses I've had old single pane aluminum windows replaced by double pane, UV tinted, argon gas-filled, High R value, Vinyl framed windows. Although I like the way the windows look and perform, the truth is I can barely tell any difference in my heating bills or in relative comfort. An engineer once told me the vast majority of heat losses occur because heat rises and escapes via convection out the roof. This won't help someone living in California but in my neighborhood if you want to see if a home is energy efficient take a gander at people's rooftops a few days after a snow storm. The houses that still have a foot of snow sitting on their roofs are keeping the warmth inside where it belongs. The homes that have exposed roofs with icicles hanging off aren't doing so well. Bottom line (with regard to structure) concern yourself with the roof first, the walls second, and the windows/doors third.

velkairiwyth

Here in the UK it is a requirement since about February (I think) to have energy efficiency tests done on your house when you put it on the market.

Here is something you might be interested in though - you can get a round-house built. If you have a plot of land in a nice area - you can get them build pretty cheap - they look damn nice and are very efficient. Even better - its not uncommon to have a pool in your living room :p

The heating is under-floor in the centre of the house- the rooms come off the central living area - but you can probably get a regular house in the us for cheaper than just the plot of land here in the uk... *cries*

Randy Sailer

I think an early (if not first) step is finding an architect who is experienced with green buildings... They have been there, done that a lot already. We had an experienced architect for our house (with a good builder) and we received an energy star 5+ ranking without much compromise at all. Our house looks pretty standard (though very nice).

Energystar.gov has some good info.

Good luck!


Patrick

When we were window-shopping, we took time to figure out the best R-factors etc. given the orientation of the windows and the fact we live in Ottawa. My wife made some calculations using some software that was maybe found somewhere in a gov't of Canada website. Sorry this dosen't help much, but the main point I remember was that the optimal R-factor depended on how much heat you wanted to keep inside vs. how much solar heat you wanted to collect from your windows.

Anyways, we went for triple-pane argon-filled fiberglass windows for a south-facing converted sunroom.

Stepho

Just as a resource, this is an excellent architectural firm in Austin, TX who does specialize in green design. This probably won't help you a great deal, but might be a good resource.

http://www.barleypfeiffer.com/

Too true on builders and agents having no friggin clue though.

Sheldon McGee


I've have a similar complaint about air conditioners in Arizona. If you have a unit that isn't working right you call someone out and all they can say is you need to replace it because it's too old and the new one will save you money because it's so much more efficient. So there is this thing called a SEER and now the lowest you can install now is 13. Ten years ago it was 10 and so if your 10 year old unit needs parts good luck.

Okay, so my AC doesn't work and an AC contractor says I need a new unit. Big surprise. It's not like he looked at my single pane windows or in the roof to check how thick the insulation is or anything like that. But if you can't trust the AC guy, who can you trust?

Two years ago I started looking into a new unit because the ones on my house are 20 years old and always need something and on hot days they just couldn't keep up. I found out there are two kinds of refrigerants used nowadays, the old one that can't be manufactured someday soon and the newest one where the units cost significantly more. Guess which one I ended up getting? Guess which one almost everyone gets? Oh yeah, and it still can't keep up in the middle of the summer.

Don't get me started about how you can have a leak in the system and the AC guy will fill it with freon (it's not freon, I know but it's easier to say that than "coolant that is bad for the environment" or rxxx where the xxx is something I would have to look up and probably be wrong about). It's a closed system. If your unit needs freon every year something is wrong. Why isn't there a database of AC Units where they keep track to make sure people aren't just putting freon in a unit that is leaking? Oh, what, the licensed contractor should never put freon in a unit that's leaking . . that's right.

On top of all that AC stuff I wondered about replacing my windows with Dual Pane windows. Can't get any good info on whether it's worth it. What about those roof vents? Or an attic fan? It's 200 F in there in the summer so venting it has to be good right? Again, no good information.

I think the best investment would be into solar pannels that way it wouldn't matter how inefficient the AC is . . . free electricity!

Sheldon

Adam

My home isn't green because I chose a different color siding.

Alan

Hi Scott,

Conventional house design/materials are not sufficient. I'd suggest a different design of house altogether, try:

http://www.enertia.com/

(No, I don't work for them, but I do intend to buy one for myself some day.)

RavenBlack

Some green options that are really good:

1. straw bale walls with lime plaster. Can be load-bearing, more fire-resistant than ordinary brick walls (unexpectedly), long-lasting if put together right, incredibly highly insulating. http://www.strawbale.com/
Alternatively, underground is good.

2. solar heat pump. It's a solar water heater that doesn't have pipes full of water near the outside, so no risk of freezing and cracking, and I believe also more efficient than other solar water heating. http://www.quantumenergy.com.au/
With a little ingenuity in placement, this could also double as a bit of cooling for your house. Since the water heater is absorbing heat from its environment, circulating the air into your house would provide cooling (and circulating air to the outside instead when you don't want cooling).

3. There was something I saw somewhere about making windows out of old bottles, which made for light without a view, and high insulation value (effectively it's really wide double-glazing). If you don't want a view from your windows, this could be good.

Cole Brodine

Scott,

You should watch this video about a home build in New Jersey. It is a prototype house, which is highly energy efficient and supplies all of it's own power needs through solar power. They use excess solar power to make hydrogen (through a clean process) and then burn the hydrogen in a fuel cell when they don't have enough sunshine.

They haven't sacrificed any amenities either. There is a pool, big screen TV and hot tub.

Video is just over 7 minutes, and is definately worth a watch if you are interested in "going green" or "energy efficency"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEdQRVQtffw

tim shepard

Thanks for the gumball, "Darth Nader"!
He he he ehe ehehehee snork!

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