Posts Tagged ‘energy saving’

A few thoughts on replacement windows

September 18, 2011

The folks at Replacement Windows for Dummies (.com) recently asked me a few questions about replacement windows–check out the article

Mike Rogers of GreenHomes interviewed by

As those of you who’ve spoken with our Advisors or seen the replacement window video know, we like windows.  New windows can increase comfort, reduce drafts, reduce UV fading, and more.  They are NOT a miracule energy-saver, though.  If it’s energy savings you’re after, don’t get sucked into the hype.  Get a good home energy assessment and find out what you really need. 


Home Retrofit is a Great Way to Add Value to Your Home

October 4, 2010

As a green real estate agent with my EcoBroker Certification, I hear a lot of buzz about green homes. But if you are like most Americans, buying a new home, let alone a green-built new home is not in the cards for you.  That’s why I think a home retrofit – an energy efficiency makeover – is such an important real estate tool.

A retrofit is important today, at tax time and in the future when you go to sell your home

Today a retrofit is important because it will cure what ails you.  Whether you have hit GreenHome’s website because you want to save money on your energy bills, stop that annoying little draft in the baby’s room or help the planet, a home retrofit can help.  Best is the saving money part. Other home remodeling projects like an updated kitchen won’t love you back with money-savings every month the way a home retrofit will!

If you act by December 31st, your retrofit will pay off at tax time too.  You may be able to claim a 30% credit for many of the materials you have installed as part of your retrofit.  It’s a great opportunity to see a payback even sooner on your improvements! 

Studies are starting to emerge that show the value of energy-savings in a home at resaleOne early study shows that home buyers are willing to pay up to $5000 more for a home with good energy efficiency improvements.  Buyers know they will save while they live in a home like that and are willing pay a bit more for that benefit upfront.  Be sure to share before and after utility bills with your real estate agents so you can showcase your home’s utility savings when it is time for you to move.

When you look at all the figures, the numbers add up nicely!  Today, the typical retrofit saves an American family between 10-30% on their energy bills.  At tax time, the tax credit could help you with a $1,500 maximum discount on improvements completed in 2010.  That means a $5,000 project would cost you only $3,500.  In the future, trends are saying a buyer might be willing to spend up to $5,000 more for an efficient home like yours.  When is the last time you came out $1,500 ahead for something that saves you money and makes you cozier every day?

Laura Reedy Stukel is an EcoBroker Certified real estate agent and nationally recognized consultant, writer and speaker on home energy efficiency.  She is a market transformation expert, focused at accelerating home retrofits at key real estate leverage points.  Her work is unique, focused on energy efficiency projects fueled by the power of consumer choiceSM.

Consumer Reports

September 18, 2009

The October 2009 Consumer Reports dives into home energy savings—and it’s good to see that they point folks in the right direction at the top, emphasizing things like air-sealing, insulation, duct sealing, and BPI certification for auditors and contractors.

They also clear up a few myths.  I’m glad they included a quote from Chandler von Schrader, of the US EPA:

“Homeowners have been hearing forever that replacing their windows can save 40 percent.  These claims aren’t justified and they create a false expectation.”

Right on!  GreenHomes does install replacement windows.  But we feel it’s important to be very upfront about the energy savings expectations from windows.  New windows can improve the look of your home, make you more comfortable, protect your furnishing from UV, and even save energy.  But windows themselves are usually far down on the list if all you want to do is save energy, and that’s why for energy-savings, we emphasize the important things as pointed to by Consumer Reports.


Oil Price Creeping Up?

May 31, 2009

Has anyone else noticed that oil closed at $66/barrel on Friday, up almost 30% so far this month and the highest it’s been in six months?  Yikes!

A national energy efficiency program — at last, legislation is pending!

March 18, 2009


Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mike Rogers unveil REEP program

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mike Rogers unveil REEP program

On Monday I had the privilege of joining Vermont’s only Congressman, Peter Welch, in unveiling his proposal of a National Energy Efficiency Program that will retrofit millions of American homes and buildings. The goal of the legislation is to deliver a 20% increase in energy efficiency, and he plans to introduce the bill later this week.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of this legislation, more on that in a bit, but here’s how Rep. Welch’s press release describes the bill:

 “The Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program would fund state and municipal investments of up to half the cost of retrofitting the nation’s existing homes and buildings, which account for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. Welch’s bill would direct the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop guidelines and manage financing for the national energy efficiency program. Homeowners and businesses could qualify for direct cash incentives, interest rate subsidies and credit support based on the percentage increase in efficiency they achieve.

Funding of the program would go to the states through the existing State Energy Program formula.”

 This would bring the rest of the company up to the type of programs that already exist—and that we already work in—in New York and New Jersey.

It’s high time for this legislation and I thank Congressman Welch for what he’s doing—I believe this is one of the most important issues we face.  Now you’ve heard this referred to as a climate change bill.  And it is.  With the news out of Copenhagen this week, that climate change is real, it’s worse than we thought, and it’s happening faster than we thought, this is important. 

 But Congressman Welch is doing is much more than that.  Forget about climate change for a moment. What Rep. Welch is doing with this bill is actually going to be an enormous boost for the U.S. economy.  It’s going to increase our energy security and make us less dependent on foreign oil.  It’s going to help keep our money at home, in our local communities.  Homeowners can save real money by reducing their utility costs.  This bill will help homeowners insulate themselves against price increases and volatility in the energy markets, and keep more of their monthly income for things putting like food on the table and saving for college rather that burning money and sending it out the chimney.

 And, this bill will create jobs in local communities.  For example, at GreenHomes, we know that for every dozen homes we improve, we create a job at our company.  The bill that Congressman Welch is introducing can help us, and companies like us, fix thousands of homes a year in even a small state like Vermont.  In larger states, the job creation effect is a magnitude of order larger.

 It’s also important to note that these are high-quality jobs that can’t be outsourced overseas. Unlike many contracting industry jobs, these are year-round positions.  At GreenHomes, we offer comprehensive benefits, including medical, dental, 401K, generous paid holidays and vacation.

 Lastly, there’s the multiplier effect.  As these companies invest and grow, we’ll see double the number of jobs rippling through our communities as they generate commerce with local: 

  • Vehicles dealers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Material manufacturers and suppliers
  • Marketing and advertising – newspaper, cable, network, radio, etc.
  • Uniform suppliers
  • Restaurants
  • Convenience stores – as their people grab their coffee and snacks in the morning
  • Office material stores (e.g., Staples and smaller businesses.)
  • And on and on and on.

I’m excited about this bill, and I’ll close with the most direct evidence I have of what it can mean for everyday homeowners: I live in a 90-year old house in Vermont that costs us less than $400 a year to heat—that’s $400 a year—less than some people paid last month.

[see update, House Passes Historic Climate and Energy Bill, June 26, 2009]



February 24, 2009

Jay Romano wrote a great column in his New York Times home improvement series, “The Fix” last week addressing ice dam solutions. I think it only goes half way, though, since the article offers roof shoveling and heat tape as partial solutions. The truth is, only with a well-sealed and well-insulated attic can you reliably and permanently control the expensive damage wrought by ice dams and avoid unnecessarily high utility bills.

Here’s the thing about raking snow—it’s only potentially effective if you decide that you have an ice-damming problem the day of a big snowstorm.  You can do it yourself by buying a snow rake, or hire someone to do it for you each time you get a snowfall. But do you really want to add shoveling the roof to your existing shoveling chores, or add to your current snow removal bills? And just shoveling the snow off the first two or three feet of the roof isn’t going to do it: the show further up the roof can melt down and create dams.

Ditto with heat tape, which not only costs $300-600 according to Mr. Romano, but must then be installed and can be very expensive to run.  (Set an electric heater outside and then tell me about your electric bill!)  Electric heat tape requires fasteners, which penetrate the shingles to hold it in place, and can damage shingles.  And unfortunately, many people let heat tape run even when not needed – when there is no snow on the roof (or, yikes, all summer long!), for example – causing even higher bills.

The rigid foam method Tom Silva recommends, in which the attic is insulated all the way up to the peak, between the rafters, can work—but air sealing along with it is critical, and probably beyond what most homeowners can tackle solo. For twice the price of the materials, which are expensive in and of themselves, a homeowner could have closed cell polyurethane insulation installed (that is, with all labor included) to an equivalent depth, which will do the trick. But many homeowners don’t use the attic as living space. If you rarely venture up there, you can insulate just as well, if not better, for a fraction of the cost.  A well-sealed and well-insulated flat attic, with good attic ventilation—of the kind we do every day—will outperform Mr. Silva’s approach. (Again—it depends on whether and how you’re using the attic—mine is conditioned living space so the flat attic treatment was out.)

Now, go outside, and take that heat tape off!  (And then call someone to insulate and air-seal your attic!)
Stay warm,

Oil surges back over $130 per barrel

September 23, 2008

In what CNN reports as the biggest dollar jump ever, oil prices shot up today to over $130 per barrel and closed at almost $121 per barrel.  This is a huge increase over last week.  Part of this is due to the falling dollar and the concern about the current economic situation.  Part of it is residual effects from recent hurricanes.  Part of it is violence (think Nigeria, not just the Middle East and Georgia) and disruptions in oil-producing parts of the world.


Regardless of the cause, this just strengthens the argument I’ve been making.  You don’t want to have your family’s economic well-being tied to energy prices.  And the best way to avoid that risk is to make your home more energy-efficient and use less energy.  Whether you do it yourself or have GreenHomes do it for you, act now.



Do-It-Yourself Attic Insulation

September 20, 2008

With winter on the way and energy costs still much higher than last year, a lot of people are insulating their attics now.  This is a great step, if done correctly.  If you’re doing it yourself, it’s important to use the right details not just to save energy but also to stay safe!

Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You’ll get very little benefit with fiberglass batts without rigorous attention to air-sealing.  Think of wearing a lose sweater or fleece on a windy winter day.  That fleece is a good insulating layer.  But when the wind blows through it, the heat gets sucked right out.  The same thing happens in your home as wind and the “stack effect” allow heat to escape through leaks in your home and blow right through the insulation.  (The stack effect:  warm air rises, and in the winter you whole house acts like a big chimney with the warm air rising out the top—unless you stop it)  This is a reason why you’ll see stained, dirty insulation in the attic.  It has essentially been filtering all of the air escaping your house–air that you paid to heat and cool and that you’re losing to outside. 



In fact, not adding insulation without air-sealing can lead to moisture and mold problems in the attic as the warm, moist air hits cold surfaces in the attic and the water condenses out just like it does on a glass of iced tea on a summer day.  Over time, this can lead to structural failure and other issues! 


Thus, it’s important to air-seal the attic.  This can be tricky as you need to use different materials and techniques depending on the type of holes and leaks.  For example, you can’t use foam against chimneys and flue because of the fire risk.  I can’t get in to all of the variations here.  The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.


Attics aren’t usually fun places, but you need to spend the time finding the holes and leaks.  And be careful up there!.  You don’t want to fall through the ceiling, you need to be on the lookout the electrical wiring, you need to watch out for protruding nails and screws, and you need to use the right techniques.


After insulating and air-sealing, it is very important to make sure that your combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—are operating safely and venting properly.  Most homeowner don’t have the equipment or skills to do this, so I won’t describe it here.  Your fuel company, a home performance specialist, or a good heating contractor should be able to do this for you.  As I’ve mentioned previously, carbon monoxide is not something to take lightly. 


All-in-all, this job may be more than most people want to handle.  If you hire someone to do this, make sure they are willing and able to do it right, with proper air-sealing and combustion safety testing.  If the contractor you’re talking to balks or doesn’t understand, walk away and find a contractor who can deliver what you need.




Whew! It looks like we dodged a bullet with Gustav!

September 1, 2008


Hurricane Gustav has been downgraded to Category 1, and New Orleans was spared the worst as the heart of storm landed further west.  Although it’s not over yet, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t look as bad as it might have been.  Thank goodness!


Kudos to CNN Money for making the connection between Gustav and heating our homes this winter.  They were right to look at the two. 


However, they missed the boat by focusing on what fuels you use to heat your home.  Oil, natural gas, propane, wood, pellets, etc are all commodities, and the price goes up and down.  Some are cheaper for a while, but they often change places.  And the price of all fuels continues to climb.  Further, as the story does mention, it can cost thousands of dollars to switch equipment.  CNN should have read my earlier posts for a better answer!  Efficiency is almost always a better place to start than switching fuels.  Pick the fuel that makes the most sense for you, but invest in efficiency first. 


Visit the GreenHomes Interactive Home to see what sort of savings you could expect from different home improvements.



10 Simple Home Energy Saving Tips

August 14, 2008

Even a mild winter means a long heating season, and with the cost of energy spiraling ever upwards, homeowners are looking for ways to stay within their heating budget. Dialing down the thermostat is one obvious solution, but there are some simple things you can do now to achieve significant savings on energy, while still keeping your family comfortable. Here are ten tips from GreenHomes America that will help you keep the bills down, and comfort up, this winter:1.     The attic is a great place to start.  Air leaks from rooms below into the attic can be one of the biggest drains on energy and your bank account.  Sealing attic air leaks can have a huge impact.  

2.    Use caulk or foam to seal around the plumbing stack vent, where it goes through floors. This is a pipe (PVC, or cast iron in older homes) that runs from the basement sewer pipe up through every floor, and out through the roof.   Holes for electric wiring, and around chimneys, are also problem areas worth addressing.

3.     Insulate and air-seal your attic hatch. Often, builders overlook the hatch when they insulate the attic.

4.     Many homes today have recessed ceiling lights, also called can lights. These fixtures look great, but are a notorious source of heat leaks into the attic, and between floors.  You can install new air-tight fixtures, use air-tight baffles, or build air-tight boxes around them in the attic.  With existing fixtures, check with an electrician first to make sure the fixtures you have are “IC” rated so it’s safe to put insulation against them.

5.     Only after you’ve done air-sealing, put an extra layer of insulation on the attic floor, on top of the insulation you currently have there.  Sixteen to 24-inches is not excessive in cold climates—and it will keep you cooler in the summer too!

6.    Vents to the outside of your home are pipelines for cold air leaking in, and warm air leaking out.  Install one-way baffles on your kitchen fan vent, dryer vent, and bathroom fan vents.

7.    Keep your boiler and furnace tuned up.   If they’re reaching the end of their lifespan, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for Energy Star®.   

8.    Install and use a programmable thermostat—this ensures that you don’t forget to turn the heat down at night or while you’re away at work.

9.    Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? If so, make sure to seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces. As much as 30% of the air you heat (or cool in the summer) can escape outside through leaky ducts.

10.  Replacing appliances? Look for Energy Star® qualified models of dishwashers, refrigerators, light fixtures, and compact fluorescent bulbs.

With some advice from your local home center, and four or five free weekends, a handy homeowner can tackle all of these projects. The energy savings, and effect on comfort, are cumulative, so do as many as you can. If you don’t relish the idea of strapping on a tool belt, consider a contractor that specializes in home energy solutions. GreenHomes America , is one option that can complete the entire scope of work in a few days. Their whole-home solutions guarantee a minimum 25% reduction in energy consumption, with most customers seeing much higher reductions, often up to 40, 50 and 60 percent. And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you tighten the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.

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