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Green Your Home with Tips from A Top Organic Architect

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He’s a licensed architect, a LEED Accredited Professional and a sought-after lecturer on ecologically sound building design.  The author who wrote Green Sense for the Home and Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies recently answered questions for you here at FlourSackMama.com.  When we asked architect Eric Corey Freed of OrganicArthitect.com for a few tips on greening our existing homes, he generously had several tips to share below.

FreedBooks

Q: You teach about building every new project in a sustainable manner; but what about those of us who have to live in our existing imperfect homes or offices?  If we could only make three frugal, green changes today, what should we do?

A: “There are so many more existing buildings than the new ones we create.  We cannot solve our energy and climate problems without addressing our existing buildings.  Imagine, we could retrofit all of our existing buildings, saving millions in energy and water costs, and producing millions of new jobs in the process.  All it would take is the desire and demand to get it done.

I wrote an entire book about all of the easy things everyone should do in their homes (the bestselling 2011 book:  “Green$ense for the Home”).  I’ve included a list of do’s and don’t’s for your readers below.

Do’s:

Do fill an empty two-liter soda bottle and place it into the back of your toilet tank. It saves you half a gallon of water with every flush.

Do swap out your showerheads for ultra low flow (less than 2.5 gallons per minute). This will save you thousands of gallons of water every year. My favorites: AquaHelix (www.aquahelix.net) & the Evolve (www.evolveshowerheads.com).

Do install power strips (or simply unplug) devices not in use. Anything plugged in will suck energy, even when not in use. These vampire loads are costing you up to 10% of your electricity bill.

Do insulate your hot water heater. It will save you up to another 10% of energy costs.

Do caulk and weatherize around your windows and exterior doors. If American households saved 10% of energy used to heat and cool their homes, it would amount to 8.2 billion kW saved, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1,078,561 passenger vehicles.

If you live in the bottom half portion of the country (south of San Francisco), do install solar hot water heating on your roof. It is easier and cheaper than you think.

Do install a water filter and skip the bottled water. Peter Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute, says the true cost of bottled water is “like filling up a quarter of every bottle with oil.”

Do install a clothesline. Electric dryers eat up 10% of your home electricity. Skip it and save yourself the money (while saving 2000 pounds of CO2 from going into the atmosphere).

Do recycle and compost. It’s free and has an immediate and direct impact.

 

Don’ts:

Don’t bother with photovoltaic solar panels until you improve the baseline energy efficiency of your home. Simple and cheap weekend projects (as outlined above) will be far easier and more immediate.

Don’t bother replacing those old, leaky windows until you can afford to replace them with good, energy efficient models. If every home in the United States replaced their old, leaky windows, it would conserve enough energy to heat and cool 26.7 million homes a year. That is the equivalent of taking more than 323,000 cars off the road.

Don’t trade in your perfectly good, working car for a hybrid. Instead keep the tires inflated, filters clean and drive more conservatively. Hyper-miling (the practice of driving to save fuel) works with any car.

Don’t turn on the air conditioner except on the hottest days. Install (and use) and whole house or single room ceiling fans instead.

Don’t purchase a new refrigerator or dryer until you pick out models with a high Energy Star rating. On average, any standard appliance you upgrade to an Energy Star model will reduce its energy use by 30%. For example, the refrigerator is the largest single energy user in your home. By replacing a 1990 or older model with a new Energy Star model, you’ll save enough electricity to light your home for four months.

Don’t leave the flue to your fireplace open!

Don’t replace your roof with asphalt shingles. Even white asphalt shingles still overheat the roof. Use recycled and light colored roofing instead.

Don’t throwaway an existing (but perfectly usable) material just to replace it with a “green” one. “

Q: I love your free online resources like the List of No Brainers on your website! Plus, you’ve written some popular green building books.  How much research should the average person be doing on this topic before considering buying a home?  How many years should a homeowner allow to see return on investment for greener choices?

A: “Anything within a five year payback is a no-brainer for a homeowner.  A task, such as doubling the amount of insulation, can pay itself back in a matter of weeks or months.  Energy is very expensive, so focus on energy saving items first, such as installing a programmable thermostat, or wrapping your water heater.  As much as I love solar panels, those should be the last thing you do – after you’ve cut your energy bill as much as possible.”

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