Category Archives: Green Remodeling

Light, Fire, Food and a Place to Sit and Enjoy It All

Homeowners want function, efficiency and fire pits in their outdoor space, according to the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Residential Trends Survey. The survey asked residential landscape architecture professionals to rate the expected popularity of dozens of different outdoor living and landscape features for this year.

For 2011, the top outdoor living features are some of the most basic: light, fire, food and a place to sit and enjoy it all. Overall, 96.2 percent of respondents rated exterior lighting as somewhat or very popular for this year, followed by fire pits/fireplaces (94.2 percent), seating/dining areas (94.1 percent), grills (93.8 percent) and installed seating like benches or seat walls (89.5 percent).

While the most popular outdoor features reflect an enduring sensibility, the interest in modern technology like stereo systems (58.3 percent), Internet access (46.3 percent) and televisions (45.4 percent) adds to the growing trend of taking what we enjoy inside to the outdoors – up to a point. Only 10.4 percent of respondents thought outdoor sleeping areas would be popular this year.

“Despite the economic climate, homeowners continue to reconnect with their outdoor space. However, expect many households this year to either phase in projects over time or carefully select fewer features,” said ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA.

When it comes to landscape elements, efficiency and sustainability reign supreme. The most popular for 2011 include low maintenance landscapes (94.2 percent), native plants (87.2), water-efficient irrigation (83.1 percent), ornamental water features (81 percent) and food/vegetable gardens (80.3 percent). Other popular sustainability features for 2011 include permeable paving (77 percent), reduced lawn (72.6 percent) and rainwater harvesting (63.6 percent).

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Top Green Bathroom Bemodeling Tips

A new bathroom is a big investment, but also a smart one for homeowners. Upgrading your bathroom or adding a new one can add value to your home which is good for you, especially if you may consider selling your home in the near future.

Yet, for many homeowners, investing in the earth can be just as important as the monetary investment they plan on making. Whether you’re a committed tree hugger, or just starting to ponder your impact on the planet, you can find an array of options to turn your bathroom into an eco-friendly zone.

Below is just the highlights of an article from Reliableremodeler.com talking about the best ways for you to reduce your imprint on the earth with smart bathroom remodel designs.

  • Use less water by updating your shower head and replacing your toilet.
  • Reduce energy usage by upgrading your lighting and insulating behind tubs and showers.
  • Think wisely about materials especially on floors, walls and countertops.
  • Recycle what you can when you are ripping out old components.

Read the entire article here.

Products: Green or Greenwashing?

Green product labels and certification systems are complex and easily misunderstood.  How do you know which products are green and which ones are just greenwashing?

Here are some links from Treehugger.com to help you understand…

Watch for more in this series from Treehugger.com coming soon.

Federal Tax Credits Extended for 2011

From Rinnai.us 

The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 signed by President Obama on December 17, 2010, extended tax credits for qualifying energy-efficient, residential water heaters and boilers placed in service between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. The structure is similar to the 2009-2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, however, the credit amount has changed. Water heaters are still required to have an energy factor >= 0.82 or a thermal efficiency >= 90%, and boilers must have an AFUE >= 95.

Effective Dates: January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011.
 
Product Qualifications and Credit Amount
•Product: Tankless Water Heaters
•Qualifications: Energy factor (EF) >= 0.82
•All current Rinnai condensing and non-condensing tankless water heaters qualify with the exception of the R98LS
•Product: Boilers
•Qualifications: AFUE >= 95
•All Rinnai condensing wall-mounted boilers qualify
 
Guidelines
•The Rinnai tankless water heater or boiler must be “placed in service” between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. The IRS defines “placed in service” as when the product is ready and available for use.
•The Rinnai tankless water heater or boiler must be installed in or on the taxpayers’ principal residence in the United States.
•The tax credit is ONLY available for existing homes.
•There is an overall cap of $500 for fiscal years 2006 – 2011 combined. If you have ever claimed this credit in the past, it counts toward the $500 cap (but does not affect the $1500 limit available for 2009 and 2010). So, for example, if you claimed $300 in 2007, you can only claim $200 in 2011; if you claimed $800 in 2009, you cannot claim any more credit.
 
How to Claim Your Tax Credit for 2011
•Purchase and install a qualifying Rinnai tankless water heater or boiler between Jan. 1, 2011 – Dec. 31, 2011
•Save your proof of purchase along with a copy of the 2011 Manufacturer’s Certification Statement (available soon).
•When filing your 2011 taxes, use IRS Form 5695 (2011 version) – it will be available late 2011 or early 2012. Consult a tax professional for further details.

Still need to apply for your 2010 Federal Tax Credit? Download and save the 2010 Manufacturer’s Certification Statement along with a copy of your proof of purchase. Consult a tax professional for further details.

CES News: 2011 the Year of the Connected Home

Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas.  CES is where all the companies show off thier latest and greatest electronic gadgets.  This includes things like General Electric appliances that are capable of communicating with the power company’s grid to adjust energy use during peak hours and thermostat that maximizing savings on the utility bills.

Here is a round up of articles from around the web covering everything from trending products to the connected home:

Executives predict more people to plug into ‘connected home’ appliances
Get yourself connected: GE at CES 2011
Samsung Debuts Slim, Connected Home Theater Products at CES
CES 2011: Connected Homes and Energy Management Take Center Stage
CES: Smart grid outshines green tech at CES
Kenmore shows off smartphone / tablet-connected appliances at CES

Top Ten Green Building Trends for 2011

From Earth Advantage

1. Affordable green. Many consumers typically associate green and energy-efficient homes and features with higher costs. However, the development of new business models, technologies, and the mainstreaming of high performance materials is bringing high-performance, healthy homes within reach of all homeowners. Leading the charge are affordable housing groups, including Habitat for Humanity and local land trusts, now building and selling LEED® for Homes- and ENERGY STAR®-certified homes across the country at price points as low as $100,000*. In the existing homes market, energy upgrades are now available through new programs that include low-cost audits and utility bill-based financing. Through such programs as Clean Energy Works Oregon, and Solar City’s solar lease-to-own business model, no up-front payment is required to take advantage of energy upgrades.

2. Sharing and comparing home energy use. As social and purchasing sites like Facebook and Groupon add millions more members, the sharing of home energy consumption data – for rewards – is not far behind. The website Earth Aid (www.earthaid.net) lets you track home energy usage and earn rewards for energy savings from local vendors. You can also elect to share the information with others on Earth Aid to see who can conserve the most energy. When coupled with other developments including home energy displays, a voluntary home energy scoring system announced by the Department of Energy, and programs including Oregon and Washington’s Energy Performance Score, a lot more people will be sharing — and comparing — their home energy consumption.

3. Outcome-based energy codes. Existing buildings are responsible for most energy use and associated carbon emissions, but the prescriptive energy codes used in commercial remodels don’t encourage effective retrofitting. Compliance with energy codes is determined at permit time, using prescriptive or predictive models, and actual post-construction may never even be reviewed. Heating and cooling equipment could be faulty or improperly controlled, with significant energy and financial implications. Under outcome-based energy codes, owners could pursue the retrofit strategy that they decide is most effective for their building and its tenants, but they would be required to achieve a pre-negotiated performance target through mandatory annual reporting. The City of Seattle and the New Building Institute have teamed up with the National Trusts’ Preservation Green Lab to pioneer a framework for just such a code, for both new and existing buildings.

4. Community purchasing power. Neighborhoods interested in renewable energy will increasingly band together to obtain better pricing on materials such as solar panels and on installation costs. The Solarize Portland program was initiated by local neighborhood leaders in Southeast Portland who wanted to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in their area by working together as a community. The program is structured so that the price of solar panel installation decreases for everybody as more neighbors join the effort. Group purchasing creates a 15-25 percent savings below current prices. This group discount, in addition to current available tax credits and cash incentives, gives participants a significant cost savings. In Philadelphia, the Retrofit Philly program leverages contests between residential blocks to get neighborhoods involved in energy upgrades.

5. Intersection of smart homes, “grid-aware” appliances, and smart grid. While many residential smart meters have been installed, the customer interface that will allow homeowners to track energy use more accurately are not yet in place. In the meantime, manufacturers are increasingly introducing appliances that are “grid-aware.” These appliances are endowed with more sophisticated energy management capabilities and timers, offering homeowners machines that monitor and report their own electricity usage and that increase or decrease that usage by remote command. Many machines have timers and can already be manually programmed to run during off-peak hours. These developments will begin forging the convergence of a smart grid infrastructure and the control applications needed to manage energy savings in our buildings and homes.

6. Accessory dwelling units. Last year we discussed home “right-sizing” as a trend. However, with fewer people moving or building due to financial concerns, many have chosen to stay put in their favorite area and build accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These small independent units, which can be used for offices, studios, or in-law space, are the ideal size for energy savings and sustainable construction. As detached or attached rental units, they help cities increase urban density and restrict sprawl, while allowing homeowners to add value to their property. The cities of Portland, Oregon, and Santa Cruz, California, have waived administrative fees to encourage more ADU construction.

7. Rethinking of residential heating and cooling. Advances in applied building science in the US and abroad have resulted in homes that are so tightly sealed and insulated that furnace-less, ductless homes are now a reality. The increasingly popular “Passive House” standard, for example, calls for insulation in walls and ceiling that is so thick that the home is actually heated by everyday activity of the occupants, from cooking to computer use. Even in ENERGY STAR-certified homes builders are now encouraged to bring all  ductwork inside the insulated envelope of the house to eliminate excess heat or cooling loss, and to use only small but efficient furnaces and air conditioners to avoid wasting power. Geothermal heating and cooling, where piping loops are run through the ground to absorb warmth in the winter and cool air in the summer, are another option gaining broader acceptance.

8. Residential Grey Water use. With water shortages looming in many areas including the Southwest and Southern California, recycling of grey water – any household wastewater with the exception of toilet water – is gaining traction. Benefits include reduced water use, reduced strain on septic and stormwater systems, and groundwater replenishment. Although many cities have been slow to legislate on grey water use, some communities have increased the amount of allowable grey water use for irrigation. Systems can be as simple as a pipe system draining directly into a mulch field or they can incorporate collection tanks and pumps.

9. Small Commercial Certification. 95 percent of commercial building starts in the U.S. are under 50,000 square feet, but the bulk of current certified commercial buildings tend to be much larger. This is in part because of numerous “soft” costs including commissioning, energy modeling, project registration, and administrative time, all of which can be prohibitively expensive for small building owners and developers. To encourage more small commercial projects to go green, alternative certification programs have sprung up, including Earthcraft Light Commercial and Earth Advantage Commercial which have found significant appeal.

10. Lifecycle Analysis (LCA). We know quite a bit about the performance of certain materials used in high performance home and commercial building construction, but the industry has just begun to study the effects of these materials over the course of their entire lives, from raw material extraction through disposal and decomposition. Lifecycle analysis examines the impact of materials over their lifetime through the lens of environmental indicators including embodied energy, solid waste, air and water pollution, and global warming potential. LCA for building materials will allow architects to determine what products are more sustainable and what combination of products can produce the most environmentally friendly results.

Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff

In this funny and insightful talk from TEDxHouston, builder Dan Phillips tours us through a dozen homes he’s built in Texas using recycled and reclaimed materials in wildly creative ways. Brilliant, low-tech design details will refresh your own creative drive.

The video is seventeen minutes long so get comfortable.