Green Topic Highlights

Heating – Passive Solar

Green Living

Easy economic savings accrue from designing and building features that effectively trap heat from the sun during the day and release that heat slowly throughout the nighttime. The effect is similar to living near a large body of water where the thermal mass of the water lessens temperature extremes. That means reduced heating and cooling load for a building, and that saves you money.

You may easily incorporate thermal mass into a building for passive solar heating by using materials such as concrete, stone floor slabs, or masonry partitions that hold, then slowly release heat. Orienting your building so that the longest walls run from east to west, and using large south-facing windows, allows the sun to help heat the home in winter. Properly designed roof overhangs shield the building interior from the summer sun. Passive solar designs use natural methods to stabilize the internal temperature of a building without the need for active mechanical devices such as pumps or fans, although these may be used to supplement performance. Passive solar designs also include natural ventilation for cooling. An obvious method is simply locating windows in the building strategically so that when opened, a natural breeze may be easily accelerated in the interior. Openings and passages designed into ceilings will promote the escape of hot air from the interior of the building through the roof or upper windows.

Estimated Cost Savings:

Passive solar designs can reduce heating bills as much as 50 percent. For a monthly heating bill of $200 dollars, you may expect savings of $80-$120 per month. If passive solar features are included at the time of initial construction, or as part of an overall remodeling effort, the effective net cost of improvements will be much lower. However, you will benefit immediately in your monthly cash-flow.

Issues:

Passive solar designs are easiest to implement at the planning and design stages of a new home. However, existing buildings may be quite easy to retrofit with passive solar improvements. Virtually all occupants of passive-solar homes report enjoying design features, improved efficiency, and an enhanced sense of “connectedness” to the natural world.

Regional Issues:

There is no “cookie-cutter” or “one-size-fits-all” solution to passive solar design, as good solutions will be tailored to specific latitudes. A design that works well in Minnesota is not a design that would work well in Florida. Roof overhangs, for example, are designed specifically for your latitude mindful of prevailing wind direction and other climatic features specific to location.

Installation (Getting It Done):

A passive solar house requires careful design and site orientation, which depend on the local climate. So, if you are considering passive solar design for new construction or a major remodeling, you should consult an architect familiar with passive solar techniques.

Be sure to get two or three (or more) bids from designers and/or building contractors to gain immediate perspective on the true costs of passive solar and installation details in your area.

(source: Ecobroker, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: Solar Heating and Cooling)

Solar Electricity – Photovoltaics

Technology Snapshot & Benefits:

Photovoltaics are technologies that convert radiant light energy to electricity. Photovoltaic (PV) cells, also called solar cells, are the building blocks of this technology. PV cells are connected together to form larger modules. A module is typically placed near or on a home or building to provide a portion of, and in some cases all of, the building’s power and in turn electricity. PV systems are used for “off-the-grid” applications (homes, cabins, and water pumping on farms) as well as federal government applications (traffic warning lights and emergency call boxes near highways).

Estimated Cost Savings:

Cost savings for PV systems are typically calculated in terms of other energy options such as extending power lines or alternative energy systems. Stand-alone photovoltaic systems can be more cost-effective than extending power lines for locations as near as a quarter mile off the grid. On a 20-year, life-cycle-cost basis, a remote PV system typically costs from 25 – 50 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Issues:

Electricity from PV systems typically costs more than electricity purchased from a local utility. However, in cases where an area is not served by a utility, a photovoltaic system is likely the most cost-effective option.
Be sure to get bids from two or three (or more) experienced photovoltaic system contractors. Multiple bids will allow you to gain immediate perspective on a fair cost for your PV system.

Getting It Done:

With the assistance of a qualified contractor, make sure to place your system in a location with adequate exposure to the sun.
You can check for financial incentives offered in New Mexico by consulting various websites. Call or email us for more information.

(source: Ecobroker)

Indoor Air Quality

Topic Snapshot:

People spend a large portion of their time inside homes and offices. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that most people spend 90 to 95 percent of their time indoors. This makes indoor air quality very important to health. Harmful gasses and particles can compromise indoor air quality. Ensuring that combustion sources and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment are working properly is a great place to start. Ensuring that new furnishings, carpets, and cabinetry contain safe, low-emitting materials helps protect the quality of air in homes and commercial buildings. Taking a careful look at cleaning and maintenance products also helps reduce the likelihood of unintentionally compromising indoor air quality.

Improving ventilation (increasing the amount of outdoor air coming in) can significantly reduce the concentration of indoor air pollutants. Air cleaners can remove particles from air, but may not be equipped to reduce the amount of gaseous pollutants in air. Another method for improving the quality of indoor air is source control, removing individual sources of pollutants. There are a variety of means to help improve indoor air quality.

Estimated Cost Savings & Benefits:

Typically the most cost-effective option for improving indoor air quality is source control. Any new combustion sources, materials, furnishings, or cleaning products in the home or in a building are potential sources of indoor air pollution. Careful analysis of products prior to purchase can help. The operating myth is that improving home and/or building ventilation systems can actually increase energy costs. Proper sizing and cleaning of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can actually save money on energy costs and improve indoor air quality. Even simple filter cleaning and/or replacement helps HVAC systems operate more efficiently and improves indoor air quality.

The benefits of protecting indoor air quality are significant. Improved indoor air quality can have positive effects on human health, productivity, and comfort. Canadian researchers have measured the relationships between employee productivity and indoor air quality and found that reduced indoor pollutant levels resulted in reductions in absenteeism.

Issues:

Improving indoor air quality in an apartment building can be more challenging if the building owner or manager is the only person who can address sources of indoor air pollution. The first step is to alert management, in written form, of any potential issues with indoor air quality and encourage building management to follow EPA’s IAQ Building Education and Assessment Model (I-BEAM). It is sometimes possible to help building owners and their managers see the financial benefits of improving indoor air quality in the form of increased tenant retention and lease rates, reduced liabilities, and improved resale value.

As people spend a significant portion of their day in office buildings, IAQ is an issue in these environments as well. Office buildings can have significant air quality issues. If you or others in your office are experiencing problems with health and/or comfort and you suspect poor indoor air quality is the cause, EPA recommends that you talk to your supervisor, your personal physician, and/or the state or local health department.

The good news is that sometimes solving indoor air quality problems is possible and not always unreasonably expensive. With proper analysis of HVAC systems and other sources of indoor pollutants, building managers can sometimes turn “sick” buildings into relatively healthier environments.

Regional Issues:

In cooler climates, outdoor temperatures can make it more challenging to improve ventilation by simply opening a few windows in your home or in commercial buildings. Mechanical ventilation systems, proper cleaning, source control, and air cleaners may be good options.
In warmer, humid climates, high temperatures and humidity levels can increase the concentration of some pollutants. There are some additional climate-related challenges with respect to windows and mechanical systems.

Installation (Getting It Done):

A range of professionals address indoor air quality issues. Selected HVAC contractors are capable of helping homeowners and building owners make decisions that can result in improved indoor air quality. Selected interior designers are now more cognizant of the types of design decisions that contribute to indoor air pollution or to healthier homes and buildings. As with any design, construction, and/or maintenance decision, it is a good idea to get two or three bids from different contractors. Even though this may be a bit more time-consuming, the end result is usually a more cost-effective and informed decision. There are no guarantees with indoor air quality, but informed decision-making can result in substantial improvements to health and productivity.

(source: Ecobroker)

Low VOC Paint

Snapshot & Benefits:

Because low- or no-VOC “volatile organic compound” paints have a lower odor and less impact on air quality than higher VOC-content paints, they are excellent for use in buildings where it is desirable to maintain good indoor air quality, such as hospitals, schools, homes and workplaces.
Recent EPA studies estimate indoor air quality to be 3 to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air largely caused by toxic emissions of paints and finishes. Paint manufacturers realized the need to develop paint that contains lower VOC yet maintain high levels of performance and durability ultimately causing less of an impact on air quality then the higher VOC paints.
The use of low-VOC paint reduces toxins that cause allergy and chemical sensitivities, reduces contaminant concentrations in landfill, groundwater and the ozone, provides easy cleanup with soap and water and produces lower odor. With increased legislation and support from environmentally conscious organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Green Seal plus advances in paint technology the paint industry has come a long way in developing an array of environmentally responsible products with higher performance levels. New paints have become more durable, cost-effective and less harmful to humans and the environment.

Estimated Cost Savings:

Low- and no-VOC paints typically cost about the same as a manufacturer’s premium line of paints (around $30 per gallon) however, it is important to remember that high-performance paint typically will cost more in the beginning but in the long run “could be the difference between painting once and painting 4 to 5 times in 20 years.”

Consider paying the extra cost of buying a high-performance, low-VOC paint as you may not have to apply more than one coat to the surface area greatly reducing your time and overall expense.

“Choosing non-toxic, low-VOC paints in office buildings, schools and hospitals has helped maintain normal productivity within these environments which would be entirely impractical for the occupants to vacate even for short periods of time during a painting project.”

Issues:

Because of the way low VOC paints are labeled, how they are used, and how they are marketed it can be difficult for the consumer to determine whether a paint is truly a low VOC paint or not. For example, some paints are labeled “low-odor or something else as apposed to low VOC.” Some low VOC paint brands market themselves as Green Seal certified while others who meet certain LEED standards do not have to adhere to the Green Seal requirements. Consumers are often confused as to what standards to follow when it comes to lower VOC paint.

Regional Issues:

According to the EPA no national standards have been set for VOCs in non industrial settings. California state requirements that mandate low VOC levels has become the model for the national legislation and has been adopted by many states across several regions.

Installation (Getting It Done):

“There’s never been a better time to buy environmentally responsible products,” says Mark Petruzzi, Vice President of Green Seal. “It’s a lot easier to be green now. If you’ve tried green in the past, give it a fresh look. It can lead to happier and more productive workers and occupants.”
For persons who are particularly sensitive, or have strong concerns about air quality, most major manufacturers now offer special no-VOC paints that are odorless and completely “VOC-free.”

Consumers can take additional precautions to lower the VOC levels in their homes and their overall exposure to harmful compounds.

• Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs,

• Try to buy products that contain VOCs in quantities that can be used quickly,

• Use products only according to manufacturer’s directions,

• Adhere to all product warnings,

• Dispose of products containing VOCs properly.

(source: Ecobroker)

Radon

Technology Snapshot & Benefits:

Health benefits can accrue from designing and building features that effectively remove radon from your home. Radon is a colorless, tasteless, odorless radioactive gas that can seep into your basement or the lowest livable space in the home from surrounding soil. Decomposition products attach to very small particles in the air and these can be breathed deeply into the lungs, potentially resulting in serious health consequences. National statistics indicate that one in fifteen homes in the U.S. have unacceptable levels of radon.

The only way to know whether your house has unacceptable levels of radon is to have the lowest livable space in the home tested. You may test yourself using kits that are available at home supply stores or seek professional assistance. Winter is the best time to test since doors and windows are kept closed allowing radon concentrations to reach detectable levels.

If radon occurs as a result of out gassing from the soil, the most common reason, this can be readily mitigated with ventilation for roughly $1,000. Removal technology is simple and straightforward. It involves blocking points of entry into the lowest livable space in the home and venting areas to the outside using an active circulation system to exhaust basement air. Usually plastic ducting and piping are sufficient, and these low-cost materials help keep total costs low. In a few rare cases, it has been discovered that foundations were made of radioactive mine tailings or other waste materials. In these situations, the costs of radon mitigation become substantially more than $1,000.

Estimated Cost Savings:

Cost savings of radon mitigation is measured in terms of assuring the quality of indoor air and preventing any health problems associated with radon. A typical cost to eliminate radon from the home is on the order of $1,000, with costs ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Most people find this to be more than worth the investment, when protecting the health of family and loved ones.

Issues:

Remedies will likely involve some sort of ducting to the outside. You should think carefully about how best to design the ducting, keeping in mind both aesthetic and practical considerations.

Regional Issues:

Some regions of the country have soils and rocks with higher levels of radon than others. Even in areas prone to radon infiltration, there is no way of knowing for sure that you have a problem without testing. Testing is inexpensive and easy and should be performed when buying or selling a home.

Installation (Getting It Done):

Be sure to get two or three (or more) bids from designers and/or building contractors to gain immediate perspective on the actual costs of radon mitigation and equipment installation details in your area.

(source: ecobroker)

Home Energy Ratings – Evaluating Your Home’s Energy Performance

Snapshot & Benefits:

Home energy ratings are performed on new and existing homes to evaluate each home’s energy performance. Home energy ratings are performed on new homes to verify energy performance for programs such as Energy Start Qualified homes. Existing homes may benefit from energy ratings by identifying cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements for the home. Additionally, home energy ratings are utilized by many financial institutions to qualify homes for energy-efficient mortgages.

Estimated Cost Savings:

Home energy ratings can identify cost-effective improvements that potentially save homeowners hundreds of dollars each year.

Issues:

Please be careful not to assume that your home inspector can perform an energy rating. In fact, many do not.

Getting It Done:

Energy ratings are performed by Certified Home Energy Raters. Contact Tahmina for a list of providers.

(source: Ecobroker)