Kermit the Frog was wrong. These days, it’s getting easier to be green. Here, a couple of environmentally oriented businesses share some tips on how to save energy and achieve sustainability.
Vertegy, a subsidiary of Alberici Enterprises
“Installing solar panels isn’t enough,” says Thomas Taylor of Vertegy, a sustainability consulting firm. “Solar panels and other renewable energy technologies are still so expensive that it’s hard to see a return on your investment. Whether you’re building from scratch or trying to make an existing home more efficient, you need to reduce the total amount of energy you use.”
Site issues and landscaping, water efficiency, energy use, resources and materials, and indoor environmental quality all contribute to overall sustainability, Taylor explains. “When building, for example, position your home for maximum energy efficiency so it stays warmer in winter and cooler in summer. When landscaping, use drought-tolerant grass seed and plants, and place trees strategically to provide shade in summer and sunlight in winter.”
To manage storm water and help prevent runoff and soil erosion, plant rain gardens in low areas of your yard and place rain barrels at each downspout, Taylor advises. “You can use the excess water to irrigate your yard during dry spells.” Indoors, dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets reduce water usage, he adds.
Energy-efficient appliances, fixtures and home automation systems that control temperature and lighting are helpful, Taylor says. “But the stuff you use to construct, decorate and furnish your home is equally important.” Besides advising clients to use sustainable and/or recyclable materials, he also encourages sustainable choices, like keeping ceiling height at about eight feet. “Lower ceilings require less drywall, so you reduce the total amount of waste created during construction.”
Enhance indoor environmental quality by minimizing volatile organic compounds found in many paints, glues, adhesives, plastics and composite woods. “These things give off gasses that have links to neurologic dysfunction and can trigger asthma attacks and chemical sensitivities,” Taylor says. “Today’s homes are more tightly sealed, so we need to bring in more outdoor air safely by using high-efficiency filters.”
As consumers continue to educate themselves, demand for sustainable practices and materials will increase and prices will fall, he adds. “Most people would still rather spend an extra $2,000 on something that shows, like granite countertops, than on an efficient ventilation system,” he notes. “But good ventilation could eventually save you enough money to pay for countertops many times over.”
Solar Attic Blanket of St. Louis
“Cost-effective, eco-friendly and energy-saving solutions not only save energy and money, but also create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil,” says owner John Engelbach. “Installing a solar attic blanket conserves energy by keeping heat out of the house during the summer and inside during winter.” The blanket, made of a durable polymer mesh coated on both sides with pure aluminum, differs from traditional fiberglass insulation by reflecting and blocking radiant heat energy instead of absorbing it. “It doesn’t replace insulation; it’s installed above it to improve its effectiveness.”
Engelbach says the device reduces heat loss and gain by up to 50 percent. “In summer, it blocks radiant heat from raising the temperature of insulation and spreading to living space, lowering attic temperatures by up to 30 degrees. Year-round, it can save anywhere from 20 to 40 percent on your energy bill—and saves wear and tear on your furnace and air-conditioner.” At a cost of $1.45 per square foot, you can outfit a typical home for about $1,800 or $2,000, he says. “And you get a return on your investment within two years.”
Proper insulation is essential to saving energy and money, Engelbach adds. “Install weather strips and caulking wherever necessary to prevent air infiltration, which causes major heat loss in winter and gain in summer.” Energy-efficient windows can help, he says, “but they’re just for show if your attic space isn’t adequately insulated—the majority of heat gain and loss goes straight through the attic.”