Maintaining a Green Building

The greenest building is the one that is already built. Less material is wasted without infrastructure changes.  Instead, simple modifications can be made to the heating, cooling, electric, and water systems. Weatherization assistance programs are available, giving subsidies from The Department of Energy. These can cover air sealing windows and doors, H.V.A.C., and insulation of attic and basement. Many businesses do bulk energy purchasing as well, sometimes getting as low as eight cents per kilowatt. In Germany there’s passive heating, which uses only body heat to heat the whole house, insulated by a thick envelope on the exterior of the house to keep it circulated inside.

Something often overlooked when insulating an attic or crawlspace, is forgetting to box in the entrance, and to not insulate around knob and tube electrical cords against a possible fire hazard. You can insulate the whole attic, and if you forgot this one spot, then a stack effect would suck up all of the warm air up like a chimney.

The heating and cooling bill is the biggest energy expense in most homes, averaging between 35-47% of the energy bill. Natural shading outside using trees is beneficial for heating costs, sheltering from direct sun. Other easy steps are: setting the thermostat at 68 degrees farenheit in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer, energy star thermostat(programmable), less hot water, and water heater at 120 degrees, change furnace filters monthly or seasonally, furnace checked yearly and replaces every 15-20, use ceiling fans in summer and winter months, close blinds during day in summer, and open in day during winter, clean heat vent covers, close/cover air vents in rooms you don’t use, and properly insulate your home. With improper insulation, here is the list of the percent of money lost to each area that dissipates heat: 42 percent to ceiling, 24 percent to walls, 12 percent to windows, 10-20 percent to floor, and 12 percent to the chimney. (Information from Pittsburgh Greenhouse, http://www.pittsburghgreenhouse.org/)

For weather-resistant wood products outside, the ‘Eco-Life’ product is great since it doesn’t contain the nasty chemicals pressure treated wood does. ‘Trex’ is also beneficial and comes from recycled tires. As far as lo-flow rain-barrels go, the ‘Rain-Perfect’ solar panel connects to a pump on top and adds enough pressure to run a hose out anywhere in the garden.

As far as lighting goes, natural lighting can go a long way, so to have more windows, and the shades drawn during the day will save a bundle. CFL’s and LED’s make more light with less electricity, last longer, and initially cost more but saves overall. As well as getting compact florescent lamps, other easy steps are: turning off lights when leaving, motion sensors for outdoor lighting, install dimmer switches, and lamps in corners by adjacent walls to maximize lighting.

To save on water and electricity, the little things go a long way, such as: fixing drippy faucets, 5 minute showers, using cold water to fully load dishwasher and clothes washer, turning off electrical outlets when not in use(otherwise known as phantom loads), maintaining appliances, hang dry your clothes, no hot items in fridge, and electrical mattress pad in winter to reduce the temperature on the thermostat. Here are some cheap products that can help save a significant amount on yearly costs: P.C. power strip costs $20, requires one hour of labor, and can save up to $178 per year. C.F.L. bulbs cost $50, requires two hours of labor, and can save $117 per year. Turning off the lights when you’re not in the room costs nothing, takes no time, and can save $44 per year. An electric mattress pad costs $125, takes no time, and can save $186 per year. Plastic bubble wrap insulating windows costs $38, takes two hours, and saves $75 per year. (Information from Pittsburgh Greenhouse, http://www.pittsburghgreenhouse.org/)

Many renters are afraid to make changes due to liability from their landlord, but one solution is to help empower your landlord through the suggestion that these ideas save time and money. When replacing drywall, insulation, or carpeting, there are many safe and eco-friendly alternatives, such as: blown-in cellulose(plant fibers)insulation, ‘Ultra-Touch’ Denimn(recycled pants) insulation, and woven broadloom ‘Eco-Carpets’ as well as nylon are easy to recycle and last up to fifteen years. ‘Green Label Plus’ carpets and ones certified by the carpet/rug institute have less toxic fiber and chemicals.

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