Energy-efficient homes: Cheaper to own, more expenive to buy. Why?

January 25, 2010

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Krista and Micah Fuerst were looking near here to buy their first place together, and had narrowed it down to two houses: One built 25 years ago, the other brand new and built to strict energy efficiency standards. The couple's choice was easy: They picked the Energy Star home, which the U.S. had certified because it will use about one-fifth to one-third less energy than a comparable home. But they're in the minority. Most homebuyers don't think about the ongoing costs of home ownership beyond the mortgage and taxes; using energy costs, too. And fewer still think about the pollution that energy use creates, but home energy use accounts for 16 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The proportion of newly built Energy Star homes is growing, but still only represents 20 percent of new homes built in 2009, according to Sam Rashkin, national director of the Home Energy Star program. Despite the slow increase in newly built efficient homes, some 99 percent of existing houses are "sick" -- damp, drafty, dusty, noisy and expensive to heat and cool. They "could be made at least 30 percent more energy-efficient with highly cost-effective, tried-and-true energy-efficiency improvements," according to Rashkin. A 30% reduction in energy use is a 30% reduction in home energy costs; newly built Energy Star homes have, since 1995, saved homeowners an estimated $1.2 billion. The Energy Star program won't fix those old houses. Energy Star designations go to the cream of the housing stock; if just one in five new homes meets these standards, far fewer renovations do. So if energy efficient homes cost homeowners less and pollute less, why aren't they more commonplace? Experts say economics and regulations are the root of the problem: Mortgages are structured in ways that fail to recognize the benefits of energy efficiency, while a patchwork of inconsistent and ill-enforced energy codes provides conflicting signals to industry. Meanwhile consumers remain largely unaware of efficiency's advantages, advocates say, thereby bypassing an easy target for considerable cuts in national carbon emissions -- and home energy bills. In this sense the Fuersts are typical of many homebuyers. Both in their late twenties, the Fuersts were aware of Energy Star-rated appliances, but didn't know the label also applied to homes, said Krista Fuerst, a childcare director. Their home, which wouldn't stand out in any new subdivision, and they mostly just wanted a place big enough to raise a family. They traded slightly longer commutes for smaller energy bills and freedom from costly renovations. "We're certainly conscious of the environment," she explained, "but we're not hyper-conscious. We're not extreme green." Of course, the ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems, high-performance windows and other features that make the homes exceptionally comfortable also make them a bit pricier. The added cost for a new Energy Star home may only be about the price of a night at the movies on each month's mortgage payment, but it's enough to scare off many potential buyers. "It's an incredibly smart choice," Rashkin said, since smaller utility bills more than offset the higher price. "But consumers are overwhelmed by first cost."

Energy-efficient mortgages

To get buyers over that hump, a handful of specialized mortgage options have for decades given buyers more cash Read more
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Solatube eChoice makes tubular skylights more efficient & less expensive

June 30, 2009

Solatube recently announced upgrades to two models of their tubular daylighting devices (tubular skylights).  The upgrades qualify their products for a 30% Federal Tax Credit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The two qualifying products are the 160DSe and the 290DSe.  Both are improvements upon the 160DS (the one I installed in my home), and the 290DS.

Solatube is the first company with tubular daylighting devices that exceed low Solar Heat Gain Coefficients (SHGC), and U-Factor ratings specified in the federal Act.     This is why their products qualify for the Federal tax credit!

What are SHGC and U-Factor you ask?  These ratings come from the National Fenestration Rating Council. We demystify both terms in detail for you in a previous article here on GetWithGreen.  Essentially, a low Solar Heat Gain Coefficient means that your window or tubular device will block heat from sunlight.  A low U-Factor means that heat has a difficult time escaping.  These ratings matter to you because the tube from these skylights runs through your attic.  You want to prevent as much heat from coming in during the summer, and limit the amount of heat lost during the winter.    The lower these ratings, the less your attic Read more

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Save over 1 gallon per flush – high efficiency toilets (HETs)work

June 28, 2009

High efficiency toilets, or HETs have been on the market now for years.  We wrote about them two years ago when we launched GetWithGreen.com.

Essentially high efficiency toilets conserve a lot of water.  Many older toilets use 3.5-5 gallons of water per flush, and newer high efficiency toilets from Kohler or Caroma use far less (0.8-1.6 gallons).

Having recently installed Kohler Revival HETs in my remodel, I am extremely pleased with the quality.  Even with two small kids cramming just a bit too much toilet paper, the toilets perform incredibly well.  Also, since so little water is used, the toilet does not run for five minutes afterwards!

Make sure you check with your manufacturer of choice, and your local water company for rebates after purchasing your new toilets.  There are many programs available to save money.  Here is an example of a special savings from Caroma that is offered in a drought affected portion of Texas:

City of Alamo Heights Launches Toilet Replacement Program
Caroma and Morrison Supply help save water and costs with dual flush high efficiency toilets

Caroma, the leader in dual flush toilets and stylish sinks, is partnering with the City of Alamo Heights and Morrison Supply Company in Texas on a toilet replacement program for Alamo Heights water customers. The new program started on June 10th, 2009.

Due to drought conditions, Alamo Heights is experiencing Stage 1 water restrictions. This includes limiting landscape watering to one designated day per week at specific hours, no impervious outdoor ground washing (parking lot, driveway, etc.), restaurants serving water only when customers request, and several additional restrictions. As part of these ongoing efforts to conserve limited water supplies, the City of Alamo Heights has created the toilet voucher replacement program to help conserve water in the house.

Approximately 30% of water in the home is used to flush a toilet. Many older toilets use 3.5 or 5 gallons of water per flush. The voucher rebate program enables homeowners to purchase a water-efficient Caroma toilet at a reduced cost and Read more

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