Green Homes

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4/24/2015

Off-Grid and Underground 

Most of our lives my wife and I worked to make money to pay the bills to keep us comfortable while we worked to make money — you get the picture! As we became empty nesters, with both our sons starting their own families, we decided to see if we could simplify our lives and retain comfort while requiring less money to maintain that lifestyle and fewer resources to sustain it. At the time, we were living in an urban environment and realized that to really simplify our lives, we would need to find a more rural situation.

We found a 10-acre piece of raw land in 2000 and started out by camping on weekends to begin to get a feel for the land and what was available around it. The next year, we built a small cabin that we could leave our camping stuff in — a 10-by-12-foot structure that didn’t require a permit. Up to that point, we had been hauling water by barrels to mix concrete for the small foundation.

As we got closer to selling our urban house, we took out an equity line of credit so we could begin to put some basic infrastructure in for when we decided to make our move. Our first consideration was to get a well in place. By the summer of 2002 we were ready to put an ag-barn in place, which only required a $60 permit. We even had a barn-raising campout week and invited some friends out to camp and help us with the basic framing of the barn. It was actually a lot of fun, even though the temperature that entire week was higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Home Underground 

By September of 2002, we had our barn closed in so we could store our household possessions when we sold our house in the city. We bought a 5-wheel trailer to live in until we were able to build a home, and finally moved onto our country homestead in September of 2002.

We got electricity from a generator, and when we inquired with the power company about getting electricity out to the homestead, we were told it would be at least $20,000. We decided to take that money and put it into a solar system, which has evolved into a very reliable system with panels, batteries and back-up generator. Our well is even solar-powered now, though we didn’t have that at first.

We initially put in a small septic system for our trailer, but the next spring, we got a county permit and put in the largest system they allowed for single-family plots with the anticipation that we would expand our accommodations as time went on. We also built a freestanding kitchen, bathroom, and laundry building so we could get rid of the trailer and live in part of the barn.

We spent a lot of time and money developing the soils on our homestead so we could plant an orchard and large garden.

We have been interested in non-conventional building techniques for some time, and have explored many different options through the years. In the summer of 2007, we began a journey that would lead us to one of the most unconventional homes we have ever experienced. We were already living off-grid and were searching for ways of keeping our carbon footprint way below the national average. We were not completely altruistic in this quest, either, because we were also guided by the practical considerations of keeping our energy and operating costs as low as possible.

Having seen a few homes built by tunneling into the mountainsides of Napa and Sonoma valleys in California, as well as wine storage caves, we were very impressed by the constant temperature qualities of underground homes, but not so impressed with the costs of the same. So we began to research how we could build underground with as limited as possible cash outlay.

While reading a book called Dare to Prepare by Holly Deyo, we noted some plans for a makeshift bomb shelter constructed from a cargo container. There weren’t a lot of details, but the idea stuck with us and plans began to develop in our minds and then onto paper. Over the course of the following year, those plans grew into the reality of our home, built of two 40-foot-long cargo containers inserted into the southern slope of our property in Northern California.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to chuck conventional wisdom and building techniques in order to build a home out of recycled shipping containers? After all, only Hobbits live underground and they have big feet – right?

Actually, the reasons for using cargo containers to construct an underground home are not as strange as it might seem on passing glance. The cost of construction is one reason that makes them attractive. Our two-container dwelling, or 640 square feet of floor space, cost right at $30,000 fully finished. That is less than $50 per square foot, which is less than half of the conventional costs for construction at the time of this writing. A livable space could be done for even less and a lot could be saved using recycled materials.

We now have a wonderfully comfortable home that is solar-powered and uses very little energy, as well as land on which to grow our own food. We don’t need a lot of money to keep our homestead up and running. We don’t have city water or electric payments, and our taxes are quite low because we are rated agriculture. We have lots of room between ourselves and our neighbors, and we can see amazing star displays at night. We wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It takes a different way of looking at things, but it’s definitely worth a try!

We didn’t realize at first how much interest there would be in this unusual home. We were just very happy with how well the concept worked. With 100-plus degree temperatures outside, the inside of our home never rose above 82 degrees. If we were better about closing off the solar tubes and had heavy insulated curtains for the front windows and doors, it would be even more remarkable.  During the 20-degree nights of mid-winter, the inside temperature doesn’t go below 62 degrees, even without supplemental heat, and it is easy to bring that temperature up with a small RV catalytic heater. This means we have no air conditioning costs and very little heating costs throughout the year. Even though there is a substantial savings of cost per square foot in building with this technique, the real cost savings are ongoing through this energy savings on a monthly basis, and it will get even more notable as energy costs continue to rise.

As we shared the idea with friends and people would visit us and remark on the unique qualities of our home, we began to understand that maybe we had ahold of a concept that needed to be shared. Finally at the prompting of our older son, we decided to write a book and share the process we engaged in building this unique home. Our book is called Off Grid and Underground, and in it we go into detail about the decisions we made and what we would do differently.

Stone Home Underground 

We hope you will be stimulated by this presentation and should you decide to go ahead with constructing your own masterpiece, we would be glad to try and answer any questions you might have. Enjoy the journey.



4/23/2015

Timber Frame 

Squinting against the bright September sky, project foreman Rick Collins surveyed the scene before him. Something extraordinary was about to happen in a small town in Michigan — a gathering of people from around the world to construct a timber frame pavilion. “I would go so far as to say that it’s probably been well over 100 years since anyone has built a structure this way,” Collins declared.

The 120-by-46-by-24-foot post-and-beam construction would take 70 timber framers and 29,000 board feet to build — plus about 3,500 recyclable paper plates. More specifically: carpenters and apprentices from 20 U.S. states, Canada, France, England and Poland; white ash, oak, black locust, poplar, and cherry donated from local landowners; and paper plates full of homemade food prepared by 330 members of the local community. All that after two years of dreaming, planning, and the fundraising necessary for the vision to be realized: a pavilion where the farmers market, summer festivals, and special events of Vicksburg, Mich., would have their home for the next few centuries.

Timber Framer 

The pace of progress over ten early fall days required vast quantities of leadership, skill, efficiency and people. According to Collins, who owns Trillium Dell Timberworks out of Knoxville, Ill., “You need about 5,000 man hours to do a project like this. Based on the crew we’ve pulled together, that means every person has to be productive for ten hours a day on this site.” Incredibly, that’s just what happened. “It’s not all been perfect, but I guess we don’t want to anger the gods,” said Kristina Powers Aubry, a host from the Vicksburg Historical Society. Co-host Bob Smith added good-naturedly, “Well, I’m more worried about angering the guys with the power tools.”

Made of Sturdy Stuff

This kind of work isn’t for the faint of heart. Every gritty, safety-goggled worker bent over a tool was putting his or her whole heart and soul into the endeavor. Richard Barnes, who owns a sawmill south of town, turned the logs to timbers, and then he joined dozens of volunteers from the Timber Framers Guild (TFG) and local community who put in long days on the construction. For many, it was their first timber framing experience. Some were getting a good dose of on-the-job training from TFG instructors. Others were the kind of woodworkers who just might be using some of their grandfather’s tools as well as an iPhone FingerCAD app. It’s that reverence for old world ways combined with new age technology that is the hallmark of timber framing today.

Cutting Timber 

Spence says, “Timber framing is about rediscovering this age-old wisdom of constructing things with the raw material of wood alone; to bring the language of the past into the codes of the present. It used to be, ‘OK, I’ve got a snow load on this beam, how much will it take before it’ll break?’ Today, we take the tree species, measure the wind volume, do a drawing in 3-D to apply stresses on a building, and then look at all the variables. The computer analysis figures it out. We can push the envelope of what’s possible.”

Free Room and Board

Community Building 

With so many workers coming from faraway places, the question of room and board had to be answered. A tent city was put up beside the community garden next to the worksite for anyone preferring a camping experience. Others were welcomed into homes around town. The Nazarene Church was available for showers. It was one of many churches that provided hot meals. So did organizations like the local garden club. Member Martha Stanley dubbed her peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chippers Lumberjack Cookies in honor of occasion. As the workers came through the line in the dining tent, she’d ask each one where they were from and visit with them. “They were so friendly and thankful for the food. That made me feel full,” Martha said.

Members of the community and local businesses volunteered countless hours to ensure that three squares a day were ready for the crew. The Rise-N-Dine, Subway, Main Street Grill, Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor, Erbelli’s, and Jaspare’s Pizza all donated meals, complementing the homemade fare from local churches, groups, clubs, even designated neighborhoods. Karen Hammond of the Vicksburg Historical Society managed the herculean task of coordinating meal donations and the business end of things in the dining tent. Not a day went by that someone who hadn’t even signed up for food duty would drop by with something to keep the snack table stocked. Hammond says she loved every minute of it.

 “The feeling you get from working together to pull something like this off is incredible. We could have just had it catered, or left cold cuts and bread on a table for sandwiches, but we wanted to put the extra effort in to show how much this means to us as a community,” she reflected. “The whole experience was something that might have been typical in my grandparent’s time, but for us it was really something exceptional. We made new friends, and got closer to the ones we already had.”

Beam Construction 

Connecting the Past and the Present

Before dawn, the smells of a morning campfire and freshly sawn wood from the cut-post tent hang in the air. There’s something time-capsuling about the scent—how it would have been the same for workers 500 years ago. It’s an olfactory trigger to timber framing’s visceral connection of the past and present. “You look at an old woodcut from the Renaissance period showing all the work stations and processes involved in putting up a cathedral maybe 900 years ago — every aspect of the trade; we’ve got that same thing happening here today,” Collins says. “Everything is happening right here. You could call me a ‘locavore.’ I like seeing local people and resources doing local construction. That’s sustainability. It’s the closest connection we have to our past. We lost that through industrialization — we need to regain it.”

When the TFG does projects like the Vicksburg Pavilion, it proves that people can harvest their own wood, use local labor, and make something that the whole community can be a part of, Collins says.

Sue Moore, the local Vicksburg maven who worked behind the scenes on every aspect of this project’s development and execution, agrees that it “brought the community together in a shared experience that emphasized giving toward a greater cause without hesitation, and the pride in having achieved something lasting.”

Carrying Wood 

Joinery

The real “joinery” of the Vicksburg Pavilion is about the community coming together. It’s a community that includes people who might have come from somewhere else in the world. Kristina Powers Aubry put it this way, “We’ve met artists, poets, philosophers, kings, white collars, blue collars, and no collars from all over the world here in our little corner of it.”

Alicia Spence, project manager of the TFG, agrees. It’s not just the wood work, but what happens when all those woodworkers meet in the dining tent at the end of the day. They’re all there to share the workload as well as the blueberry pie. “I would say the community service element is really what makes this a matter of the heart. There’s a lot of ways to build something. You could put a pole building up — it’s faster and cheaper. But with a project like this, there’s an old-fashioned barn-raising feel to it,” Spence says. “It joins us together in a way that’s so absent in American culture. It really brings out the best in people. We’re not just building buildings — we’re building community.”

Stacked Timber 



4/22/2015

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The main goals of an environmentally friendly kitchen remodel should be to reduce energy use, reuse or recycle materials, and minimize the carbon footprint of your project. To achieve this, keep the following five tips in mind while planning and purchasing your new kitchen. You’ll be guaranteed a greener, cleaner kitchen.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Reduce the use of new materials by reusing where possible and recycling when not. Cabinet doors can be upcycled into a new desk, serving trays for your new kitchen, or any number of other inventive uses

Old flooring, if carefully removed, can be put to good use in a shed or tree house. Get creative and don’t throw materials away until you’re sure there are no ways you can repurpose them. If you can’t find a use, dispose of them properly. Many municipalities offer appliance-recycling services, or consider donating still-working appliances to local non-profits.

Consider Energy Use

Choosing Energy Star rated appliances is the easy part when it comes to saving energy in a kitchen remodel, but what about the products that aren’t rated? Ovens and stovetops, for example, don’t receive Energy Star certification, but that doesn’t mean they are all equal when it comes to energy use. This post gives a rundown on the best options for saving energy while cooking. And don’t forget about the smaller built-in appliances that often get replaced in a remodel. The range hood is literally an energy sucker — taking warm or cool air out of the home while it’s operating. Select an Energy Star rated range hood to reduce this energy drain, and make sure to use energy-saving LED bulbs in this and any other appliance that requires lighting.

Evaluate the Source

It’s a common misconception that energy use begins when the consumer turns on an appliance. In fact, the amount of energy expended on manufacturing and shipping materials and products can have a huge impact on an appliance’s overall carbon footprint. For example, Italian marble not only costs you a lot more than marble made in the USA, but it costs the planet in unnecessary energy spent shipping it across the ocean. Sourcing locally or regionally made products should be at the top of your checklist when choosing materials. For example, if you live near a limestone quarry, definitely consider concrete countertops.

Conserve Natural Resources

Purchasing products made from renewable or recycled materials, such as concrete, wood or recycled glass countertops, is essential for a green kitchen remodel, and thankfully the options are increasing on a daily basis. Recycled paper, glass, FSC certified or salvaged wood and stainless steel are just some of the stylish and eco-friendly options currently available.

If you want the stone look, however, ECO by Cosentino has developed a countertop that resembles the color and texture of granite and contains up to 75 percent recycled post-industrial and post-consumer materials. The company sources glass from mirrors salvaged from houses, building and factories, glass from windshields, windows and bottles, and granulated glass from consumer recycling. They also get porcelain from china, tiles, sinks and toilets to produce a very attractive stone-like material that doesn’t require the use of any sealant.

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ECO by Cosentino is an environmentally friendly, non-porous countertop made from 75-percent recycled content.

Watch the Water

You don’t have to live in California right now to acknowledge that conserving water should be a top priority. Installing aerators on your current faucets or purchasing an eco-friendly kitchen faucet can restrict the flow down to 1.5 gallons per minute, helping reduce water use by about 30 percent. Additionally, installing an on-demand, tankless water heater eliminates wasted energy spent keeping water hot in a tank.

Also consider installing a hot water dispenser in your sink. Having hot water on tap saves considerable energy required to boil pots or a kettle on a stove, as well as preventing wasted water while you wait for cool water to heat up.

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An instant hot water dispenser can be a big energy saver if you boil a lot of water.

Conclusion

Achieving a green kitchen remodel is really just a matter of doing your research and fully understanding the qualities and origins of the products you are bringing into your home. Combine that with reducing or eliminating any waste, and you are on the right track towards a healthier home and happier planet.

Jennifer Tuohy cares about the environment and tries her best to keep her carbon footprint to a minimum. She provides advice for The Home Depot on topics such as how to remodel your kitchen with green materials and products. To find a selection of the kitchen products that Jennifer talks about in this article, visit Home Depot's website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



4/20/2015

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There are so many uses for old pallets—from simple Halloween decorations to an entire potting shed, these practical, eco-friendly materials should be a staple at any homestead. And best of all, they’re free.

Pretty much anytime we need a new piece of furniture around our home or garden, I ask my husband, ‘Can we make it out of pallet?’ So, when our rickety wine rack bit the dust, we turned to the trusty pallet.

Overall, the transition from pallet to wine rack was really easy—the only real problem we faced was the quality of the wood. The pallet we had was very brittle, so it didn’t withstand much sawing or drilling. Eventually we had to substitute a few pieces of pine to ensure stability (no one wants ten wine bottles and eight wine glasses crashing to the ground), but we retained enough pallet to keep that rustic look I personally love.

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Here’s How We Fashioned a Wine Rack Out of a Pallet:

1. First we cut away the bottom quarter of the pallet with a handsaw. This would form the basis of the wine rack.

2. Next we trimmed away some of the thickness of the top plank, so we would be able to see the labels on the wine bottles once they were in place.

3. Then we nailed two 1 in. x 1 in. pine boards to the inside of the pallet to create a base for the bottles to sit on securely.

4. After several failed attempts to cut notches for the wine glasses in the base of the pallet, we gave up and removed the bottom board of the pallet, replacing it with a 1 in. x 4 in. pine board. If your pallet is made of more hardy wood, you may be able to get away with keeping it.

5. To get the correct spaces for the wine glass portion of the wine rack, we set the wine glasses on the top of the board, marked the correct spacing and then cut notches in the wood with a jigsaw (you could also use a router for this.)

6. We screwed the pine board to the bottom of the pallet, placing a couple of shims above it to create enough space for the base of the glasses to slide into the notches.image3

7. Finally, we applied a coat of wood stain to help blend the wood tones of the new pine and old pallet. To mount it we simply put two anchors in the wall and affixed two screws in the back of the rack and hung it in our dining room.

As you can see, this was an incredibly simple project and the end result is a nice showpiece not unlike one that people would actually pay real money for (in my opinion!).

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One thing to bear in mind when using pallets for indoor projects, or related in anyway to food, is to make sure you give the pallet a good scrub down first. The wood can easily harbor bacteria, which you don’t want to bring into your home. For more tips on prepping pallets for various uses check out this article.

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What home projects have you built out of old pallets?

Jennifer Tuohy is a DIYer in Charleston, South Carolina, who writes about her projects for The Home Depot. Jennifer's upcycled pallet-into-wine-rack shows what a few tools and a little elbow grease can produce. For a look at some of the tools Jennifer used to build her wine rack, click here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



4/15/2015

My first post here was a short description of How to Build a Low-Cost DIY Yurt. I was a bit surprised when the editor told me it had gotten 423,000 views in its first week or so, but there are a lot of reasons why people are interested in yurts. One of them was a man named Bill Coperthwaite. When Peter Forbes came out with his book about Bill, I jumped at the chance to review it, partly because it was an opportunity to express gratitude for Bill's life and work. This is adapted from a long version of the review published on the Hand Print Press website.

A Man Apart, Bill Coperthaite's Radical Experiment in Living,
by Peter Forbes & Helen Whybrow

I met Bill Coperthwaite in 2007. I had recently read his book, A Hand Made Life, and was deeply impressed by his stories and practice, and the way he was trying to live out an answer to questions that, by our denial of them, define our culture:

“Can you have ‘culture’ without violence?”

“Is beauty useful?”

“Are justice, democracy, and peace possible if most all of our technologies require violence?”

Like Gandhi, Bill figured that whatever he could make for himself meant less dependence on an imperial master, but where Gandhi lived with hundreds of others in an ashram in India, Bill lived alone on a couple of hundred acres in Northern Maine, at the end of a mile and a half footpath. For a home, he built himself a stunning, 4-tiered yurt, each layer divided from the next by a ring of clerestory windows. When he wasn't at home building and designing, he travelled the world building for others and seeking out living traditions of craft and design.

Two years after I met him, I organized a workshop where Bill led us in building a beautiful 20' diameter two-tiered yurt for one of my Oregon neighbors. He introduced us to crooked knives and welcomed me into the art of spoon-carving. When the building was done, he spent a day at our home, talking about books and poetry and helping us shuck our dry corn. The conversation continued as I drove him to a conference, and then to the airport.

I would have loved to spend more time with him, but opportunity and timing never coincided. Thanksgiving of 2011, he slid off an icy road, hit a tree and died at the age of 83.

Bill cultivated, largely by hand, a unity of home and life that freed him from participating in most modern consumer insanity. It's a high ideal for many of us, including Peter Forbes, whom I'd met when he came out to photograph our yurt workshop. He'd known Bill for decades, so when he and his wife Helen came out with this book, I was eager to read it.

Of the two authors, Peter in particular was influenced by his relationship with Bill. In meditating on that relationship, he and Helen focus primarily on the experience of building a yurt together on Bill's land, as part of a stewardship arrangement by which Bill was turning over his life's work to a small group of friends, and encouraging them to share his land and vision while he was still alive.

Like any life, Bill's was full of compromise -- but those weren't what he talked about. He spoke of principles, and design -- the right way of doing things. Unlike social theorists who address such challenges with words and ideas, however, Bill addressed it with his hands. How do things fit? And how do our tools, materials, and choices affect that fit?

At one point, Bill decided to make a better landing area for his canoe (his primary mode of transporting materials). This was a design challenge that most would have addressed with dynamite and a civil engineer. There would have been a high price to pay for power and engines to do the work at speed. That work would have been "someone's job," done primarily for payment, and measured in days and dollars. Instead, Bill chose a sledgehammer, and spent one if not several summers slowly chipping away at Maine's granite coastline. He said he would spend 20 minutes hammering, and 20 minutes reading a book. He measured the work in ideas and stories; things seen while resting, and a physical understanding of geology that could make a person feel like a true brother to wind, rain, and time.

Bill inspired Peter's decision to leave a successful career in land conservation, but he and his wife chose a place and path several hundred miles from Bill and his communitarian vision. It's hard to try and participate in a vision held by a reclusive, if brilliant, curmudgeon; harder without sharing in the day to day work. Lacking such daily reinforcement, how do you measure success?

A teacher is like an old tree. He stands or dies by himself. With luck, there will be seeds and sprouts that we can nurture, even transplant. Maybe we graft old wood onto a new tree, and clone some fruit. But when an old tree is gone, it's gone. The shading branches fall; the spring brings no new flowers. The gifts of a living love begin the slow process of turning to compost, while the next generation of seeds seek nourishment from what remains. The vision is that nourishment; it's survival depends on each individual's ability to see it for themselves.

Helen, who met Bill as her husband's mentor, didn't really choose her relationship -- it came as a package deal with the husband. She was admittedly cautious in her approach to a reputedly "difficult" person. Not long after they started building, however, she realized that if the yurt was to have the separate space they'd promised to their young daughter, it would be up to mom. So, with trepidation about whether he'd allow "his" design to be modified, she approached Bill. In response, he drew a picture of how he thought it could fit, and said there was probably enough lumber. Then he left her on her own. So she partnered up with a more experienced builder, and they did it. What she drew from the experience, I think, was not what Bill taught (if anything), but that he had faith in her capacity to learn.

That kind of faith is a fundamental principle by which societies live and grow; it is perhaps the sole nourishment for native human genius. It teaches us what we need to learn in order to do the work we're uniquely suited for. It's not a lesson you can learn in school, where we're divided and ranked against each other, according to false criteria that have little to do with who we are and what we want. In lieu of faith, school offers fear: "don't step out of place, or else..." Or else what? What happens if we step out of a mechanistic, industrialized society? Will we lose our humanity? Our kinship with others? No! We'll lose only mechanized social "function" -- we'll be bad consumers, we won't help "grow the economy" -- but we may gain kinship with wind, rain, and time, and a culture built by beauty instead of violence.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



4/10/2015

When a buyer purchases a home, there are many questions to be asked; financing, neighborhoods, comparably sold properties and so on. But when a buyer decides to buy a green home, it’s wise to ask a few additional questions to make sure that the transaction goes smoothly and that they know exactly what to expect from these premium homes.

larger green home for sale clip art

Does the home have a certification? More and more homes are now getting certified for their sustainability either through a local certification or a national one. These can be very valuable assets to the resale of your home as well. It is proof that your home is green certified. Ask if the home is certified and ask to see the certification to verify the accuracy of the claim.

Is your real estate agent or the listing agent qualified and knowledgeable about green homes? Do they have a green credential?  Green homes have significant attributes and without qualified professionals, you may not be getting all or the proper information about the home. Check to see if your buyer agent or the listing agent has experience and even better a green credential to back up their knowledge of green homes. There are 3 leading credentials that real estate agents can earn: National Association of Realtor’s Green Designation, EcoBroker Designation, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate or the advanced version LEED AP.

ecobroker logo 

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 leed green assoc

Does the appraiser have an understanding of green homes? An appraiser who is not up-to-date on green homes may undervalue the home and cause significant problems for the transaction, including a loan denial. Green homes often sell for a premium price due to their advance building techniques and cost saving features. An appraiser who is not familiar with these features or building techniques may price the home similar to other traditionally built homes, which can put a wrench in a buyer obtaining the financing for the home at the contract price. Make sure your agent and lender both understand that the appraiser should have experience with green homes before they proceed.

How old are the systems or eco-features in the home? Believe it or not, some “eco” products, high efficiency systems, or building techniques that were considered very efficient or high tech ten, fifteen or twenty years ago could be less efficient than “normal” products or required local building codes of today. Many companies have increased the efficiency of their products so much so that a home built many years ago with “green features” could be similarly efficient to a newly built home to today’s codes and newer systems and appliances. For example toilets have become so water efficient at 1.28 gpf that a water saving “eco” toilet from a few years back may have the same water efficiency as most “regular” toilets sold today. Of course there are always the exceptions with some products that are more efficient still. Composting toilets, for example, are by far more water saving than anything else out there. Make sure that your soon-to-be eco-home’s products and systems are in fact actually still as “eco” as they once were considered.

Are there any tax incentives? This will apply mainly to newly built homes where the tax credit is applied upon installation of certain energy efficient or alternative energy products. Energy.gov currently has a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit that is accessible to current homeowners or buyers of new homes, where one of the energy efficient products or systems have been installed. The good news, however, is that even if you don’t apply for a tax credit right away, if you install “eco” products and systems once you own the property, there are many options out there for tax credits and rebates. Here are some examples of potential tax incentives and rebates.

Do any of the eco-features need special care or maintenance? Eco homes may have features and systems you are not familiar with that often require different care than regular systems. For example, if there is a rain water collection system you may want to ask, “How do you maintain it and how often should it be cleaned?” With solar panels, knowing the dos and don’ts of cleaning them and whether inspections or other maintenance is required to help uphold their efficiency. Your agent or home inspector can help answer these questions for you or direct you to professionals who can.

Asking these 6 questions will help any buyer of a green home become an informed and more confident one. Happy house-hunting!

Kari Klaus CEO and Founder of Viva Green Homes April 2015 


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



4/3/2015

green construction

According to the United States EPA Clear Air Act Advisory Committee, construction equipment is one of the leading causes and contributing factors to dangerous pollution. More specifically, this equipment ejects dangerous diesel pollution into the surrounding environment during use.

A single bulldozer engine can emit as much particulate matter as more than 500 cars. This is because diesel exhaust can carry large amounts of carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds and soot. The resulting pollutants are responsible for a long list of health problems like asthma, strokes, lung cancer, heart failure and even premature death.

As such, the EPA created the Clean Construction USA initiative to promote greener construction, which calls for using cleaner forms of diesel and fuel along with tighter pollution controls. It aims to provide construction equipment owners with the means to improve equipment handling, at least when it comes to the environment. This is accomplished through the use of cleaner fuels like low-sulfur diesel, implementing greener technologies, and modifying old parts and equipment with updated tech.

Even after all these changes, both the environment and our health are still at risk. More dangerous emissions and pollutants continue to be pumped into the atmosphere on a daily basis. It begs the question, what can we do to help, aside from some of the more obvious changes, such as those listed above?

Reduce Equipment Usage Times

While on the job, you may need to get everything done in a timely manner, but there are certain things you can do to cut down on equipment usage. Think of it like this: To conserve water at home, you make sure to turn off the faucet when you're brushing your teeth or while washing dishes. You don't leave the water running consistently during that time – at least we hope not – because it's wasteful.

The same can be said of construction equipment. If your task doesn't actually call for the equipment to be powered on, then shut it down. You don't need to leave it running at all times.

Retrofit and Maintain Equipment

If a piece of equipment is not working properly or is inefficient, then it's time to start repairs. Green operation can be achieved by equipment owners following proper maintenance protocols and by retrofitting machinery with new parts. There are a lot of parts in modern construction equipment that can be replaced or upgraded altogether.

While this might seem costly, neglecting to maintain equipment can be more expensive in ways that you might not immediately see. Equipment breaking down and more severe problems can result in higher maintenance and repair fees. It can also result in equipment malfunctioning for longer periods of time, thus emitting more dangerous pollutants into the air. The latter issue is a problem for everyone, and you'll realize that eventually when your health is failing. Better to take preventative measures and keep your equipment efficient and optimal.

Recycle and Dispose of Waste Properly

Another contributing factor of pollution relates to how we dispose of our waste. For instance, just recycling glass helps reduce air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent. That's not even factoring in harmful waste like certain plastics, metals and alloys, and various chemicals.

While on the job, you'll be dealing with a lot of waste from equipment, from the actual work and from your own habits – like lunch. Learn to recycle and dispose of this waste properly.

Together, we can improve air and environment quality by ensuring we live to greener standards even in places where you wouldn't think it possible, like a construction site.


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