But it is becoming more important in making your house attractive to socially- aware buyers
From the landscape materials we select for our yards to the appliances we choose for the kitchen and laundry to the light bulbs we use throughout the house, our choices affect our energy costs, water consumption and the environment. And with the greening of society in general, making your home more energy efficient won’t just help the planet it might help you sell your place more quickly.
According to Green Dallas, if every home in the country replaced just one light bulb with a compact fluorescent lamp, it would "prevent an amount of greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of 800,000 cars."
Real estate agent Steve Habgood chairs a green task force for Dallas’ Multiple Listing Service. His committee is working on a rating system to help Dallas area homebuyers factor energy efficiency and environmental friendliness into their home purchases.
Habgood suggests a number of ways to make existing homes more efficient. To keep a house cooler during Dallas’ hot summers and warmer in the winter, he reminds us to turn on our ceiling fans.
"Recirculate air in a room," he says. "And a dehumidifier makes air conditioning more efficient. And get a programmable thermostat."
Air conditioners work hard to pull the humidity out of the air. When the air is drier, the thermostat can be set a few degrees higher comfortably. Programming the thermostat keeps it from running on high all day. Set it to lower the temperature an hour before coming home and keep it from running on high all night.
When replacing appliances, look for the Energy Star rating to get those that lower utility bills. This government system rates more than 50 categories of appliances.
Energy Star dishwashers, for example, use at least 41 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard for energy consumption. Because they use less water, they save energy by requiring less hot water heating. Energy Star also recommends saving additional energy by only running the dishwasher full and using the air-dry option.
Other Energy Star-rated appliances include refrigerators, which consume half the electricity of those manufactured before 1993. A washing machine with an Energy Star label can save as much as $550 in operating costs (using both less water and electricity) over its lifetime.
Insulation makes a huge difference in energy consumption. For new construction, "foam insulation is coming into its own," but in older construction, traditional rolls of fiberglass insulation still work well, according to Habgood.
When looking for a new house or upgrading and replacing in an existing house, Habgood has a number of other ideas. Low flow commodes reduce water usage. A recirculating water heater delivers hot water to the sink or shower immediately, preventing waste of the gallons of water we pour down the drain as we wait for the hot water to get to the tub or faucet.
When replacing a roof, radiant barriers reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss. Double pane windows prevent transfer of energy. Less expensive single-pane Low-E (for low emittance) windows coated with a microscopically thin metallic layer reduce heat flow well. As a last resort, Habgood recommends simple, old-fashioned storm windows.
Outside, you can reduce water consumption by planting draught-tolerant plants and adding sensors to sprinkler systems that prevent them from watering while it’s raining. (City ordinances require these to be installed, although the city has done a poor job of installing them on their own nozzles in road medians.) Add trees to the landscape on the south and west sides of the building to reduce exposure to the sun and lower air conditioning usage. Light the yard with solar lights.
As more people become concerned with the environment, businesses have begun to market environmentally friendly products for the home. American Blinds, for example, recently began marketing a line of PVC-free shades, fabrics from completely recyclable materials and vinyl-free wallpaper made from recycled materials.
While any store that sells refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers will display the Energy Star rating on the appliances it sells, the Current Energy Store on Knox Street has been recognized by the Department of Energy as a first of its kind. Tankless water heaters, efficient bathroom fixtures, ductless air-conditioning systems and up-to-code irrigation systems are among the resources you’ll find there.
For a complete guide to Energy Star appliances, visit Energystar.gov. For more tips, visit Greendallas.net.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice Defining Homes print edition March 7, 2008