Adapting to an eco-friendly lifestyle can improve both your health and the environment. Watch this video for an interview with actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. as well as tips on:
- How to choose a sustainable building site.
- Pervious paving to reduce rainwater runoff.
- Recycling and reusing building materials.
- Building products made from sunflower hulls and sorghum stalks.
- Reducing water consumption from toilets and showers.
- Harvesting and reusing rainwater.
Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner we’re beginning a two-part series called Going Green. We’ll talk to some folks who have created earth friendly homes and dig into the ideas and products that can make your home more efficient and friendlier to the environment.
You know it used to be green was the word to describe the color of the trees or the grass, but now it’s become a buzz word for all things environmentally friendly, even so, many of us still don’t know exactly what that means, so we’re going to really dig into what going green means in terms of our homes. Whether you’re building a new one or improving the one you have. Now that’s a pretty big job so we’ve dedicated two episodes to this topic.
This week and next, we’re going to look at some great ideas, techniques and products to make our homes more earth friendly. I hope you get some great information, more importantly, I hope you get inspired.
Now one of those people who was inspired to pursue a green lifestyle several years ago is actor Ed Begley, Jr. Since then, he’s also become somewhat of a spokesperson for this cause so recently we visited with him in his home in Los Angeles to ask him about getting motivated to go green.
Ed Begley, Jr.: Well I was a scout in the 50s and 60s, and that was a good influence. My father was a conservative who loved to conserve. That was a good influence. He’d been through the depression and he saved string and tin foil and never threw anything away and turned off the lights.
But then there was a bad influence too and it was growing up in LA, in smoggy LA in the 50s and 60s. It was really bad. People think it’s bad now. It’s much better now as you might know.
So, I bought my first electric car in 1970, I started recycling in 1970, I started composting, buying all biodegradable soaps and detergents, I changed my diet, I became a vegetarian, and I learned quickly, all that stuff not only was good for the environment, but it saved me money, and I liked that. See that white picket fence. I don’t know if you touched it on the way in. It’s not wood, it’s recycled plastic, it’s recycled milk jugs.
Danny Lipford: Is that right?
Ed Begley, Jr.: Yeah. Old milk jugs turned into fencing, and all the stuff do has been good for the environment and good for my bottom line.
Danny Lipford: It’s probably no surprise that we’re in Southern California to kick this thing off because this state has been a leader in all things environmental for decades, but before we’re done, we’re going to show you some great green ideas from all over the country.
Now this community, just outside San Diego, is called Del Sur. And the whole development was designed with green living in mind, so there’s a lot to see here. But what are we looking for? What makes a home green?
Well, we’re going to focus on five main areas. First, you want to consider the site itself in the design of a home for maximum efficiency. Second, there’s the issue of water efficiency, a really big deal in this climate. Third, you want to conserve and recycle the materials used to build the home. Fourth, think about what those materials might do to the air quality, particularly inside the home.
Finally, and fifth and probably the most obvious, maximize the energy efficiency of the home. Now obviously, this is a hot concept for new homes, but what about older ones? Well, we’ve found a developer in Chicago who renovates old homes and apartment buildings and converts them into green homes. So, Allen went to look around several of his projects to find out what draws people to them.
Marty Bhatia: Well it’s a mixed bag, the green part and the fact that it’s helping the environment, everyone loves. The energy bills everyone loves more. You know the idea that the house will only cost you $650 a year to heat and cool, it’s like what it would cost in a month, it’s kind of a jaw dropper.
And then we try to make their experience walking through the home and realize that that’s not the only part of the home that’s going to sell you. It’s a quality home. There are a lot of features that they wouldn’t even recognize unless we explained them, the cabinets being formaldehyde free and locally manufactured.
There’s a lot of education that’s going into teaching people and the homeowners. We’ll even have a homeowner’s manual when you come in so you’ll know what you have. That’s kind of, just that extra step that we’re taking to explain it.
It makes the homeowner a lot more comfortable when they’re looking at purchasing a place. And then the energy bills, they love it, the idea of saving hundreds of dollars a month and thousands of dollars a year and then the idea of tax advantages on top of that. It’s a slam dunk. To me it’s a no brainer, so hopefully the rest of the nation will kind of figure that out too.
Danny Lipford: Well, hopefully the rest of the nation is catching on to this concept. But the folks here at Del Sur seem to have it wired. This community has been in the planning stages for over 20 years, so there’s plenty of time to consider the impact these homes would have.
Now, the designers were careful to specify materials that could be found or manufactured nearby. Now that makes a lot of sense from the environment, because less energy is used getting them here, and it also makes good business sense because it usually reduces the cost and creates a few jobs in the area.
Now, this building is caused the ranch house and it serves as somewhat of a prototype for all of the construction here. Over two-thirds of the material used on it was manufactured within 500 miles of this location.
In fact, some of these stones were found right here on the site. Now you may not have a quarry on your property, but you may pay close attention to the source of the materials you use to build or remodel your home. With a little effort to investigate, you can save a lot of natural resources and probably save a few dollars off your budget as well.
Now speaking of saving a little money, Joe has a great tip this week that will help you keep some money in your pocket.
Joe Truini: Everyone knows that drafty windows and doors waste an enormous amount of energy. The problem is detecting exactly where the air is leaking in. Here’s a technique that works really well. Get yourself a butane lighter. This is a kind that has a long shaft for lighting barbecue grills, and set the, open up the valve and ignite the flame, then just pass it close to the joint where the door meets the side jam.
And if there’s any air blowing in, you’ll see the flame will start to dance, right here we’re looking pretty good, but you notice when we get down near the bottom, there’s definitely a draft. And again as we come up here, the seam between the door and the jamb looks pretty good.
So what that tells me is that I need to open the door and check the weather stripping along the bottom foot or foot and a half of the door. You can also check it along the threshold and adjust that up or down. Now don’t forget, if you use this to check for drafts around windows, just be really careful with the flame because you don’t want to set fire to the curtains.
Danny Lipford: Welcome back. This week we’re talking about going green with your home and all that that entails. You know the idea here is to use resources wisely, and one of the resources that’s really in short supply these days, water.
Now it’s kind of funny because two-thirds of our planet is made up of water, but only about one percent of that is available for our consumption. So, we need to manage it very well. Now, there’s two things you can do here.
The first is using it more efficiently, and we’re not just talking about the water you drink. In the US, the average family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day. That’s almost 150,000 gallons a year! So while we were in Chicago, Allen and I checked out the Greenbuild Expo to ask some experts how homeowners can best save water.
Shane Judd: It’s very easy to save water in the home. And, you know one of the ways that you can do that is just by replacing a toilet. A lot of homes today have 3.5-gallon toilets, and a toilet like this actually consumes one gallon, so that can, the savings from that can add up very, very fast. It’s very easy to do.
One of the things that we want to do when we introduce a high efficiency product like this is make sure that you’re not sacrificing performance, so you’re saving water, but your not sacrificing performance. Frankly, you can put this toilet in and no one would even know that it’s saving all that water.
The typical household, again if you’ve got a 3.5 gallon toilet in there, you can save 10,000 gallons of water per year, but there’s other things you can do. You can replace your standard showerhead with an eco showerhead and save up to 30%. And again, what we want to do is make sure that you’re not sacrificing your experience in the shower.
Just because you’re saving water doesn’t mean that you don’t want performance out of a shower head, so that’s why we introduced an eco showerhead that again saves 30% but doesn’t sacrifice performance.
The other thing you can do is you can put in a low-flow aerators into your kitchen and your bathroom faucets. And that’s a great opportunity in that it’s very easy to install it. It’s just a very simple little aerator. It goes right into your faucet, and you can save 30% there.
We made a very conscious decision to make it affordable for people to change out to water conserving fixtures. So you’re not necessarily paying more to do that. And the savings that you recoup from less water, both in your water and your sewer bell, can more than pay for that.
Allen Lyle: What Shane says is important because at the end of the day you have to make changes to go green and many of those changes cost money, so paybacks like the ones he described are important.
He also mentioned tax credits, and that’s another way to pay for these improvements because some states and municipalities offer tax credits when you upgrade to water conserving toilets. The best way to find out if you qualify is to contact your local water utility.
Now, another way to manage water is to protect the water supply. And that may seem like a bigger issue than you as an individual homeowner can tackle, but that’s not entirely true. Our homes, driveways, sidewalks, even streets create a barrier in the natural cycle of water being absorbed back into the ground. That means that the normal ground water supply is depleted so there’s less of it for us to use.
One solution is to create surfaces that are stable enough to drive and to walk on, but will let rainwater pass through them. It’s called pervious paving, and this is a great example. Rather than running off of this driveway, rain water soaks into it and down into the soil below. Now the payback for this kind of improvement is less obvious, but it can mean less money is spent on detention ponds, storm sewers and other expensive infrastructures, so there’s an economic advantage for the whole community.
However, pervious pavement doesn’t address roof runoff, but we found a system that did.
Ben Sojka: What we’re trying to do is reduce the runoff issues which causes erosion and sedimentation of our rivers and streams, but then also be able to have an increased water supply for all kinds of uses. In residential, that can be potable, which means drinking water. Or we can be using it for irrigation, flushing toilets, clothes washing, a variety of uses.
How our system works is we’re going to capture the water off your rough through your traditional down spouts and gutters and then we’re going to filter that water through one of our vortex filters before it enters the tank. That way we’re not having sediment, which can carry bacteria, which can create algae in your tank. We’re always going to have clean water.
Danny Lipford: Ben also told us that one of these systems can pay for itself in three to five years. And think about the fact that after it’s paid for, all of it is just money in your pocket. Now we don’t expect you to get rich going green, but it’s certainly easier to help the environment when it also helps your household budget.
But if you’re on a tight budget and some of this stuff is a little out of reach, just check for any water leak you may have in and around your home. Leaky faucets, leaky hose bibs or a toilet that’s constantly leaking, these things waste tons and tons of water every year, and cost very little if anything to fix.
You could also pay attention to how long those kids spend in the shower, and be sure to wash only full loads of clothes and dishes. Now these savings really add up. Now speaking of savings, Emilie has a Best New Product that’s sure to save some on your utility bill.
Emilie Barta: You’ve already seen a lot of ways that you can go green, and there’s still plenty more to come, trust me. But the ones that I really love are the ideas that anyone can easily put into practice and still make an impact, like the compact florescent bulb.
Now it’s near the top of my list, because anyone can afford them, and they make a huge difference. This bulb for example will use about 75% less energy than a similar incandescent one, but it still delivers the same amount of light.
CFLs also last about 10 times longer so you may save as much as $40 to $50 over the life of this bulb. Another advantage is that they operate at temperatures of about four times lower than incandescent bulbs.
So as you can see, the benefits are obvious. But there are a few things to look for when you’re shopping for CFLs. Be sure they have the energy star rating like this one from n:vision to get maximum energy savings.
Also look closely at the color temperature rating. Some people complain that CFLs give off a bluish light, but the models with the warm light or soft light rating seem to more closely match the color of incandescent light. After all, we’re looking to go green, not go blue.
Danny Lipford: This is the inside of the ranch house here at Del Sur, and it’s a great example of one of my favorite facets of going green: reusing and recycling materials. Now, these floors were reused from an old barn, and the beams overhead were recovered from a pier up in Oregon.
Now that’s great because these materials conserve new materials. But I guess I’ve always done it because my father taught me never let anything go to waste, and I’m a little bit of pack rat at heart anyway.
You know I discovered a long time ago in my remodeling business that a lot of good stuff comes out of older homes. In fact, several years ago, I built a house that was composed of almost 70% of reused materials. Now from what Allen tells me, he’s found some of my kindred spirits.
Allen Lyle: You know often when you think about going green, you’re thinking about ways that you can build environmentally friendly in the construction industry. But actually there is another side of the green building coin, it’s called green deconstruction.
Deconstruction means that a home which otherwise would simply be demolished is disassembled piece by piece so that the components can be reused elsewhere. Ted Reiff of the Reuse People for America explains the process.
Ted Reiff: Of course the process obviously has to start with you know the person wanting to do it. And, as a non-profit organization, that helps immensely because the materials then that are salvaged from the job like this is treated as a donation to the homeowner.
So they have a tax donation, which offsets the cost of deconstruction. Deconstruction does cost more, so the tax donation in our nonprofit status takes that whole item away from the argument.
On a normal house, we can save upwards of 65% at the low end to 80% of the total weight of the house. And then a lot of, beyond that then, and that’s for reuse, and then a lot of the rest can get recycled, so that the balance now of what we’re throwing away is minuscule. We’re talking about 5, 10, 15, and 20% at most.
Danny Lipford: You know, unlike recycling, reusing doesn’t require additional energy to convert a material to a new use. For example, these stones on the fireplace were found right here on the site, but recycling is still a great way to keep materials out of the waste stream and conserve new resources, like these cabinets that were made from recycled sunflower hulls. Pretty neat.
Now you know at the Greenbuild Expo we also found some pretty interesting sources like sorghum stalks, which were being converting into unique looking panels for use in cabinetry and furniture, but one of the coolest examples to me was the reclaimed wood.
Ken Westrick: You know wood is an inherently reusable resource. And, all of us have seen where you’re going down the road and a big excavator is just knocking down an old building maybe built a hundred years ago. And what we do at TerraMai is we save that wood. It tends to be particularly special because a hundred years ago, the trees were all amazingly old growth trees.
So we get wood out of factory buildings, we get wood out of railroad ties, if you look here, this is the classic gymnasium seat, and you know we’ve all sat on it, but what you don’t realize is that it’s actually amazing wood.
It’s all clear and imminently reusable either as a siding or as a paneling product or as a flooring product. So part of our mission is to let people know that, let’s reuse those woods and with the wood that you get from TerraMai, comes a story.
You know the story behind the wood is cool, but old wood like Ken’s describing is inherently stronger and more stable. So when you combine that fact with the cost of reclamation, you can expect to pay slightly more for most species of reclaimed wood.
Now oddly enough though, Ken says that the cost of reclaimed teak pretty well matches up with some newer hardwoods. Now while I check out more of the features here, why don’t you check out this question we recently received.
Vicki: Hi Danny, I’ve heard that if you install a digital thermostat, it will lower your utility bills. Is that true?
Danny Lipford: Vicki you sound a little skeptical. I don’t blame you either. There are tons of gimmicks out there that say they will save you money. People always want to know what’s real and what’s not. What you’re thinking about is called a programmable thermostat and, believe it or not, it can save you a lot of money, but how much is really up to you.
These devices allow you to automatically turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for the hours of the day when your house is empty. By doing this, you can save up to 15% a year on your heating and cooling bill.
Obviously, this works best if you have somewhat of a consistent schedule that leaves the house empty for long periods of time, and programming some of these units can be a little complicated so make sure you’re very comfortable with the functions of the unit before you install it.
The one exception here is a home with a heat pump. A typical programmable thermostat may actually make a heat pump less efficient, but there are newer hybrid thermostats on the market now that can be used with these systems.
We’ve looked at a lot of what going green means this week. Planning a home to accommodate the site, reducing water used in and outside the home, and the reuse and recycling of materials to conserve our natural resources.
But there’s a lot more to consider, and we’ll take that up next week in our second installment of Going Green, where we really dig into indoor air quality and energy efficiency. Plus, we’ll try to help you cut through some of the clutter in the green landscape to figure out what’s really making a difference for the environment.
Hey, until then, thanks for joining us, I’m Danny Lipford.
This special Going Green episode of Today’s Homeowner was made possible by our special partners. The makers of Amazing Ecoglue, Kohler, NuTone, and n:vision.
We’ll dig into more of what going green means next week when we wrap up this two part series.
If you would like to purchase a DVD copy of this week’s show, visit our website at dannylipford.com or call us at 1-800-946-4420.