Prior to my attendance at a Coldwell Banker Green Architecture seminar, led by architectural specialist Jan Horn, the words “Eco-Friendly” or “Green” tended to made me feel guilty. After all, I am the woman who used disposable diapers with my babies, keeps my home at a comfortable temperature throughout the year, and drove a large SUV for many years. Just like the guilt I feel when I go to my dermatologist with a suntan, or to a nutritionist carrying my diet coke, the word “eco-friendly” has made me feel like I have to completely change the way I live. As much as I want to be a good steward of the environment, I allowed myself to be intimidated by the enormity of the issue. The seminar helped me to realize that small, simple changes are a great place to start.
For the homeowners interested in going a step beyond utilizing Passive Systems in their home, the next step is to incorporate Active Systems, which are mechanized methods of utilizing clean energy to run the household systems. The most common Active System is Solar Panels, which are starting to become a more popular sight on San Marino homes. Solar panels are installed on the roof and utilize the energy from the sun to create electricity for your home.
Hampton Road residents Jeff and Patti Buckner have recently installed solar panels on their beautiful Traditional one-story home. After meeting with a solar contractor, who laid out the costs and benefits of adding a solar system, the Buckners decided to take the plunge. After a large investment for the equipment (which the Buckners own), the solar panels are already providing substantial energy savings on a monthly basis. Another financial benefit to installing a solar system is an immediate tax deduction from the government and ample interest-free financing available for solar installations. The Buckners have been told to expect a payback period of 4 1/2 years on their initial equipment investment. Jeff said that the process was easy, that the solar contractor helped them get all of the necessary permits from the city of San Marino, and that after the approval process was complete it took approximately two weeks to install.
Beyond the financial savings, the Buckners are thrilled at the environmental benefits of going solar. In their first month of solar use, the read-out on their system reported that they saved the environment 1,000 pounds of harmful carbon. That sounds like a true win-win to me! In addition to their new solar system, the Buckners had previously installed a tankless water heater. A tankless water heater does not store water and heat it over and over again. Instead it heats the water on demand when you turn on the tap as it runs through the system. Not only does a tankless water heater provide instantaneous hot water but it also provides significant energy savings. The Buckners now have minuscule gas bills and are once again making significant steps toward an eco-friendly home.
If you are interested in following the Buckner’s lead in incorporating solar energy in your home, a great place to start is to visit www.gosolarcalifornia.org. This website has tons of great information about the basics of solar energy, how to get started, what kind of savings you can expect, and provides help in finding a solar contractor in your area.
As wonderful as solar energy is, before investing in expensive photovoltaic cells, it is important to find out how much heat and cooling is escaping from your home due to gaps in windows and due to poor insulation in the walls and attic. Hiring a professional to perform a home energy audit is a great place to start. Re-insulating the walls and attic in your home with high-R natural insulation is a less expensive way to reduce energy usage in your home (getting rid of the old fiberglass insulation is good for the environment too). Replacing old, leaky single-paned windows with low-E, dual-pane thermal windows is a huge step toward energy efficiency. Whether you are creating solar energy or continue to use non-renewable energy sources, the first step is to make sure that you have a good thermal envelope around your home.
Carrie BenuskaColdwell Banker626.840.9149www.carriebenuska.com
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