Incorporating green products and design into your home
As the green movement continues to permeate the lives of Atlantans day in and day out, we become more and more conscious of how our environment affects not only the Earth, but also our own quality of life. Is your home providing a healthy, sustainable surrounding? How can you improve the condition of your home in a way that will, in turn, improve your living situation? Here, Atlanta experts offer their ideas and advice for greening your home, as well as a few projects to illustrate the amazing ways eco consciousness has upgraded area residences.
Hot and Cold
When asked how to make an existing home more environmentally friendly, one of the first areas Atlanta experts address is heating and cooling efficiency.
The first step
Before you purchase a new, high-efficiency furnace or air-conditioning unit, Carl Seville, president of Seville Consulting, recommends first inspecting, testing and repairing your duct system. “Many duct systems can have 50-percent or more leakage,” he says. “When you install high-efficiency equipment without fixing these leaks, you still have an inefficient system.”
New system design
When installing a new HVAC system, “Never guess or use rules of thumb for system sizing,” Seville says. “Have your HVAC contractor or an outside consultant perform a Manual J calculation to determine the right system size based on the conditions in the house. Make sure never to put in a larger AC system than you need. When you do, it does not dehumidify effectively, causing you to lower the temperature more to get the humidity level low enough to be comfortable.”
Seville also recommends installing separate return ducts in each major room. “Central returns can push hot and cold air where you don’t want it, making rooms less comfortable and causing the system to work harder,” he says.
Bernie Smith, president of MasterWorks Atlanta, recommends zoning your HVAC system. “This is a great way to control the temperature in different areas of your home, by having multiple thermostats for the same system,” he explains. “It also leaves a much smaller footprint on the environment because you have only one unit versus multiple units that would use much more of the Earth’s resources.”
There are several options for high-efficiency furnaces and air-conditioning units on the market today, which means you can choose the option that best fits your situation. Smith recommends looking at the furnace’s annual fuel-utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. The AFUE number represents how efficiently a furnace converts fuel to energy. The higher the AFUE percentage, the more efficient the furnace is. The U.S. has established a minimum AFUE rating of 78 percent. Smith recommends seeking a 92-percent
AFUE-rated furnace. “This unit does not cost more but will perform better over the long haul,” he says.
On the topic of ratings, Smith also recommends upgrading your air-conditioning unit to a seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER) rating of at least 16. “The higher the number, the more efficient the unit is,” he says, adding, “You can go as high as 23, but the cost of going higher does not give you a return on your investment. If you go for 14.5-17 SEER, you will be able to get your investment back.”
Geothermal systems are a rising star in the HVAC world today. Kenny Libby, co-founder of GeoThermal Energy Solutions, says, “Current federal and state tax incentives are making geothermal solutions more affordable than ever before. Georgia residents can save up to 40 percent on the installed cost of new geothermal systems.” How, you ask? See the Capitalize on Geothermal sidebar on page 30.
In the heat-pump category, geothermal systems prove to be better than air-source systems. “The EPA has found that geothermal systems can reduce energy use by 40 percent when compared to air-source heat pumps,” Libby says. He adds that while geothermal systems require an upfront cost of approximately $4,600 more than a conventional HVAC system, the lowered utility costs can easily add up to $35,000 over the 20 years following installation. “That’s a lot of ‘bang for your buck,’” he says.
Holding it in
Once you figure out an efficient method of heating and cooling your home, the next step is to ensure the heated and cooled air is kept inside. “Air seal and insulate the house as completely as possible,” Seville says. Libby agrees, recommending spray-foam insulation as his product of choice. “It is sprayed in the attic, between the rafters, sealing any cracks and keeping radiant heat from entering,” Libby explains. “In most attics, existing ductwork is sitting in 130-degree heat during the summer, which means you lose a lot of AC efficiency. With spray-foam insulation, homeowners can drastically reduce the radiant heat, making air conditioning much more efficient.”
Smith also recommends spray-foam insulation, specifically referring to Icynene. “ICYNENE LD-R-50 is a green-approved product by the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Research Center and can earn up to 53 potential points toward national green-building certification,” he says.
Ranking in the top three largest consumers of energy in a household, water heating is a major area of improvement when greening homes. “Here in Georgia, solar water-heating systems (also known as solar thermal) can reduce annual energy usage by as much as 80 percent,” says Dan Russell, president of The Sunshine Boys. “And Georgia offers a 35-percent tax credit, up to $2,500, for the installation of this technology, while the federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit with no cap.
“In addition,” Russell continues, “many of the utility companies, like Jackson EMC, offer rebates to homeowners if they install [solar water-heating] systems. With all these incentives, the additional cost to go solar versus conventional water heating can be as little as $1,400. From the savings realized in their utility bills, some customers are recouping this cost within 4-8 years.”
However, Russell warns that not all solar water-heating systems are the same. He says to look for OG-300 certification by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC), and to look at the reliability and life span of the product. Russell’s company works with VELUX products, which he highly recommends. “Their solar collectors flash into the roof just like their skylights—this has a much better aesthetic appeal than those mounted on racks, and it eliminates the need to decommission the system and remove the collectors when it is time to re-roof the home,” he says.
Products that offer style and function are often sought after when redecorating—this should be a target when greening your home, as well. Rebecca Ewing with Rebecca Ewing Color & Design points to three areas of decor that can help heat or cool you when in your home.
The first is seasonal bedding. In the winter, Ewing recommends utilizing flannel or 1,000-thread-count sheets with a down comforter. “1,000 thread count, while fine, is two 500 counts woven together, thus a heavier sheet,” she says. In the summertime, Ewing recommends jersey or 300- to -500-thread-count sheets with a blanket cover or light coverlet.
Window treatments are also effective in keeping heat inside and cold outside during the winter, as well as cool air in and heat out in the summer. Ewing adds that window coverings can also:
• Reduce glare
• Filter sunlight
• Block or absorb UV rays to lessen furniture and fabric fading
• Reflect lamp light back into the room at night, reducing the need for excess lighting
• Block window drafts
• Buffer sound
The third decoration that can affect how hot or cold you are inside your home is your wall color. “Color affects our perception of temperature and the feel of a room,” Ewing says. “Icy blue will feel colder in a north-facing room, yet will just feel cool in a south-facing room. Red may feel warm in a north-facing room, and hot when facing south.” Because of this, Ewing recommends using cool and/or light colors in rooms that face the south and west, and warm and/or dark colors in rooms that face the north or east.
Dig The Decor
The biggest trend Atlanta experts point to with green interior design today is reusing and repurposing items. “Repurposing is an ideal strategy for young folks in their first house,” Ewing says, explaining that, if young homeowners are educated in their first home purchases, those products can last a lifetime. To educate homeowners on such purchases, she recommends a 2-to-3-hour consult with a designer. “This can be a terrific housewarming gift—help them develop a 5-to-10-year decorating plan,” she says.
On the topic of reuse, Goldstein says, “Some eco-friendly building practices are really nothing more than just good old-fashioned building practices that have been lost. We just need to go back to when we never threw away an old door or window, but salvaged those items.”
One of the hottest trends in reused/repurposed interior-design material is wood. “Reclaimed wood is becoming more and more popular as a material option,” says Jan M. Walters with Insidesign. “Wood from older buildings and salvage is being used to create unique cabinets, flooring and beams. It’s green, but it also adds character and warmth to the home.”
“This also leads to wood being the material of choice for flooring versus carpet,” Smith points out. “Some folks with asthma have found that not having carpet is much healthier for their environment.”
Reusing items in your home may be easier than you think. “A removable (and washable) duvet makes that down or down-alternative comforter last longer, and is more flexible and green than a decorative comforter that you toss when you’re tired of it or it gets stained,” Ewing notes. “Same for decorative pillows. If they have a zipper closure, the cover can be replaced when it gets soiled instead of the pillow being tossed.”
Ewing also recommends using slipcovers over couches in the summer. “More skin is exposed in the summer, making upholstery more vulnerable to oils, etc. A lightweight and light-colored washable slipcover not only feels cooler, but it also protects upholstered goods,” she adds.
Clever Curb Appeal
Creating a solid energy- and water-smart home exterior will not only green your home, it will boost your curb appeal. Here are a few ways Atlanta experts recommend upgrading your home’s exterior and landscape.
Do wonders with windows
The quality and placement of your home’s windows is a major consideration when evaluating how green your home is. Rick Goldstein, co-owner of MOSAIC Group, recommends implementing daylighting or passive-solar techniques into your home, which will take advantage of natural light, thus reducing the need to turn on electric lights. He says the techniques “are a very efficient way to save on your electric bill and, when planned into the remodel, add very little to the overall expense.”
Russell agrees and recommends the use of skylights. “Daylight can transform a room,” he says, adding that a popular product nowadays is sun tunnels, a type of skylight that uses reflective piping and can carry daylight as far as 20 feet from your roof to the center of your home. “We find ourselves installing these in virtually any room application—hallways, bathrooms, master closets and kitchens are the most desired locations,” he adds.
When it comes to window materials, the experts at Window World recommend vinyl. “Vinyl is actually a 100-percent recyclable material,” they say, adding that vinyl products are durable and require minimal maintenance, thus reducing the need for replacement or maintenance materials—no painting, staining or stripping.
Man-made shade can also be utilized to reduce the heat and glare of direct sunlight, therefore increasing your home’s efficiency. “Any windows on the west and east sides of the house should be shaded with awnings, exterior shades or shutters, or deep porches,” Seville says. “South-facing windows can usually be shaded with about a 3-foot overhang at the top of the windows. North-facing windows do not need to be shaded in our climate.”
Landscaping can green your home—literally and figuratively. Deciduous trees can block the sun’s heat in the summer and let the heat in during the winter, Goldstein says. He also recommends using plants to create wind screens. “Wind is what sucks out most heat and air,” he says.
According to George Allin of Allin Landscaping, the top three factors to consider with regards to water conservation in the landscape are: “Plant selection, plant selection and plant selection. Every other factor pales in comparison to this most crucial demand for water conservation when it comes to planting. For example, many non-irrigated Knock Out Roses thrived provided prolific blooms, during the extreme hot, dry conditions of the area’s historic drought during the summer of 2008. There is a broad palette of plant possibilities that can be selected to perform well while at the same time conserve the precious resource of water,” he says.
To further increase water conservation in your landscape, Allin recommends utilizing stone in a variety of creative applications, which can not only conserve water, but also introduce added drama to the landscape. “Large, sweeping, artistically sculpted seas of pea gravel, river slicks or other stones with dramatic outcroppings of multi-sized and varied-textured borders mixed with colorful urns and tough plants, such as variegated yucca or ornamental grasses,can replace thirsty turn and other plantings, as well as provide a striking and unique landscape,” he adds.
With hardscapes, “Be wary of placing hard surfaces/masonry on the southwest side of the house,” Goldstein says. “It will retain heat and make your home hotter in the summer.” And choose porous paving products, Seville says, to reduce runoff during rain, reduce erosion and cut down on the amount of chemicals and silt that goes into waterways.
Another eco-friendly method used with landscaping may be common knowledge to many homeowners, but is still strongly recommended by Atlanta experts: incorporate rain-harvesting systems. Whether it be as small as a rain barrel or as large as an underground pillow or cistern, every little bit helps. “We use too much potable water for landscaping,” Seville says. “Rainwater is free and works fine for landscape irrigation.”
Become Certifiable—In A Good Way
In recent years, certifying homes as green has become a trend in itself, as it proves to the homeowner how sustainable and healthy the home is. “Getting a project tested and certified is the best assurance that your house will perform as well as you expect,” Seville says. Smith agrees, noting that the certification is “great for resale value, as well.” Seville and Smith’s recommended certification programs include EarthCraft House (www.earthcrafthouse.com), Home Performance with Energy Star (www.energystar.gov), LEED for Homes (www.usgbc.org/leed/homes) and the NAHB Green Building Program (www.nahbgreen.org).
Efficient Systems Design
Contractor: Eco Custom Homes, Atlanta
Approximate cost: $15,000 (for systems only)
|This home’s water-heating and rain-harvesting features have reduced its energy bills by approximately 46% percent.|
Dubbed “Forrest Manor” and marketed as “Atlanta’s Premiere Green Estate,” this home’s most impressive green features, according to Jeffrey Dinkle, LEED AP, president of Eco Custom Homes, are its systems: HVAC, tankless water-heating and rainwater-harvesting systems. “These features are resulting in an approximately 46-percent reduction in energy bills,” Dinkle says. The home’s systems feature: 90-percent-efficent Lennox furnaces with SEER ratings of 16 and a variable-speed blower that offers fresh-air combustion (eliminating the chance of CO2 buildup); a Rinnai tankless water heater that ensures no energy is used until hot water is needed; and a 3,400-gallon underground rainwater-harvesting system that connects to a multi-zone sprinkler system.
Contractor: Eco-Protective Products LLC, Atlanta
Location: East Cobb
Approximate cost: $20,000
|This improved driveway boasts green features such as zero VOCs, industrial strength, dependability, chemical resistance, weight sustainability and fade resistance.|
Their house set in an East Cobb neighborhood overlooking the Chattahoochee River, the homeowners wished to complement their elegant Southern home with a hospitable and decorative entranceway. After multiple installations of epoxy coatings, the driveway experienced recurring adhesion issues, coating degradation from hot-tire exposure and fading from the sunlight. Eco-Protective Products LLC (EPP) outlined options and procedures for the family, who chose Eco-Coat 1500, the company’s proprietary polyaspartic polyurea coating, offering zero VOCs, industrial strength, dependability, chemical resistance, weight sustainability and fade resistance. EPP removed the previous layers of black epoxy, oil, gasoline and other surface contaminants using diamond grinding, which revealed areas needing repair. The areas were patched and the new coating was applied, along with a charcoal-quartz aggregate to supply traction. The surface is now impenetrable to liquids, and dirt or debris is easily cleaned from the surface with a garden hose. Most importantly, the homeowners have a driveway that will give their guests a positive, lasting first impression.
Contractor: Geothermal Energy Solutions, Norcross
Approximate cost: $52,300 (expected to recoup cost within 1-4 years)
|The desire for a home that is energy-efficient led these homeowners to their choice of a geothermal heating and cooling system. This choice resulted in reduced energy usage and costs.|
This home, custom built in 1999 by its current owners, used a lot of energy to keep the interior at a comfortable temperature. The owners were unhappy with the lack of energy efficiency—and with the related expense—so they chose to install a geothermal heating and cooling system. Tapping into the year-round stability of underground temperatures using a water-filled loop of buried pipe to capture heat from the ground in the winter and dispose of unwanted heat in the summer, the new WaterFurnace Envision Series geothermal system dramatically reduces the owner’s energy usage and related costs, but has other benefits, as well. The new system is quiet, offers plenty of free hot water in the summer (eliminating the use of the water heater during warm months) and provides some added room in the basement. Also, because of the tax credits and reduced energy bills, the owners are expected to recoup their initial cost of equipment and installment within 1-4 years.
Contractor: MasterWorks Atlanta LLC, Roswell
Approximate cost: $470,254 (for whole-house remodel)
|The installation of elegant brick and stone materials on the exterior made this home the first EarthCraft-certified home in its neighborhood.|
The owners of this home, built in 1995 and located in an exclusive country-club community, recently purchased it as an investment and wanted to renovate the entire home. The exterior portion of the project required the removal of the stucco facade that was failing in areas of evident water leaks. After repairing the leaks, elegant brick and stone materials were installed, meeting EarthCraft standards. The new facade improved the aesthetics, added longevity and increased the value of the home. Incidental changes, such as a new Juliet balcony and new oiled-bronze double-entry doors, created the needed level of grandeur. Costs were cut by face-lifting the existing landscape instead of replacing it. The home is the very first EarthCraft-certified home in the neighborhood.
Indoors and Out
Architect and contractor: MOSAIC Group, Atlanta
Approximate cost: $100,000
The homeowners wanted a new sunroom that would offer a view of their backyard and garden areas, providing a connection between the interior and outdoor-living spaces. They also wanted to eliminate maintenance issues and for the project to incorporate sustainable and energy-efficient designs and products. The pros at MOSAIC Group installed energy-efficient windows; Icynene spray-foam insulation into the addition and the crawl space underneath; maintenance-free Hardie-Plank siding, which includes recycled content, is low in toxicity and long lasting; a fiberglass arbor, also low in maintenance and long lasting; a wood-burning-stove fireplace in the sunroom; rain barrels at all of the downspouts to conserve rain water for landscape irrigation; a blue stone for the patio surface; a separate, high-efficiency HVAC system; the sunroom in a position that allows it to take advantage of the southern exposure for daylighting purposes; and used low-VOC paints on all surfaces. When the remodel was complete, the homeowners had a cozy new sunroom and an adjacent natural patio.
Platinum Home Saves Precipitation
Architect/Builder: Michael Fletcher, Ecologics Design
Location: Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward
Approximate cost: $7,000
|The rainwater-harvesting system collects, filters, stores and purifies the rain that falls on this building’s roof, providing about 82 percent of the household water needs.|
The only single-family residential unit to earn LEED Platinum certification within Atlanta’s city limits, this home’s rainwater-harvesting system is a key component to its green status, garnering a total of 7 LEED points for the project. Collecting, filtering, storing and purifying the rain that falls on the roof allows the future homeowner to enjoy an estimated 82-percent reduction in household water needs, which is sure to be an increasingly desirable feature as Atlanta’s water rates continue to escalate.
RainCatchers was contracted to install the rainwater-harvesting system. During times of precipitation, rainwater from the roof drains to the ground-floor mechanical room, where it flows through a WISY inline-downspout filter before entering a 600-gallon cistern. The WISY filter is a German innovation that separates all but the very finest particulates, oxygenating the water in the process. When needed, the cleanest water in the cistern is removed through a floating filter. The water then passes through a three-stage purification unit consisting of a micron-, UV- and carbon-filter configuration. The resulting output is used for toilet flushing, clothes washing and irrigation. The water is purified to a standard that exceeds the municipal supply. Under normal rainfall conditions, the system will provide 100 percent of the water required for the home’s toilets, clothes washer and irrigation system. The cistern is automatically recharged with municipal water in the event of inadequate rainfall.