It’s never made sense to me that people talk about either going green or growing our economy. Since when has waste, inefficiency or using up our resources made economic sense? Even on a personal level, being “green” is all-too-often viewed just as an act of sacrifice. Some of that is true –solar panels, organic food, hybrid cars – all of these icons of green living are likely to cost you more in the short run, even if they make sense in the long term.
But it’s not all like that. It seems to me that creating more sustainable homes and communities is just common sense. Why not insulate your house properly so you spend less on heating and cooling? Why not maintain your HVAC system so you protect your investment? Why not make sure that your home is performing as it should?
So how do we make sure that being green is also about being practical and economical?
FIRST THINGS FIRST
In the case of buildings, it’s often tempting for folks interested in going green to lust after the big ticket items. But before you spend money on renewable energy, LED lights, or super high-efficiency HVAC, you should make sure the basics are in order. The average home has more than 2000 ft of gaps, cracks and voids that allow heated or cooled air escape into the outside environment. In fact, over 40% of energy loss in your typical home is due to air infiltration.
So when we look at greening a building, we always look to ensure the envelope is tight as a first step. That means sealing duct work, windows, wiring and any other areas where air can get through.
Then we look to make sure that insulation is adequate.
When talking about insulation, it’s worth thinking about some basic physics: heat rises, and when it rises it sucks in cold air from below. So before you look at insulating walls, or getting new windows, you should ensure that the “hat” (roof) and “boots” (crawlspace) are properly draft proofed and insulated.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Besides having the biggest impact on your energy use, addressing the most obvious, “low hanging fruit” first usually means faster payback times, and can sometimes mean you negate the need for bigger projects all together. Putting in a new HVAC system can cost thousands – sealing duct work properly could be as little as $300.
This is one of the reasons it is important to find a contractor – whether they are doing HVAC, insulation or something else – who understands your home as a complete system, not just the particular component that they work with. A good contractor will work closely to prioritize and understand where you can have the most bang for your buck, and they will tell you if they think a job is unnecessary or if there is a cheaper alternative.
ADDRESSING THE BASICS SAVES MONEY ON THE BIG STUFF TOO
I’m not saying that investing in fancy technology is not worthwhile. Solar panels, for example, can be a great way to cut your environmental impact – and it’s hard to put a price on a cleaner environment for future generations! But by addressing the small stuff first, you can make sure that your investment in renewables is as effective as possible. You can also cut the cost of your investment considerably. Whether you are looking at an energy-star rated HVAC system or a solar panel array, by first ensuring that your home is operating as efficiently as possible, you may be able to cut the size of the system you need – saving you even more money in the long run.
Being green for future generations is important. But in the end, we can do it for ourselves too. What could be better than that?