The following is a series of short interviews that we conducted at the Sustainable Communities Start with Healthy and Green Homes workshop in Seattle, Washington. A number of green building experts were on hand to shed light on some of the latest trends in better environmental design.
Listen to interviews from the workshop
Hear experts talk about energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and affordable ways to weatherize your home.
Audio Program (Mp3):(7.7 MB, 8:29 minutes) To download, right click file and save file to desktop.
Read transcript of audio program
I think most people could look down the street in their neighborhood and tell you the gas mileage on their neighbor’s car, but nobody has a good idea of what their fuel economy is on their building. 30% of the energy we use in this country is just wasted.
Anything you buy, ask “What’s in this?” Just like you at the ingredients in the food that you’re purchasing.
We’re recycling nearly 500 tons so that’s saving us about 100 truckloads to the landfill a year.
So every six months, when you decide, “Ok, I’m ready to invest $500 more dollars into my house, they can show you what’s the best bang for your buck at that time.
This is 300 sq ft house, the size of a 1 car garage, and it was sized like this to be able to easily locate it in the backyard of a single family lot.
We hope that you enjoy the following program.
Amanda Sturgeon, I’m the certification director at the International Living Building Institute. We’ve had projects in all spectrums of cost and affordability do Living Building Challenge and so I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that it costs more. I think it’s about doing more with less. So, what we see our team members doing is making their buildings a little smaller but spending more of their money on making them sustainable. So, rather than “I want to make it THIS big and then I am going to try to make it green” they’re actually looking at the whole picture.
Anything you buy, ask, “What’s in this?”, just like you at the ingredients in the food that you’re purchasing. I would also say that anything plastic or composite from a material perspective should ring an alarm bell. Research what’s in this? So, we know what’s in lumber, and stone, and concrete, but anything else that you starting to add to building there’s going to be a mix of ingredients. And, often, manufacturers aren’t telling us what’s in them, so ask questions, would be my advice to people.
I’m Eric Whirling, and I’m with the EPA’s Indoor Environment’s Division in Washington, DC. I am the coordinator for the Indoor Air Plus Program. The Indoor Air Plus Program is a sister program to the ENERGY Star program for new homes. So, it’s focused on helping builders to build homes with indoor air quality in mind. It’s focused on new homes—we have a set of construction specifications that go into all of the issues that we’re concerned about for indoor air quality. Including moisture control to prevent mold and allergies and asthma and things like that; Radon control, and other kinds of chemical pollutants that we might find in a house. And builders that follow those specifications get to use the label and advertise it in their home just as they can with the ENERGY Star program. So, that’s why we’ve linked the programs together.
I’m Rich Prill with Washington State University Extension Energy Program. I think most people could look down the street in their neighborhood and tell you the gas mileage on their neighbor’s car, but nobody has a good idea of what their fuel economy is on their building. And I think the more we start understanding the fuel economy, or the resource economy of our homes, our offices, our businesses, or workplaces, our schools; if we can get those things labeled, and start comparing, get a little competition going, and awareness, we’re going to make a big difference. Because 30% of the energy we use in this country is just wasted.
Some of the utilities are providing real time data on your energy use for a home and you can get that on the internet. So, you could log on and look at the instantaneous energy consumption of your house. A few utilities are doing this. Certainly it costs money and it’s not widespread yet, but I think that’s one of the beauties of the digital age. For a little over $100 a homeowner can get an energy meter, attached to your electrical panel, and it will show you how much energy you’re using at any particular time; electricity. It will also show you how much you used last month, yesterday, last 8 hours, whatever you ask it, it will tell you.
You can make an agreement with your teenagers that ‘Our average usage in this house is say, $80/month. For every dollar we save, I’ll split it with you’. Because that’s take home pay, after tax. They might yell at the kids for leaving the lights on, but then they take an hour shower. And so, people just don’t understand the BTU’s, the energy use of certain behaviors. It could be your furnace is running too much because you want to be comfortable, but your ducts are leaking. I mean, how many people know whether their air ducts are sealed or not. And they buy a house that was built in 1985 and they buy it and 2005, and the energy bills are $250/month and they think that’s normal. And it’s come to find out that they’re ducts are leaking 30%. If they would fix those, they had substantial energy saving. So it’s not always behaviors; it’s just having an expert help you look at the house in a lot of cases, and help you understand where the energy is being used. Whether it’s the heating system or it’s all the big screen TV and the TIVO, and the other appliances that aren’t actually off. So, that information is available, but just don’t teach that in school.
Dan Wildenhauss from Fluid Market Strategies. I’m here today representing the Northwest Energy Star Program. Start with your utility. Your utility’s website will almost always have a link that says, “Conservation”. And click on that link. It will tell you everything about incentive programs that they have, rebates that may be available. Beyond that, if you’re really looking to make your home more energy efficient or green, I highly recommend getting a hold of an energy auditor or a ‘built-green’ verifier of some sort, somebody who is an expert in this arena.
There’s many different modes out there; some of them in fact have a model of business that is designed just for homeowners that may take 5-6 years to do all of the improvements they want. And this person will, almost like having a lawyer on retainer, it’s like having a green building expert on retainer. So every six months, when you decide, “Ok, I’m ready to invest $500 more dollars into my house, they can show you what’s the best bang for your buck at that time. So thinking about finding an energy auditor or a built green verifier-somebody that can really help you make these decisions can go a long way.
You want to make your building more green, you have to evaluate which part of the green spectrum is most important to you. And second of all, which portion are you’re the furthest from attaining. And by that I mean, are we thinking energy efficiency in your scenario, could it be indoor air quality, or maybe it’s building durability, maybe it’s water use.
So, identifying which of those first areas where you think you need the most improvement or you’d like to make the most improvement is where you should start. From there, we look to say, “Go for the low hanging fruit”. So, for energy efficiency, make sure that you have all of your lighting up to date- that you’re using compact fluorescent bulbs. And I know that folks are worried about Compact fluorescent bulbs, but the mercury in the bulbs. You’re saving far more than that by getting coal power plants to not be built, than you ever would breaking a CFL bulb. For water, low-flow aerators are very simple ways. Turning the temperature back on your water heater down to 120 degrees. These are very simple ways. Making sure that your doors and windows don’t have obvious holes and cracks to the outside. Making sure that your fire damper is closed. And making sure that your furnace filters are cleaned regularly. All of these will be things that can help you with indoor air quality, comfort and energy efficiency.
To learn more about green building, visit www.epa.gov/greenbuilding
For more information about this workshop: Contact Susan Titus (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 206-553-1189.