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"Green" Housing

Environmental responsibility in housing can take many forms... Energy efficiency and use of "green" products in homes can increase property value, reduce maintenance and utility costs, improve indoor air quality, improve comfort, and make a property eligible for valued "energy" financing.

Want to know how "walkable" your house is in your community? As a buyer, would you like to identify the amenities near to a home you are considering? 

It's a great idea to have an energy audit performed on your house. A good auditor will be able to identify the sources of energy leakage, possible issues with air quality, and create a report that will quantify the energy savings vs. cost of making suggested improvements. It will cost $400-$500. A local company that does a wonderful job is AccessGreen. You can schedule an audit directly from their site, which is very informative.

Montgomery County has just passed a new program called HELP, Home Energy Loan Program, which is modeled after a program in Anne Arundel County. Our councilmember, Roger Berliner, has been spearheading energy conservation efforts in the county. The program specifies that, if a homeowner has an energy audit, the costs of the suggested energy measures can be borrowed from the county at a zero to nominal rate and is paid back over an extended period of time (I have heard 10-15 years, but I haven't seen the actual legislation yet) on the property tax bill. No separate checks to be paid, and, if you sell the house, the cost remains on the tax bill, and doesn't follow you. My understanding is that the cost of the audit itself can be made part of the long-term loan. Savings on energy bills after remediation often more than pay for the remediation itself.
To follow through with energy repairs, the Amicus Green Building Center, which sells quality products that are sustainable, energy conscious, and healthy (such as top-quality paint that doesn't emit toxic chemicals). Prices are very competitive, but you will find products that are unavailable elsewhere, as well as staff that is extremely knowledgable. They are in Kensington on Howard Ave., but you can shop online as well. Amicus Green has created relationships with reliable contractors who are familiar with the products and energy issues, so you won't have to re-educate a contractor.
Montgomery County has a program called Clean Energy Rewards. Among other incentives, you can get credits on your electricity bill if you specify that you want 50% or 100% wind power to supply your home's energy needs.
There are other incentive programs available from the state and fed'l gov't, often involving tax credits. These programs are expanding all the time. You can check for fed, state, and local incentive programs at www.dsireusa.org.

In your current home, there are steps you can take to reduce energy use as well as reducing your carbon footprint. This can include
    a. adding insulation in the attic and walls, preferably cellulose or another "green" product,
    b. making sure that air gaps are sealed to reduce drafts and outdoor air infiltration,
    c. Replacing windows and doors with UV-filtered thermopane products that reduce solar heat gain,
    d. Choosing Energy Star appliances to replace older, inefficient devices. Energy Star is a rating system developed by the EPA to identify products that perform more efficiently than standard items. Rated products include sun-tubes, refrigerators, exhaust fans, HVAC systems, hot water heaters, washers & dryers, window & door systems, dishwashers, and a host of other appliances and products.
    e. Installing energy-efficient heating, cooling, and hot water systems
    f. Planting deciduous trees that will shade your south-facing windows in the summer and provide light in the winter
    g. Replacing as many incandescent light bulbs with compact flourescent bulbs (CFL). By testing many different brands, I have discovered that a CFL with a kelvin rating, also called "color temperature," of 2800-3000k will have the same warm color as your incandescent bulbs. Check the packaging and/or CFL stem carefully to find this number. They will last years longer; just remember to dispose of used bulbs with your hazardous waste.

As an example of adding efficiency to an older home, when replacing the HVAC and hot water systems in my house this past summer, I was faced with a 44 year-old brick home, supplied by natural gas. Research indicated that a geo-thermal system would be too disruptive and expensive, while installing a standard high-efficiency natural gas forced air system
would not provide the fuel efficiency that I was after. A solar hot water system or gas tankless system for water would have been workable, but the eventual choice was for a hydronic system, which involved a natural-gas fired ultra-high efficiency boiler. This provided heat for the furnace (no more "dry" heat), still utilizing the forced-air ductwork, while providing virtually "free" hot water all winter as a residual benefit of the HVAC's boiler system. This system met the federal standard for energy credits, while costing about 10% more than the installation costs of a new standard high-efficiency system. It is working flawlessly. For additional ideas and examples of "green" remodeling, see my blog.

Energy conservation and sustainable living are among my major concerns, and I have made a study of many of the techniques, materials, and systems that are being developed to "green" our world, achieving Ecosociate certification by the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals as one of the very few Realtors trained to assist clients in this field. 

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