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Going Green Can Be Easy and Even Put Some Green Back in Your Wallet!

2009 December 29

image of graphic on Green Building WebsiteThis past year while on special assignment to assist the EPA Green Building Program, I had the opportunity to create the EPA Green Homes website.  This website provides pages of useful, practical information and advice for the homeowner or apartment dweller to live a greener, more energy efficient life at home.

While I was developing the website, my wife and I decided to implement as many of the recommendations as possible to see if we could live greener, and after six months the results are in!

  • We are using 35% less electricity,
  • We are using a bit less water,
  • We are recycling 75% of all our household waste,
  • Most storm water runoff stays on our property during each rainfall,
  • We are gradually eliminating our ½ acre of lawn (and all the work that goes with it) and turning it into a garden of native plants by re-naturalizing our yard.
  • We purchased 100% Green Power (renewable electricity) from Dominion Power through their new program.
  • And, we’ve done all this with minimal expense and are saving almost $550 a year on energy bills!

Our energy audit indicated that our 10 inches (R-25) of fiberglass insulation in the attic is far below Energy Star’s currently recommended insulation depth (R49-R60) for the Northern Virginia.  So we hired a contractor to blow in another 12 inches of fiberglass insulation to give us a total of about R-55.  The house already feels more comfortable and it will be fun to see how much we save on our natural gas heating bill.  On top of this, the Federal and Virginia State governments want to give us 50% off the cost of the insulation in tax credits and rebates!!!

So how can you lose?  Going Green really can pay off!

I encourage you to visit the website and challenge yourself to do as much as you can to go green.

EPA’s new Green Homes website is at- www.epa.gov/greenhomes

About the author: Bill Swietlik has worked in EPA’s Office of Water in Washington DC since 1988.  For the past year Bill was on a special assignment to the EPA Green Building Program creating a Green Homes website.  In this blog he shares his experience of greening his home.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. Brenda-EPA permalink
    December 29, 2009

    I like your blog. In our house we recycle-nearly all the time-60% of our waste. Still in my municipality the rate is 35% total…..I was very happy to see that other households can recyle even more than us.

  2. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    December 29, 2009

    Recycling is very important and everyone does it here in our condo association of 111 units. We have enough recyclibles in our special recycling dumpsters to have two truck pick ups each week. We are putting in a recycled water system that will cut association water bills by 80% a month. Individual home owners have upgraded their units with low flow water fixtures, energy efficient lighting and appliances, and remodeled floors and ceilings. It all makes costs lower while benefiting the environment in different ways at the same time. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  3. Bill Swietlik permalink
    December 30, 2009

    60% is still excellent! Good job.

    In our case, our kids are grown and live on their own now, so my wife and I can be more diligent than we used to be with the kids at home — using and disposing of things on their own.

  4. Bill Swietlik permalink
    December 30, 2009

    Thanks for the insights on what a condo association can accomplish!!

    It is good to hear examples of these kinds of multi-family efforts, as we did not have a lot to draw on when creating our Green Homes website. A potential future expansion of the website could possibly be dedicated to multi-family buildings and what condo associations, apartment associations, or even landlords could do to be greener..

  5. Julie permalink
    January 3, 2010

    Thanks for the information. We too live in Northern Virginia and have not had success in identifying a knowledgable/reputable company to assist in an energy audit of our home. I’d welcome any guidance. Thanks.

  6. Bill Swietlik permalink
    January 4, 2010

    Julie:

    I did my own energy audit so I do not have any recommendations for someone to use. However, there are two resources that may help you from ENERGY STAR. First is the ENERGY STAR Yard Stick tool which will get you started by identifying the most common energy problems in your home. The Yardstick tool is easy to use and is at:

    http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=HOME_ENERGY_YARDSTICK.showGetStarted

    The second resource is a listing of ENERGY STAR partners, some of whom might be good at conducting energy audits. This may give you a listing from which to make some calls to raters or auditors in the No. VA area. This listing is at:

    http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=new_homes_partners.locator

    A good home energy audit will cost $150-$550 depending on how much is done and how big or complex your home is. At a minimum, you should get a blower door test with an air infiltration/leakage investigation. A “leaky” house — one in which air infiltrates easily– is one of the most common problems with older houses in our area.

    Good luck!

  7. Jack Brown permalink
    January 16, 2010

    Nice job on the energy savings. I just completed a course with Everblue Energy in Baltimore for BPI Certification and it’s amazing what I’ve been doing as a contractor that is simply bad building science. The devil really is in the details on insulation, air sealing, and home ventillation. If anyone else is interested, I would recommend their class at the University of Baltimore.

    Bill, What does renaturalization look like for your lawn? It would be great to post pictures of the before and after. My wife thinks a natural lawn is one run a muck . . . I hate mowing the lawn so a natural lawn would have great benefits in my mind.

  8. Bill Swietlik permalink
    February 3, 2010

    Jack:

    Thanks for your feedback. Learning and implementing good building science is critical for anyone working in the home building – energy efficiency field. You are a step ahead of many others! Good work.

    The EPA Greenhomes website has a picture on it of a yard that was renaturalized. See: http://www.epa.gov/greenhomes/Outdoor.htm
    and the first picture under Landscaping and Lawn Care is my eastern sideyard that I renaturalized years ago.

    Before renaturalization, there were about four large oak trees and nothing but planted lawn underneath in the area you now see in the picture. All the understory vegetation, shrubs and small trees you see in the picture are renaturalized growth.

    My wife decided to ring the area with a short wall of field stone.

    The second picture in the same section, showing a large maple tree with some grass mulch around the bottom of it extending out about 3 feet, is the beginning of another renaturalization area in my western side yard. I will be taking pictures of this area in sequence to show progress as I expand the area. The picture you see was taken this past summer. By December, the mulched area was increased to an area about 40′ x 30′ as I gradually built up mulched leaves and grass clipping to expand the area and kill off the grass. In expanding the mulched area I was able to use every leaf I raked up this fall for the mulch and didn’t do any bagging of any leaves! (I do have a gas powered leaf vacuum that does a great job mulching the leaves.) Once this new renaturalization area is complete (double its current size), I have decided to accelerate the understory plant growth in the mulched area by planting native vegetation to support wildlife.

    Once this is done, I will have eliminated another 25% of my lawn forever!!

  9. Andy Rogers permalink
    February 5, 2010

    It’s nice to see the Energy Star rating system being relatively widely used throughout the world now. A few years ago it was more or less restricted to a few countries. I’ve used the Energy Star Yardstick tool and found it really handy. You do need to have your energy usage records on hand to use it, if you’re no good at record keeping it might be difficult. I may be missing something but there seems no provision for wood fuel. I just thought for the sake of accuracy it maybe should be included. I guess though that using wood for fuel is soooo inefficient that it’s been omitted from the calculations(?)

    I do feel guilty I have wood heating :( I can’t remove it though – I’m an avid DIY renovator, renovating my own home and I’m intent on really aspiring to live off the grid

  10. Libby Rollins permalink
    March 15, 2010

    Wow thanks for the resource! I’m looking to buy a house, and I can use all the helpful hints I can get about saving money (while saving Earth)!
    —-
    Libby Rollins

  11. Kristine permalink
    April 30, 2010

    Good job on the energy savings. Going solar is definitely a great way to live green and save money :)

    Kristine

  12. Norm Dougherty permalink
    July 6, 2010

    Hi Bill- I’m wondering if you are the Bill Swietlik that graduated with me from the University of Maine in 1973? Regardless, thanks for your efforts in reducing energy costs with a common sense approach- we can use all the help we can get up here in Maine! Norm

  13. Stephen permalink
    September 20, 2010

    Check out green flooring

  14. Mike permalink
    October 18, 2010

    Hopefully we’ll be able to save some more once this HomeStar Legislation passes:

  15. Bill Swietlik permalink
    April 7, 2011

    Hi Norm! Yes, it is. I have been working here in Washington, DC at EPA since 1988. I can be reached via e-mail me at swietlik.william@epa.gov

    I can readily remember back to the cold winter weather in Maine. Those one to two week stretches in January when temperatures never got above 0 degrees F and the tires on my car, if I didn’t drive it everyday, would develop frozen flat spots due to the weight of the car on the rubber.

    Looking back, many of the homes, apartments and even the dormitories were poorly insulated and very energy inefficient. I can only imagine how much energy we wasted back in those days — and how uncomfortable were were. I have often thought about moving “back up north”, but I am not sure I could tolerate the cold weather once again. Regardless, if I did, I would first want to find a very well constructed and insulated home to live in, or even better, attempt to renovate and make “net-zero” an older existing home. Lots of insulation and passive solar, in my mind, would be critical to having a comfortable home back up north. Or better yet, it would be really fun to attempt to build a new “Passivhaus”. I am not sure one has ever been attempted in Maine. But by visiting the PassiveHouse Institute, USA website at http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSHome.html
    maybe we would find that one or more have been built by now.

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