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Snowed Under in our Green House

2010 February 8

Jeffrey Levy stands in knee-deep snowHi everyone. If you’re looking for the question of the week, it’ll be back next Monday. Our offices are closed Monday and Tuesday because of record-breaking snow, so our team wasn’t able to post it. And we’re expecting another several inches Tuesday night into Wednesday.

I’m sitting here in my dining room trying to get at least a little work done, though.  Looking around my house, I remember all the green building decisions we made when we renovated last year.  Right from the beginning, we did our best to reduce, reuse, and recycle (thanks for your good comments on that post!). Some of these choices might save us money over time, but our main motivation was that green building and home location is just the way it should be done:

  • zero-VOC paint and low-VOC caulks and adhesives
  • a high-efficiency Energy Star furnace (and air conditioning, for when summer returns), plus an Energy Star dishwasher to replace the original that died a month after moving in.  We kept the other appliances, and will replace them with Energy Star units as they stop working.
  • Energy Star double-paned windows and doors
  • light-colored roof shingles to reflect the hot summer sun
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs (other than on my youngest child’s night table because she keeps breaking them)
  • bamboo floors where the old floors couldn’t be saved, and refinished hardwood and parquet that could (like the appliances, why throw out stuff that works?)
  • kitchen countertops made of recycled glass and bamboo
  • Watersense water-efficient sinks, toilets, and showerheads
  • blown foam insulation that’s keeping us nice and toasty.

We also put the old kitchen cabinets in our laundry room and basement, and donated a lot of extra materials and fixtures to a local organization that sells them again.

The house’s location is also pretty green, since I can easily walk or bike to the subway.  Our kids ride the bus and walk to school, and we’re a 10-minute walk to the library and a small commercial district with several restaurants, a drug store, and our favorite: a local ice cream shop.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to find a home near public transit, and not every building option is available or affordable.  For example, while wood and other materials were greener, they were too expensive compared with vinyl windows.  But we did as much as we could.

We’re happy with our choices, but we enjoy discussing them, too.  What’s your favorite green feature of your home?

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

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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17 Responses leave one →
  1. Mark Prebilic permalink
    February 9, 2010

    One of my favorite green features in my home is a radiant barrier in the attic. This is a very inexpensive but effective means of keeping the attic cool in the summer, preventing hot air from radiating through the ceiling into the house. It also keeps heat from escaping in the winter, allowing your home to retain more heat.

    To install a radiant barrier, staple sheets of aluminum to the attic rafters. Yes, that’s it!

    In the dead heat of the summer, with the sun beating down, you will be able to go into your attic and it will be about the same temperature as any other unconditioned area of your home.

  2. Jeffrey Levy permalink*
    February 9, 2010

    Mark: great idea, and so simple! That should really help in homes with the traditional plan of an unconditioned attic.

    For our house, part of the foam blowing insulation concept is that the attic and our basement crawl spaces are part of the conditioned “envelope.”

    That is, foam completely fills the spaces between the roof beams and rafters, just like it fills the space between the studs in the walls. Same thing in the crawl spaces.

    So the outside of the house is one continuous barrier.

    I forgot to mention that we also have fiberglass bats on top of the foam. The foam stops air from flowing through the walls, which turns out to be a major component of heat transfer, and also blocks some some radiant heat. The fiberglass then provides additional radiant heat insulation.

    Since we stopped airflow, we also needed to install a mechanical pump to refresh the air inside the house. It has a heat/moisture exchanger, so we recapture the heating and cooling energy investment as we push stale air outside.

  3. Danielle permalink
    February 9, 2010

    We LOVE our hardwood floors, and also reused our cabinets in our laundry room when we renovated our kitchen. And we also donated our old fixtures and fans, and the rest of the cabinets. Energy star appliances everywhere we can, and fluorescent bulbs as well. We also redid our windows (vinyl as well – just had to – we have too many windows!!) and our insulation and ducts and it has made a HUGE difference! Now, we’re just heating and cooling our own house instead of the entire neighborhood. We also got a new energy efficient furnace/AC last year. As for location, if you live just outside Atlanta, public transportation just doesn’t help much… still waiting on that one…

  4. armansyahardanis permalink
    February 9, 2010

    Could I imagine thousands years later in Mars? Maybe Your moment is the same with our great grand children….. If their ask to their parents
    , then the parents will be explain to them about your experiences….

  5. Lina-EPA permalink*
    February 9, 2010

    Glad to see that your green choices have definitely paid off. We have made some changes over the years that definitely have made a difference. All our major appliances are EnergyStar. We changed all our windows to EnergyStar certified windows. Also got an EnergysTar programmable thermostat. When our old toilets started leaking, we changed all 5 toilets to Watersense certified toilets. In terms of landscaping, we have minimized the use of chemicals and focused on native plants and perenials. So, we are trying to go green as much as possible.

  6. Joan Johnson permalink
    February 9, 2010

    Our “green” move was to install solar panels on the south faing roof to augment our heating system – heat being a major requirement here in Northern Maine. One day last month the solar panels heated the water to 165 degrees even though the outside temperature was 0 – yes, zero (wind chill was minus 20 – not much of an outdoor day).

  7. Alhim permalink
    February 9, 2010

    I love it that the snow has brought you home, calmed your mind, caused you to reflect on greenliving and allowed Nature to have her way with you. There are many energy efficient things to do including restoring your energy. Living green is also being alive to the moment.

  8. Danielle permalink
    February 9, 2010

    I also clean green! I use baking soda and vinegar to clean almost everything in my house (including my laundry), and I also use hydrogen peroxide as an antibacterial. These things clean as well as or better than all that other stuff on the market, and is greener and much less expensive.

  9. Karen permalink
    February 9, 2010

    We recently remodeled by adding a room that included having our washer and dryer moved upstairs. We use a front loader machine that’s an energy saver. We used no VOC paint, we have energy star windows- vinyl, and a new roof with some solar vents in it. We got an engineered floating wood floor that’s more efficient to replace (after about 15 years) than to refinish and uses no chemicals.
    We use energy light bulbs almost everywhere in the house and bought an energy star TV. We gave the other one away, so it’s being reused.
    We will replace appliances as they wear out with energy star ones.

  10. Margo permalink
    February 11, 2010

    We are definitely making our house greener as we go! We have switched our toilet to one that is much more efficient (with a two flush option). We have also replaced all our windows which helps a lot with keeping heat and air inside the house!

    We also have all Energy Star appliances, and we’ve blown foam in for insulation.

    Love the idea of natural cleaning supplies and we’ve started using a few too. We only use vinegar and water on our wood floors, and we’re trying to incorporate more. I need more spray bottles to make it possible.

    We are now seriously considering making our back yard into a certified backyard for wildlife. I’m not sure it’s a safe place for animals though with our cat! Gotta work on that.

    http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife/certify.cfm?campaignid=WH10ANWF

  11. Anna Barnard permalink
    February 13, 2010

    Re what is my favorite green feature of our house?: I would say the skylights first. Natural light is pleasant, and we rarely turn on any electric lights during the day; our neighbors have to have lights on almost any time they are home. We went solar electric in May and have not yet used up our credits, so enjoying being warm with low bills. Just had an energy audit that showed leaky furnace ducts were the main drain, followed by other air leaks, so will be fixing those. The old windows were not as bad as I expected. Of course living in coastal California, we do not have the extreme temperatures that you do. I enjoy urban life: ride my bike to work everyday, grow veggies in the back yard.

  12. Air force one permalink
    June 8, 2010

    You provide is just what I really want, that is very nice, thank you.

  13. June 4, 2012

    Another great way to give back to our planet is to conserve energy by using solar powered energy. Technology has advanced so much that it is making solar energy more affordable.

  14. July 3, 2012

    I really like your article. It’s evident that you have a lot knowledge on this topic. Your points are well made and relatable. Thanks for writing engaging and interesting material.

  15. Heidi from green flooring supply permalink
    November 21, 2012

    Hands down, the best way to go “green” when it comes to your flooring is to use and refurbish what you already have. But…..if what you already have just won’t do because of deterioration, dry rot, or it’s carpet and you have allergies, etc., another option besides bamboo is cork.

    We have used it throughout our house, including the bathroom, and it has been wonderful. It’s resilient, warm, and softer underfoot than wood or tile and it doesn’t hold dust and allergens like carpet does. It’s also affordable…starting around $3 sq. ft. If you get the “floating” system of cork, you can also DIY install and save even more money.

    It’s also toxin free and there are many styles for many tastes.

    I’d also have to say that I LOVE my Solatubes. Lots of natural light and no water leaks. They work awesome in a walk-in closet and pantry!

  16. Greener Flooring permalink
    August 29, 2013

    Hi there! I really like to read you blog. Thank you so much to shared this informative idea.

  17. CT Corner permalink
    December 16, 2013

    Many good ideas here. It is of utmost importance to do all that we can for the health of our selves and the planet. And it all starts at home, where your heart is. When we remodel homes, our company is striving to do as much in the way of this as we can.

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