Going BIG and Green!

Posted April 23rd, 2013 by Elaine in Green, Uncategorized

realtor.com go green infographic_FINALMy children are coming of age in a time when learning how to “help the Earth” is part of the general school curriculum, when messages of reducing and reusing abound, and every room in their school has separate trash and recycling cans. At ages 5 and 7, they are proficient at knowing what goes in each can.

That does not negate the fact that I still believe that the day I had children, I declared war on the Earth, despite all the walking to school, the cycling to the market, and turning the lights out. Nonetheless, my eye was caught by the idea on Realtor.com that Green Homes are de rigueur.

Living green means many things to many people. For my parents, it meant recycling before recycling was made relatively easy (I remember hauling our recyclables to special locations) and installing solar heating back in the Carter-era.

A quick perusal of Realtor.com finds these area “green homes,” if you happen to be in the market – with some of their “green features” highlighted.

Arlington, VA; Bethesda, MD; and Washington, DC

City Address Price Green   Features
Arlington,   VA 3402 8Th St S $799,000 Green   Certified/Energy Star rated home
Bethesda,   MD 9600 Page Ave # A $1,925,410 Features   the latest in green technologies & LEED certification; solar heating
Washington,   DC 1317 Shepherd St Nw # E $535,000 Energy   Star appliances, Pella windows, and high tech green insulation

So…how does my 1920’s era home add up to the above on a variety of green criteria?

(1)   Use green building materials: fail – I have no reason to believe that when my home was built, anyone considered how the wood was harvested, where it was harvested from, or whether the resources being used were renewable or non-renewable.

(2)   Low-VOC paint: pass! – although begrudgingly. I wasn’t sure the low-VOC paints would work as well or look as beautiful, particularly the flat paints. My husband and I have now repainted nearly the entire home, and the paints look great three years after application.

(3)   High-efficiency water heater: fail – we weren’t convinced it would make much of a difference, so when we replace our old water heater, we went with a standard heater. But…this is something we’ll consider again once the other old water heater in our home needs replacing.

(4)   Energy-Conserving Insulation: pass! We had central air conditioning installed, and when we did this, the company advised that we were never going to be able to cool our son’s room with the nearly non-existent insulation we had. We had insulation blown into ceilings, added to eaves, nailed beneath floors. It all sounds disruptive, but it wasn’t. We noticed a drop in our energy bills pretty quickly. And that AC? It cools extremely well.

We were inspired to add much of this insulation after an energy audit we had a couple of years ago. We also had insulation sprayed all over our basement and hidden spaces where we had terrible air leaks.

(5)   Rainwater Collection: pass! I adore my rain barrel – and so do my kids! Now, when they want to make “muddy soup”, they turn the spigot on the rain barrel. Not only do I not need to worry about the hose being left on, I don’t feel guilty about using water that isn’t absolutely necessary.

(6)   Energy efficient appliances: pass! My high-efficient Bosch dishwasher is so quiet, I’m often started when the water empties at the end of the cycle.

(7)   Energy efficient lighting: pass! I’m not even sure you can purchase non-CFL bulbs. Now – to make sure we recycle them, rather than throwing them out!

(8)   Solar power: fail. Like I said, I grew up in a solar home. I believe in it. We just didn’t have the cash for it at the time we were having a new boiler installed. Maybe we’ll add this on at some point.

(9)   Efficient windows: pass! This is the first home improvement we had done – because the breeze from the old windows just about made my heart stop, as I imagined all that heat seeping outside!

When we went green, we did so for two reasons. First, we really do want to reduce our footprint. Second, we think of larger items like the insulation as part lifestyle, part investment. What’s green in your home?

Elaine walks her children to school each day and rides her bike when she doesn’t have kids in tow. She writes about this and more at Connor and Helen Grow Up! No compensation was received for this post.



4 Responses to “Going BIG and Green!”

  1. Ellen

    If any of the homes you listed were built on the site of where a previous home was torn down, then you probably come out ahead. The carbon footprint of demolishing a house and building a new one is HUGE and takes like 30-40 years to recoup.

    In our home we insulated everywhere we could reach and insulated ABOVE CODE. All appliances are energy efficient if they were available. We also only produce 1-2 bags of trash per week, because we recycle all recyclables and compost all our food scraps.

  2. Elaine

    Ellen! You must remember when I had a heart attack that the ENORMOUS house across the street from me was designated “green”. That home replaced a home that was literally – straight out of Provence. Small, meticulous, gorgeous details.

    I take your comment to heart. Indeed – tearing down perfectly functional real estate in favor of new stuff is hardly a green move.

    So great to hear about all the insulating work you did. We definitely noticed a difference in our own bills when we did the same. I should chat about composting with you sometime. We had a compost bin for a few months at our old house, and then a rat moved into the bin. That was the end of the bin.

  3. Jessica @ Crunchy-Chewy Mama

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Elaine! We tried to do as green a renovation as we could on our budget and timeline. There were times when I wondered if it would have been more healthful to tear down the house and build anew since we did have to deal with mold. Sometimes green and healthy are not as overlapping as you might think. But a lot of times what is good for the earth is, in fact, good for a body’s health, too.

    One thing that surprised me was how much more expensive (and back-ordered) are interior doors with no added formaldehyde. There are a lot of things like that people don’t pay attention to.
    Oh, and there are now a lot of zero-VOC paints (the most pure being AFM Safecoat and American Pride/Mythic). For health, they are hands-down cleaner on the air!

    It’s worth thinking about counters — if you are okay with mining stone from halfway across the world for the look of granite. (And that brings with it the possibility of radon, too). We did a bathroom counter with Eco by Cosentino made of recycled glass and our kitchen counter with Richlite, which is recycled paper (and other stuff). Oh, and the cabinets all have VOCs unless you go with a green company. We used some cabinets that were CARB-certified (acceptable for California’s emissions standards) in our bathroom and they still stunk. The Executive Cabinetry we used in the kitchen was great.

    I just learned this morning that the Arlington Green Home Choice Program has been fully funded for 2014. http://freshaireva.us/2011/11/greenhomechoice/ There will be a tour of homes on June 2 this year.

    Thanks again for a fabulous piece, Elaine!

  4. Lisa

    Another great addition to a green home is composting. If you don’t have the space/know how/time/or patience to do your own composting at home, there are great services in DC that provide food scrap collection. A great one is Compost Cab (compostcab.com). They are a great service and the food scraps go to community gardens to be processed into compost. And if you’re a gardener you can get soil back after 6 months! It’s great, I’ve been using them since May, my trash is less (and less smelly) and it’s a great way to green your cooking habits!