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So You're Thinking of Going Green

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
By “going green,” of course, we are not talking about taking a renewed interest in the Celtics, or referencing a previous article about spreading mold. Rather, “going green” here is short for taking steps to promote the health of the planet we live on. A lot of the things that going green entails also promote our individual health – and can add a little more green to our wallets, as well.
Green consciousness seems to be springing up everywhere, not excluding the condominium community landscape. Whether building or buying an existing home, prospective homeowners are increasingly inquiring into a home's healthfulness and energy efficiency. And, according to a new poll by the American Institute of Architects, the majority of registered voters would be willing to pay $5,000 more for a home that would use less energy and protect the Earth.
There are many things, big and small, that can be done to increase a home’s green appeal. If you are building new or doing major renovations, you have the opportunity to go green from the ground up. In such a case, you may want to consider LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. LEED is the U.S. Green Building Council’s program for designating homes that reach a certain standard based on the adding up of points for various green measures taken. These include using certified green materials in construction, low-flow toilets, rain water harvesting irrigation systems, high efficiency mechanical heating and air conditioning, or alternative heating systems such as solar, among many other possible measures. While such features can be more expensive initially, over time they pay for themselves in reduced energy consumption and increase the value of the home. The National Association of Real Estate Appraisers’ Advisory Council is currently working to quantify the value that such features add to a home in terms of dollars at the time of sale. Builders are also jumping on the wagon, making the installation costs less than they were even a couple of years ago.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is the existing building that seems to be an energy hog, presenting unusually high utility bills month after month. In such cases, an energy audit can uncover the problem sources and provide solutions, making your challenge into an opportunity to upgrade to a more economical building.
Most condominiums fall somewhere in between. In the process of general ongoing maintenance, measures can be taken along the way to grow green gradually. For the association, energy-efficient lighting is an area to focus on. Advances in technology have been made in recent years not just in bulbs but in motion detectors. Their benefit in indoor and outdoor settings is well established, but adding heat-sensing to motion-sensing for indoor use results in “occupant sensors” that save energy by only lighting common spaces when people are present – without putting them in the dark if they haven’t moved for five or ten minutes.
For unit owners, or for associations where certain system expenses are shared, a good place to start is the US Department of Energy. Their 2005 Buildings Energy Data Book gives the following breakout of residential energy expenditure. Not surprisingly, “heating accounts for the biggest chunk of a typical residential utility bill.”
  • Appliances and lighting 34%
  • Space heating 34%
  • Water heating 13%
  • Electric air conditioning 11%.
Accordingly, the Department’s recommendations for upgrading the energy efficiency of your home include:
  • When replacing your oil boiler, choose an ENERGY STAR©-labeled model.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • When replacing your electric water heater, choose an energy efficient model or consider tankless water heating if this is an option for your home.
  • Have a professional seal your home’s air leaks.
  • When replacing your dishwasher, clothes washer or refrigerator, choose an ENERGY STAR©-labeled model.
  • Replace high-use incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps.
And for typically association-owned areas:
  • When replacing siding, add external insulating sheathing beneath the siding.
  • Increase attic floor insulation to R-38.
  • Insulate crawlspace walls to R-19.
  • Insulate boiler pipes.
Many products available advertise as being “green” but are held to no standard definition of what that means. ENERGY STAR© is a government-rated program that sets an efficiency standard for computer products, major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and more and identifies those meeting certain criteria as having superior energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, “Last year alone, Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR©, saved enough energy to power 10 million homes and avoid greenhouse gas emissions from 12 million cars – all while saving $6 billion.”
The Department’s Home Energy Saver website provides some specific information on the economic benefits of these upgrades. For example, the average economic benefits of replacing your oil boiler with an ENERGY STAR©-labeled model:
Estimated Annual Bill Savings $115
Estimated Lifetime Energy Cost Savings $2,300
Upgrade Cost: $30
Return on Investment: 385%
Upgrade pays for itself in: <1 year.
Lastly, many states are willing to give residents a hand in going green. Programs such as “Efficiency Maine” provide cash incentives in the form of rebates for purchasing items that aim to decrease energy consumption such as occupancy sensors and energy efficient lighting and HVAC equipment, to name a few. Just another reason to join in the effort… “Go Green!”