Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 28, 2011

Net Zero Living

How to increase energy efficiency without spending a dime

by Forrest Linebarger

Planning to remodel your home? With the cost of energy soaring, many homeowners planning a remodel want to make their homes more energy efficient, but are on a tight budget.

Today the initial cost of making green construction choices in your remodel are no more expensive than traditional choices. Beyond that, the future cost of the green choices are actually negative, aka — money back for you.

When you consider the tax credits available for everything from washer and dryers to geothermal heat pumps you really can't argue the case for a remodel. The available credits can offset the initial costs and the outlay of the upgrades can pay off for you for the life of the item.

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Fortunately, there are other ways to make your home more efficient — keeping energy bills to a minimum — without spending any money at all. Here are a few ways to really save a lot of energy. Better yet, you can do these things for free.

First, orient your addition to take advantage of the winter sun while minimizing summer sun. The sunny side of the house is the south-facing side, so that is the side to watch. However, in winter the sun is much lower in the sky than it is in the summer. By using longer eaves and careful placement of windows, you can increase the amount of winter sun you get while decreasing the summer sun. This can save costs in both heating and cooling.

Another way to save energy on the cheap is to make sure that your house is well sealed against air leaks. By paying close attention to the tightness of the construction, you can seal the gaps at windows, doors, pipes and other openings. Small gaps account for most of the heat loss. Heat, like lawyers, has a way of finding the weakest point and exploiting it. Seal the gaps and you can save a bundle in heating costs.

Here is one last suggestion: Plant deciduous trees on the south side of the house. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter so they can shade the house in the summer months and, as the season changes, allow the warmth of the sun during winter. Department of Energy research concludes that a typical household can save $100 to $250 a year on heating and cooling by planting three trees at select locations around a home.

Of course, if you are willing to reinvest a little of that loot you'll be saving on energy bills, you could further increase energy savings.

Forrest Linebarger is CEO and chief designer at VOX Design Group Inc. in Mountain View, and has been designing and building sustainable homes for more than a decade. He can be reached at Forrest@VoxDesignGroup.com or at 650-694-6200, ext. 11.

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