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Don’t Forget to Look for the Energy Rebates and Credits!

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Things have been busy of lately here and we have been away from blogging for a while. But during that time, some cool things have been happening with the ongoing effort to refresh our home and make it more energy efficient.

We actually saved the best for last, so to speak, when we replaced the old, inefficient and leaky furnace with a new 95.5% ultra efficient unit, and bumped up the insulation in our attic to R50. The difference in comfort is obvious with these two projects and so is the difference on our monthly gas bill. In fact, the first month after we did the work, November 2010, we had about a 50% reduction in gas use over the same month of the previous year. And we even had the heat set a bit higher than the year before because our garden level does tend to be chilly in the winter.

Aside from the obvious energy efficiency improvement, the great thing about this project was how much money we saved when we did the work due to rebates from the local utility and a State of Colorado program called ReCharge Colorado, and due to the Federal tax credit in place for 2009 and 2010.

Check this out…our ultra-high efficiency furnace cost about $3700. But, I was able to get an immediate rebate from Xcel Energy, our natural gas provider, of about $100, or maybe it was $120. Then, I filed with the State of Colorado and using ReCharge Colorado, a program to  incentivize energy efficiency improvements, I could claim $500. That check came to me in about one month. Whoo-wee, we like that!

But that isn’t all. I am in the process of preparing all my information as I write this in order to claim a hefty tax credit on my Federal return. It is going to work out that this new furnace will get me about $1200 back on my income tax for 2010.  So, by my calculations, that $3700 furnace ended up costing me about $1900!

It was a really similar story with the ubur-insulation job. By tapping into the same three programs, I was able to get the price down from $500 to about $50! (Note: I am still waiting for the check from ReCharge Colorado. They claim that the funds haven’t been released yet, but I can expect a $200 check in the next month or two.)

So, if you did any energy efficiency improvements last year, it may not be too late to take advantage of rebates and tax credits. Make sure you collect all of your receipts and documentation and start looking for what was available for you in 2010. The best place I have found to gather this information is a clearinghouse called  “DSIRE” (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) at http://dsireusa.org . Just select your state from the interactive map and you’re off and running.

If you plan to do any work in 2011, make sure you do your homework in advance to see what you might qualify for. State and local rebates are constantly changing and to qualify, sometimes you need to apply in advance of the work, or I have even seen a local program that requires a simple energy audit by an approved provider before you apply to participate.  If really pays to do your research in advance to make sure you follow all of a particular program’s steps to qualify.

A note on the Federal residential energy tax credit. This program allows people to claim 30% of the costs of energy improvements up to $5000, so basically up to a $1500 tax credit over the two year period of  2009 or 2010. Since I claimed about $200 for some energy efficient doors I installed in 2009, I could claim about $1300 in 2010. To claim this you will need to  file IRS form 5695.

It look likes the Federal residential energy tax credit was renewed for 2011, but at significantly lower levels.  In general it appears that a person can claim up to $500, but windows are maxed out at $200, furnaces at $150, air conditioners and water heaters at $300.  And those who claimed the tax credit in previous years are not eligible in 2011.

If you are thinking about selling your house this year, projects like the ones mentioned above are especially inexpensive right now with these credits and rebates and can add significant value to your home, or help to overcome an objection if your home is currently inefficient. If you live in Northern Colorado, give The Green Team Real Estate a call. We can help you decide what projects  makes sense to do before you put your home on the market and we’ll help you sell it for the best price.

Sustainable Home Remodeling – Cork Floors and Zero VOC Paint

October 10, 2009 2 comments

Railing After Sustainable Remodeling ProjectIt is amazing what new flooring and paint can do to update your home.  And if you are concerned about the health of your family and that of the planet, it is nice to know that these days you can easily source eco-friendly paint and flooring materials.

In our first post for this Sustainable Home Remodeling Series, we pondered aloud whether a sustainable remodeling project could bring a 1970 split level home from decidedly dated to hip and comfortable.  Check out the before and after pictures below and let us know what you think.  If you like what you see, we’ve got more specifics on the cork and paint at the end of this post.  You may also find our post on DIY floating floor installation to be useful.

Living Room Before:
Living Room Before Sustainable Remodeling Project

Living Room After:
Living Room After Sustainable Remodeling Project

Family Room Before:
Family Room After Sustainable Remodeling Project

Family Room After:
Family Room After Sustainable Remodeling Project

Materials List

Living Room:

Family Room:

  • Westhollow “Baffin” floating cork floor – $2.49/s.f. on sale when we bought it from e-tailer iFloor
  • Benjamin Moore Natura Zero VOC paint, Grasshopper and Agave Walls and Fireplace Accent – $49/gallon
  • More of the leftover Benjamin Moore Eco Spec Low VOC paint, Super White Trim and Fireplace

Railing:

We don’t have a good before shot of the railing pictured at the top of the post, but we included it because it gives a good visual impression of the power of Benjamin Moore’s Affinity color deck.

The Affinity deck, available at Benjamin Moore retailers, is a work of genius in that any color you pick from the 144-color deck will work with any other color in the deck.  For color-challenged folks like me and Lara, it takes a lot of the stress out of paint color selection.  I refer to it as Grr-Animals for paint.  We used the Kasbah (plum) and Rattan (khaki) colors in Natura on the railing blocks for some color pops, and also threw in the orange color that was left over from a friend’s recent painting project.

Alright, that’s it on the updates to our 1970 home for now.  We’re working on finishing up the kitchen and bathrooms.  When we do, we’ll be posting about bamboo cabinets and vanities and the nicest concrete countertops you’ve ever seen being custom-made by the guys at Concrete Visions.

In the mean time, if you’ve got some painting to do, think about paint that will keep your family from breathing volatile organic compounds.  And if you’ve got flooring to replace, consider rapidly renewing, warm and naturally antimicrobial cork.

And if you are thinking of buying a home in the near future, this should give you hope that without a lot of investment, it’s possible to refresh an average, older home without much more than paint, and perhaps updated flooring like we have shown here. The Green Team Real Estate is especially experienced with helping clients find homes such as these that they can get into affordably and make their own. Get in touch with us if you need to find an agent for your Northern Colorado home purchase.  We are ready to help!

Carpet Recycling Reclamation Center

September 17, 2009 1 comment

Used Carpet UnloadingIt took much longer than the week I mentioned in my first post on this topic, but I finally got to the carpet recycling center to drop off the carpet we recently ripped out of our home.  On the way there, I was thinking myself a fool to make a 140 mile round trip in Rambo (our tired but trusty ’95 Dodge Ram) to recycle carpet…for a fee no less.  I uttered this thought aloud to Mary Johnson, President of Colorado Reclamation Systems, upon arrival at her Denver facility.

Mary’s answer caught me by surprise.  “Well, there are a lot of fools like you then.”  She added that they routinely see folks from Ft. Collins and even further away, which is why they are working on the details of opening additional collection facilities in Ft. Collins and elsewhere around the state.  I was pleasantly surprised.

As her friendly team unloaded our used carpet from Rambo for me, Mary proceeded to give me a tour to illustrate their process that currently prevents 30,000 to 50,000 lbs. of carpet per day from clogging local landfills.  They’ve already diverted over 2-million pounds of carpet in their first summer of operation!

Used Carpet Ready for Processing

First, the carpet and foam pad is queued up near the unloading area and sorted.  All of the foam pad will get recycled into new pad.  Decent carpet gets separated from the nasty stuff.  The former will eventually go into new carpet of recycled content.  The latter will get incinerated for power generation.

Loading the Used Carpet Baler
Once sorted, the carpet and pad are delivered to a Bobcat operator who loads it into a baling machine.

Baled Used Carpet Handling

Another handling machine operator then moves the bales over to stacks at the loading dock.

Baled Used Carpet Ready for Loading

And finally, a forklift operator loads the bales onto outbound trucks. 

So where does it all go?  The pad and decent carpet is shipped to the southeast part of the country where it will be manufactured into new product.  The grungy carpet currently goes to an plant in Tulsa, where it is converted to power by incineration. 

Mary added that CRS is working with a cement manufacturer in Florence, CO to get permitted for burning waste carpet as an alternative to coal in the cement making process.  In addition to cutting down on coal consumption, fuel consumption and carbon emissions would be reduced due to the shorter haul.

Once unloaded, I paid $25 for CRS to handle 252 lbs of carpet ($0.10/lb) and was on my way (they do not charge for recycling foam pad).  And as I drove back to Ft. Collins, I pondered the good and not so good aspects of this little journey. 

It is very good that there is enough demand for recycling carpet and sufficient reward for reclamation businesses to do so that companies like CRS are able to expand and make the process more efficient.  It is also good that the economics at the household level, once carpet recycling sites are more broadly available, are not much different than those for dumping at the landfill (It cost me $25 to dispose in this responsible manner vs. what would have been a $16 tipping fee at our local landfill which is also subsidized by our property taxes).  The participation of carpet manufacturers in Carpet America Recovery Effort, whose website you can use to locate a carpet recycling center in your area, is also a good thing.

As for all of the fuel consumption, carbon emissions and soot and particulate output related to recycling, remanufacture and incineration…well, not so good. 

Which leads me to a couple of final thoughts.  First, if you have used carpet to get rid of, by all means recycle it. 

Second, when you replace that used carpet, do so with a harder, healthier alternative.  Consider cork flooring, which is beautiful, warm and comfortable underfoot, naturally hypoallergenic, easy to clean, and a pretty easy DIY project to install.  Or go with wood flooring from Forest Stewarship Council (FSC) or reclaimed sources (beetle kill pine in our region, for example).  Any of these products will outlast several carpet and pad replacements, making them gentler on the environment outside your home as they improve the environment inside of it.

Home Energy Audit – What’s It All About?

August 27, 2009 1 comment

Welcome to another installment of our Sustainable Home Remodeling Series where we are documenting our efforts to “green update” our dated 1970 split-level home .  In this post, we’ll show you key elements of a home energy audit and talk about the general value of having one performed for your home.

We worked with Energy Logic who sent out one of their Professional Energy Raters, Byron Burns, to evaluate our home’s energy performance. 

Byron started his audit by conducting a general inspection of the home’s exterior, interior and mechanicals to look for obvious energy efficiency issues and opportunities to improve home performance.

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIrvSSpKB_E]

Next, Byron performed a blower door test to determine where the house leaks hot air in the winter and cool air in the summer.

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Then he tested the performance of our furnace and duct work.

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The cost of a home energy audit can vary quite a bit depending upon the specific scope of services and size of your home.  We paid $325 for Energy Logic’s audit of our home and believe this to be money very well spent.  We now have a detailed report that provides clear, prioritized guidance for our efforts to make our home more energy efficient, which we know will decrease our operational costs and increase our comfort while we own the home.  We are also confident that having solid documentation of improvements to our home’s energy efficiency will increase its resale value when we put it on the market in a few years.

Watch for future posts on this topic.  We’ll be digging deeper into the Energy Logic report and discussing the HERS® score for our home in its current state, tracking our implementation of energy efficiency improvement projects, and conducting follow-up testing to determine our post-improvements HERS® score.

Landfill Diversion via Carpet Recycling

August 26, 2009 4 comments

HPIM1064Chances are good that at some point in time you have refreshed the flooring in your home.  In doing so, you probably generated loads of carpet and pad to be hauled off.  Whether you removed the carpet yourself, or had a contractor do it for you, it most likely went to your local landfill in which case you paid for its disposal, directly or indirectly.

This past weekend, Lara and I ripped carpeting and pad out of our house in preparation for the new floating cork floor we will be laying soon.  I don’t care how often you vacuum and shampoo your carpeting, when you get up close and personal with it to remove it after a few years in place, it is just plain disgusting.  In our case, we bought this house six years ago and until we moved in two months ago, rented it to folks with pets.  Needless to say, the carpet and pad we were handling went well beyond disgusting and into the nasty realm.

Earlier today, I walked out my front door to the view that you see in the picture above.  Our local construction materials salvage yard, ReSource, has helped us out immensely with landfill diversion during our remodeling project by accepting things like cabinets, light fixtures and old appliances.  However, I had asked around and searched a fair bit for carpet recycling options when we started our project, without success.  Still, the thought of driving carpet to the landfill and dumping it again was really bothering me. 

So I turned to google again, entered “recycling carpet” (without Ft. Collins in the search line this time), and hit upon a website I had not seen before by CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) .  CARE is a joint effort by the carpet industry and the government to encourage carpet and pad recycling and minimize the quantity of waste carpet going into our landfills.  You gotta believe that sustainable living and sustainable business practices are really starting to catch on when an older industry like carpet manufacturing gets proactive about it’s full product lifecycle.  Kudos to the carpet manufacturers!

Once on the CARE site, I clicked on the icon to find a carpet reclamation partner in my area and wound up chatting with Kristi at Colorado Reclamation Systems.  They’ve been operating for about three months now and have been swamped with folks who would rather recycle carpet than landfill it. 

To make a potentially long story short for now, I’ll be driving to CRS’s  facility some time next week to recycle our nasty old carpet.  They are in Denver so it is a bit of a haul.  But as their website points out, carpet makes up between 3% and 5% of the waste stream in our landfills, so it’s a drive well worth it.  I’ll post again after I visit CRS with more information about their operations, fees and potential plans to expand collection to other parts of Colorado.

Join the Green Homes Bike Tour!

August 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Tour de Green '07  Straw Bale HomeThe Green Team Real Estate would like to invite you to the second Tour de Green, our Fort Collins green homes bike tour.  Don’t miss this chance to visit 5 very unique and sustainable homes around Fort Collins by bicycle, with tours provided by builders or owners. We’ll provide breakfast to start the day, plus a picnic lunch to round out the tour.  (And it’s free!)  If you’re interested, the details follow.
 
Tour de Green '07 Morie HomeWhat:  See cutting edge energy and water conservation technologies and green materials you may want to someday install in your own home.  We’ll show you a home with a 10kW solar PV system and geothermal heating, a home with a gray-water catchment system and its own wind turbine, a turn of the century bungalow remodeled with nearly all reclaimed building materials, and a project to refresh a dated 1970s home.
 
Where:  Meet at the Grey Rock Common House, in northwest Fort Collins, at 2265 Shooting Star Lane (please click here for a community map)  where we will begin with a light breakfast followed by a short presentation and a tour of their unique and very sustainable co-housing community. From there we’ll hit 4 additional homes.
 
When:  Sat, Sept 12, approximately 9am-1pm.  (Come early for breakfast. We’ll have food available by 8:45.)
 
How:  Come on your bicycle, whatever type you may have. We’ll ride a total of about 6 miles between our 5 sites. This tour is designed to suit most abilities. 
 
Please RSVP to Lara@GreenTeamRE.com  with the names of the people who will be attending by August 24.   (No kids under 13 please.)  We’re capping attendance at 40 people so make sure to RSVP promptly.
 
We look forward to seeing you and hope you can join us!

Sustainable Home Remodeling Series – Intro

July 24, 2009 1 comment

3000 Phoenix Exterior 2003Is it possible to make a 1970 split level house cool by today’s standards?  Lara and I are foolish enough to try, with a green twist.  After all, doing so puts the walk in two things that we’re doing a lot of talking about – 1) that eco-friendly remodeling of an existing home is a relatively low-impact way to create a green dream home, and 2) that greenlording with a green exit strategy can be a smart approach to real estate investment.

We’ve just moved into the 4 bedroom, 2 bath 1900 square foot home pictured above.  We bought it in 2003 from the original owners as an investment property.  It is quite dated, and a bit tenant-worn after six years as a rental, but it has as they say “great bones”.  And the yard has mature peach, cherry and plum trees, as well as grape vines.  To put all of this fruit to good use, we’ll be calling on our friends Jana and Steve and their wine-making talents for payback for the cork floor labor they got out of me earlier this year :). 

There’s not much about this place that doesn’t need updating – nope, it’s all as dated as this kitchen.  So we’ll have lots of eco-friendly home projects to blog about in this series.  3000 Phoenix Kitchen 2003

Here is a sampling of the projects we have on deck…

  • new bamboo cabinets in the kitchen and vanities in the bathrooms.
  • replacing worn carpet with rapidly renewable flooring throughout.
  • sourcing and installing the most eco-friendly concrete countertops we’ve heard of to date.
  • re-painting the entire inside of the house with low or no VOC paint.
  • energy efficiency improvements guided by a professional energy audit.
  • a sprinkler system audit and corresponding xeriscaping to reduce lawn watering requirements.
  • installing water-conserving fixtures throughout.

We hope you’ll grab our feed, follow along and maybe even learn a bit from our experiences, if not our mistakes!

Oh, one last thought about the timing of things.  We’ll be completing and blogging about these green remodeling projects as quickly as our day jobs permit, but we may take a slower road toward our green exit of this home than originally anticipated.  We’re confident it is going to be a pretty cool and comfortable greened-up home to live in.

Larson Renovation 3 – Installing a Solar Water Heater System

April 18, 2009 3 comments

Solar Water Heater InstallationA theme has emerged around Sandra and Justin Larson’s renovation project, and that theme is “RE“.  Part 1 showcased their REsourceful REuse of REclaimed building materials.  Then, in Part 2, we documented their use of spray foam insulation containing REnewable soy to create an extremely energy efficient envelope.  Now, we’ll take a look at their installation of a solar water heater system which will make use of a very abundant REnewable REsource…Colorado sunshine.

The Larson’s turned to Darren Hein (pictured above) and his team at Heinsight Solutions to source and install a Velux solar hot water system.  Heinsight is a Velux 5-Star Solar Specialist installer.  Darren brings many years of specialized roofing and skylight installation experience to bear.  He’s the kind of expert you’ll want to seek out if you decide on a solar water heater for your home to ensure that upgrading your water heater system doesn’t downgrade your roof.

Heinsight installed a two-panel, indirect circulation, pre-heat system at the Larson’s home.  The panels themselves are of the flat-plate collector variety.  Indirect circulation means that an antifreeze liquid is pumped through the panels and down to a heat exchanger in a newly installed tank in the home, where the antifreeze then transfers heat to the water in the tank.  It is considered a pre-heat system because the new tank is tied into the existing hot water heater, providing back-up hot water should a portion of the system go down.  You can see the components and get lots of great information from Darren about system details, costs and rebates by watching the two video segments below.

There are quite a few different types of solar water heating systems.  The U.S. Department of Energy website on energy efficiency and renewable energy provides excellent information about them, including this page on types and how they work.

These systems are extremely eco-friendly because they substitute energy from the sun for energy from natural gas or power plant generated electricity, using the latter only infrequently as back-up.  According to Solar Energy International, more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from your local utility can be avoided over a 20 year period when a solar water heater replaces an electric one. 

The economics of solar hot water are also quite compelling, and may even offer immediate payback if you are building a new home or refinancing for home renovation.  The Department of Energy indicates that your monthly water heating bill will drop by 50% to 80% if you install a solar water heater.  And, depending upon where and how you live, and which source you believe, heating water accounts for 9% to 30% of your monthly energy bill.  Up-front costs and payback time for a solar water heating system are reduced by a 30% federal tax credit and additional regional credits.  Follow this DOE link to get further guidance on determining solar water heater system costs, energy savings and payback time for your situation.

Well, that’s it from the Larson project for now, but we’ll be REvisiting them soon for more eco-friendly home project education.

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Larson Renovation – Part 2 – Soy Based Spray Foam Insulation

April 10, 2009 4 comments

Soy Based InsulationIn the first part of our series covering Sandra and Justin Larson’s major home renovation project, we gave you a sense for the unusual extent to which they are using salvaged and reclaimed building materials.  This week, we stopped by to observe the unique approach they are taking to insulating their renovated home.

The Larsons decided to go with soy based spray foam insulation and are working with Chris Lehmann, owner of SoySolution Sustainable Spray Foam Insulation, to get the job done.  In fact, Chris got into this line of business after discussing the cutting-edge green insulation technology with Justin. 

Spray foam insulation has been around for years.  It is particularly attractive because of its excellent thermal and acoustical properties.  Properly applied, it expands to completely fill every space, creating a comfortable, quiet and very energy efficient barrier between the home interior and outside world.  For more information about spray foam insulation, check out SprayFoam.com

Chris sprays insulation manufactured by Green Insulation Technologies, which takes spray foam insulation to a healthier, more sustainable level.  It is water-blown, and uses polyols derived from renewable soybeans to replace a portion of petroleum based polyols.  As a result, soy based spray foam insulation is an inert VOC-free substance that improves indoor air quality, has no food value for rodents and insects and will not promote growth of mold and mildew.  For more on product content and benefits, visit Green Insulation Technologies’ website.  If you’ve never seen spray foam insulation being applied, take a look at this quick video of Chris working at the Larson’s place

Got your own insulation project coming up soon?  Here are a few links that will help you get more informed about options and costs:

Well, there are obviously lots of eco-friendly home projects embedded in the Larson’s home renovation.  Look for upcoming posts on installing a solar hot water heater, beetle kill pine flooring and more.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctrIvyu3Ja4]

Ready…Reclaim…Renovate! (Part 1)

March 20, 2009 3 comments

Larson House @ 6 WeeksWe are fortunate to be able to follow Justin Larson, founder of JCL Architecture Inc., and his wife Sandra as they undertake a very eco-friendly home renovation and expansion project here in Old Town Fort Collins.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll be doing a series of posts as we track their progress updating this 100-year-old home.  We hope you’ll follow along.

Sandra and Justin are sustainability-minded folks, so there will be lots of green building elements to their project.  One of the most unique is the extensive use of reclaimed building materials, which they have sourced from careful deconstruction of existing walls in their own home, from salvaged construction materials specialists in the region like Uncle Benny’s and The Lumber Guy, from mis-ordered materials at various construction sites, and yes, even from Craig’s List (actually, quite a bit of their reclaimed building supplies were found via Craig’s List).  You can get an initial sense for the scope of their project and the use of salvaged materials in the video below. 

Using reclaimed building materials to this extent requires a great deal of energy, creativity and commitment.  Being an architect doesn’t hurt either.  Perhaps Sandra sums it up best in commenting about the time and effort she put into removing nails from deconstructed studs, verses the alternative of throwing them away and purchasing new pieces for $2 each…

It’s not about the $2 per piece.  What saving the pieces does is let us know that the original roots of the house remain the “bones” of our renovation.  I think it’s extraordinary to realize that “sticks” from 1906 will help our house for another 100 years…

Plus, I am a methodical task junkie.  Justin knows me all too well, and he’s wise to put me on the not-so-skilled part of the labor that nonetheless requires “doing and drive”.  Put my hands to work on repetitive, pretty simple stuff, and it lets my mind wander to how it will all look when it’s finished, or, the project quandary I haven’t been able to solve in my office at work.

So yes, we recover far more than $2 a board!

While most of us don’t have Justin’s expertise, certainly we can take a que from these two to engage more deeply in our own green home projects.  They are bound to be even greener if  we do.

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