Reuse and Recycle
The basic principal for greening your home is that it makes more sense to reuse materials that still have life left in them. There is a great deal of what is known as “embodied energy” in homes that have already been constructed. The materials used to construct your home have been harvested or created once before and that energy is partially wasted if the materials are retired before their useful lifetime. It actually takes twenty times the energy to build a new building than it does to restore an existing one. That doesn’t even take into account the space in the landfill that is used by the demo and disposal of the remnants of a building.
When we do any work on a home we’re always trying to reuse as much material as possible. Much of the wood from the original construction can be cleaned of its nails and screws and used again. The labor costs are a bit higher, but the costs for materials are lower. These tend to balance out for no net change in cost for the homeowner.
Windows, doors and molding are often no longer needed through the reworking of a floor plan or work like the addition of a French door unit. These items are usually not thrown away by us. Many people will choose to keep all the original details of a home intact on site, as they may be just the temporary stewards of a home that will go through many lives with several families. If the pieces are still there and in good condition then they can be used at a later date for the next remodel. If there is no desire by the homeowner to store them for later use, there are places for them to go for reuse. Salvage yards often accept them as trade for other items or as a donation. Habitat for Humanity is one of many charities that are always in need of building materials.
The appliances in your home may be old to you, but there are lots of people in this city that could use an upgrade. We work with Freecycle.org to find good homes for used appliances with many years of use still left in them. Any broken appliances or other unwanted metal produced by construction could be recycled.
We often replace driveways and other concrete flatwork. The broken pieces have many suitable uses around the yard. They often can be stacked to make beautiful rustic garden walls. It may seem odd, but if the homeowner doesn’t want to use the old concrete in some creative way, others will. Freecycle.org is a great resource for concrete chunks to get their second life.
All of these various aspects of reuse and recycle can be handled by Black Star Building and Design. The time involved is usually not significant, but the positive effects can be dramatic in the long term.
Green Building Materials
Many products that are used in homes today have ingredients that are not the best for health and safety. This country is behind the EU in terms of product labeling, but there have been some disclosures and changes made by manufactures recently that have been driven by consumer knowledge. There are now more and more companies that have products entering the market that are more compatible for healthy living.
The average paint is loaded with all sorts of chemicals that slowly seep from the paint for years as it dries. These chemicals then enter the air inside the home. The most pressing concern would be in homes with children or people with allergies. We often use Safecoat primer and paint. This product takes the same amount of time to apply, but the materials cost is higher. The quality is comparable to many of the high quality paints and the colors available are limitless. This paint is probably the single biggest improvement that a homeowner can do for the health of the air inside the home.
Plywood for Cabinets
Most kitchens use some plywood or MDF in the construction of the cabinets. Although it is regulated in the EU, formaldehyde is not yet regulated in the US in many of its industrial uses. You might ask; “Where is the formaldehyde in my kitchen cabinets?” It is used to suspend the glue that holds the layers in plywood together. This is probably because it’s easy and cheap. It is however, a known carcinogen and will be leaving the cabinets as the glue dries over time. Formaldehyde free plywood and MDF are available and should be used whenever possible. These formaldehyde free products cost about 20-30 percent more, but we believe it is money well spent and hope you will too. There is no difference in quality between these two types of products.
Green Energy Consumption
Many of the older homes in the Los Angeles area gobble up energy at a seemingly insatiable rate. The energy that is lost through the roof and through the walls continues unabated until barriers like insulation are put up to stop it.
In the winter cold radiates down from the ceiling of most homes. In the summer it is the heat. Much is also lost through the floors and walls. The single biggest insulation bang for your buck is to insulate the area below the roof and above the ceiling. Place your hand on your ceiling on a hot summer afternoon and you will be surprised. We can improve this problem by blowing cellulose fiber up into the crawl space. Holes can be drilled in walls and insulation can be blown in there too. Cellulose insulation has a low combustibility and is essentially just reused paper products. It will dramatically reduce the transfer of energy and regulate the temperature inside the house. Any new construction that we do gets insulation in the walls and ceilings. Most houses actually have an empty space in the exterior walls that allows the air inside there to heat up or cool down and transfer itself right into the home. Insulation won’t make your home cool on those really hot days of summer, but it will cut down on the number of days that absolutely require the air conditioner. It will also allow the heater to be used for shorter periods in winter, as the heat will stay inside the house for longer periods.
On a hot day of summer the air inside your attic can easily reach 120 degrees. Fans can be put in the attic or crawl space that will move this air out. They can usually be wired into existing power and are automatically controlled by temperature. Solar powered fans are also available. The fans really help to keep the house from building up and holding onto all that heat and are fairly easy to install. These fans can also be used in conjunction with cellulose insulation with no problems at all.
Most houses with their original windows have single glazed glass. New windows are required to have dual glazing or different energy saving coatings. Dual glazing means that there are two layers of glass separated by a space with gas in between. A great deal of energy is lost in a home through the windows. Dual glazing helps this energy loss a great deal. The glass in windows can also have what is known as a “Low E” coating. Essentially this is a very light tinting that helps to keep the rays of the sun from passing through the glass and heating up the air inside. It is nearly impossible to retrofit old windows with dual glazing. It is not difficult to retrofit old windows with Low E glass, but so far the prices for the glass without buying the window itself are not reasonable. Often an existing window frame can be reused in place and the window sash can be replaced so as to limit the work that must be done to patch the house. This is our preferred method of retrofitting as it often helps the existing details of the home blend with new construction.
This is the big-ticket item that pays for itself in a couple of years. Basically, for a three-bedroom house with normal energy use the cost is around twenty thousand for the homeowner after the tax rebates. This sounds like a huge amount of money to most people, but after the first few years when the system pays for itself electricity is free. There is no doubt that electricity costs will rise, but not for people with solar power. As you may know, all the energy not used by the homeowner is sold back to the power company. There are very few roof situations that could not accommodate a solar power system, as they usually do not require any structural changes to be made. This can usually be determined by a free inspection by Black Star Building and Design.
Demand Water Heaters
Most homes are equipped with standard water heaters that keep the water hot 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Unfortunately, most people do not turn them down when they go on vacation. Many parts of the world have been using a different system for decades. Demand water heaters were actually in use in the US as far back as 1910 but fell out of favor for some unknown reason. A demand water heater heats the water up when you use hot water only. The water flows through the heater and is heated instantly. The hot water never “runs out.” They are about the size of a suitcase and can be installed inside or outside. The best part is they don’t use any gas when the hot water isn’t being used. We have installed these demand heaters for ten years and have never had a complaint from a single customer. At around three thousand for the purchase and install, they are about twice the price of the old-fashioned water heater. This of course pays for itself after a couple of years and it saves a whole lot of energy in the long run.