Green House: Making your home greener isn’t as hard as it seems

Being green isn’t limited to tossing a soda can into a recycling bin at your office. There are plenty of ways you can also be environmentally friendly at home—starting with upgrades to your house itself.

Older homes built several decades ago still dot many Wasatch Front communities. Living in these houses can often mean dealing with everything from higher energy bills to dangers like exposure to toxic chemicals in old paint.

Still, doing a massive rebuild or building a completely new house isn’t always the best solution. Making a few simple home renovations can save costs and extend the life of an older home.

Find out what needs fixing

Mapping a detailed renovation plan is the most important first step for a home owner. You need to identify all problem areas requiring attention so you know if you can do a few smaller renovations or need a full-scale remodel.

“If you have a good plan that you’re starting from—like your home plan or a plan of your remodel—that’s always going to set you up for more success or a better project in general and eventually save you more money,” says Kurt Antonino, owner of Green Tech Construction.

Each older house has its own set of concerns depending on the era in which it was originally built. Homeowners can make specific changes in one type of home than might not work well in another. To know what green upgrades will work best in meeting your home’s needs requires putting in extra time to examine the complete package.

Putting wood cabinets in a kitchen or bathroom, for example, needs to take into consideration what materials were used to create the product. If the particle board was made using formaldehyde or a strong glue, the cabinet could cause off-gassing in a sealed home and release fumes that will adversely affect air quality and could become a source of health problems.

“It’s not a simple process,” Brechbill says. “It is something where you really have to look at the total function of your home.”

Small fixes can go a long way

Properly installing and sealing windows, doors and pipes can go a long way to making any home greener. It will keep air from escaping the home and improve air flow from room to room and floor to floor. Improper window, door and pipe installation can undermine the energy value of a home because it disrupts smooth transmission of air throughout the home.

Proper sealing and caulking may be all that is necessary in some houses to create energy savings.

“Movement of air is critical to being more energy efficient,” says Bill Brechbill, owner of PCR Utah Green Contractors. “The tightness of the home is probably the first priority and the thing that most homeowners can pay attention to and make a difference.”

Brechbill says thinking green can apply to many different aspects of home construction and home remodeling. It can encompass everything from building with sustainable materials to simply creating a more energy efficient environment within the home.

Upgrading windows and doors, sealing to improve air flow and adding insulation are the three most cost-efficient changes a homeowner can do to make an older home greener. These measures will lower utility bills significantly and will make living conditions in the house much more comfortable.

Adding low-e glass windows, for example, will help a home retain more interior heat in the winter and keep excess heat out in the summer. For a home built with double-width brick walls, a homeowner can add insulation by building a third wall inside the brick, adding spray foam inside the existing walls or adding insulation to the attic.

Antonio says these type of green renovations will enhance overall comfort in an older home by removing hot and cold spots.

“Who wants to go home and be cold or be hot?” Antonio says. “They want to go home and have an environment where it’s relaxing. They don’t want to go home and crank up the heat in the winter time just to stay comfortable and have that excessive bill.”

Try solar

Installing solar panels has become a popular avenue for making an older home greener when it comes to energy consumption. Cost for solar panel installation typically ranges between $7 to $9 per watt. The initial cost can be offset through tax credits and federal government subsidies that reduce the initial cost by as much as 50 percent for a homeowner.

Solar panels are designed to last up to 25 years after the initial installation. Using an electric system that integrates solar panels can increase a house’s property value by $20 for every $1 in utility savings over the span of a single year.

Brechbill has seen an increased interest among Wasatch Front homeowners in using solar panels in home remodeling and new home construction.

“The market has changed,” Brechbill says. “Solar panels right now are a better bargain. They literally cost probably half of what they did 10 years ago because they’re being manufactured at a higher volume. More production means better prices.”