January 08 2013

Choosing “Green Homes”

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Green Home“Green” homes can be great for the environment and can save you money over time.

For environmentally-conscious homeowners wanting to minimize their footprint and their energy bills, there are four areas upon which to focus. 

In-Home Energy-Efficiency
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of December 2012, buildings account for 68 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption. Green homes can reduce this figure via energy-efficient appliances; well-sealed, double-glazed windows; and good insulation. Alternative energy sources such as solar panels can also reduce energy use.

Green Building Materials
Building materials are determined to be “green” based on manufacturing, shipping, and reclamation procedures, and are composed of renewable resources. Reclaimed materials such as wood from an old barn; or recovered newspapers for use in insulation are often considered to be green. Counter-tops made from recycled materials are often considered green, too. Ceramic tiles, because of how much energy is required to form them, are often not considered green unless reclaimed from a demolition project. 

Home Location And Orientation
A home for which the main living areas are facing south will be warmed by the sun in winter, and will not be overheated by the sun in summer. This is considered “green”, as is proper window placement which allows for cross-breezes which can lower energy costs on warmer days. Living in proximity to work and other frequented spots can reduce automotive energy consumption, too.

Indoor Air Quality
Good air quality means promoting a safe, toxin-free environment. Using non-toxic paints in your home plus other green materials can improve air quality. Most notably because, over time, synthetic paints and materials break down, releasing harmful particles into the air.

When buying a green home in Omaha , be sure to ask questions of the seller including how the home was built, which materials were used in construction, and whether the home’s appliances are Energy Star-rated.

August 06 2012

Clever Ways To Reduce Household Water Usage

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EPA water usage chartHow well do you conserve water?

The government’s EPA estimates that the average family of four uses 146,000 gallons of water per year, at a cost of $700. With just a few small changes, however, that cost could drop by as much as 28%.

You’ll save on more than just your water bill, too. You may save on Papillion taxes.

This is because water management is often handled at the municipal level and as water usage grows, so does the need for costly investment in water treatment and delivery systems. Less usage means lower costs.

You’ll also enjoy lower home energy bills. 25 percent of a home’s energy bill is used to heating water for home use.

So, with the above three benefits in mind, here are three ways to cut your household water usage.

Catch Your Shower Water

Nobody likes to step into a cold shower, and we sometimes run our showers for 5 minutes before stepping in. Even with today’s low-flow shower heads, that’s 10 gallons of water wasted. Instead of allowing pre-shower water to run down the drain, catch it in a bucket, instead. Then use the bucket to water house plants and your garden.

Stop Pre-Rinsing Dishes

Today’s dishwashers are heavy-duty food busters. Don’t pre-rinse dishes in the sink, only to move them to the dishwasher where the job will be duplicated. Instead, use a wet sponge to wipe dishes clean, then place them in the dishwasher. The job will get done just as well. Or, for caked on foods, follow the steps above then start the dishwasher. After 3 minutes, pause the cycle to allow water to sit-and-soak on your dishes. Then, restart the cycle as normal.

Test Your Toilets

A single leaking toilet can spill 60 gallons of water per day and there are several places where leaks can occur. The toilet may have a worn out flapper; or, a damaged gasket under the flush valve; or, a crack in the overflow tube. One clear sign of a leak is having to jiggle the handle to make the toilet stop running. To test for leaks, try “the dye test”. Fill the toilet tank with food coloring or instant coffee to a deep color and wait 30 minutes. If any of the coloring finds it way to the toilet bowl, you know you have a leak.

In addition to the tips above, the EPA keeps a list of water-saving steps on its website. See how many steps you can take to reduce your home water usage.

(Image courtesy : EPA.gov)

April 09 2012

Build Your Own Rain Barrel To Save Money, Environment

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Rain barrelAccording to the EPA, during summer months, lawn and garden watering account for roughly 40% of a typical home’s water use.

It’s a statistic that reminds us how “green lawns” can be wasteful to both the environment and household budgets  – especially with drought conditions expected and water costs rising in many U.S. municipalities.

As a homeowner in Elkhorn , to help Mother Nature and your wallet, consider added a rain barrel to your home.

A rain barrel is a rain-capturing system that collects and stores water runoff from your roof. Often attached to a home’s gutter system, a standard rain barrel collects and holds 55 gallons of water which can then be reused to water plants, wash cars, and clean driveways among other uses. Because the water is natural (i.e. not treated with chlorine or lime), it’s also ideal for window washing.    

Rain barrels can be purchases at most hardware or garden stores, or online via Amazon.com, for example. Or, they can be hand-built.

To install your rain barrel, first find a location for it, either under a downspout or near one. Make sure to select a stable location because water weighs roughly 8 pounds per gallon. A full rain barrel will weigh over 400 pounds, therefore, so be sure the ground beneath the it is solid and flat.

Next, if your rain barrel is hand-built, use PVC piping to reroute falling water into the mouth of the barrel itself, making sure to create a water-tight seal between the piping and the downspout. Or, if you’re using a store-bought rain barrel, follow the manufacturers instructions to “connect” the rain barrel to the downspout.

And, as the last step, be sure that the mouth of the rain barrel is protected from outside debris such as leaves, flowers and bugs. A formal lid or a covering made of wire mesh makes for a suitable protective cover. Most store-bought rain barrels will be sold with a covering.

That’s it. Just remember that basic maintenance will be needed. Water caught by a rain barrel should be used regularly to prevent “standing water” and protective screens should be cleaned regularly.

For a step-by-step guide to building your own rain barrel at home, click here.

September 21 2011

Omaha Home Energy Audit

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With the exception of a mortgage payment, the largest homeowner expense is utilities; and energy is the major component. There are lots of contributing factors such as air leaks, insulation, heating and cooling equipment, water heaters and lighting.

It’s estimated that 75% of the electricity to power home electronics is consumed when the products are turned off. Computers, monitors, TVs, cable and satellite boxes, DVRs and power adaptors are spinning your electric meter even when they’re not being used.

Unplugging devices can actually make a difference in the size of your electric bill. Plugging several of these offenders into a power strip with a single on/off switch may make the task easier. Most computers have options to put them into sleep mode or even turn off when not in use.

Take 3 1/2 minutes and watch Energy 101. Consider hiring a professional home energy auditor or do-it-yourself. The Department of Energy has a checklist with some valuable suggestions

September 19 2011

Improve Your Home’s Air Quality

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Minimize VOCs when cleaningHow healthy is the air in your home?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a common class of airborne toxins known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) is ruining indoor air quality, and causing some U.S. homeowners to become dizzy, asthmatic, and ill.

VOCs are gases emitted by certain, common household products, including paint and paint strippers, cleaning supplies, and copiers and printers — even when the aforementioned products aren’t in use. You can find VOCs “everywhere” because organic chemical compounds have become essential in everyday life.

VOCs are what give cars that “new car smell”. They’re also the cause of “Sick Building Syndrome“.

As a homeowner in Hawthorne , VOCs in your home can make you sick. Therefore, the EPA advises homeowners to take the following steps to reduce VOC levels in their respective homes and improve and home air quality.

  1. When using VOC-emitting products such as paints and paint thinners, keep a well-ventilated home.
  2. Avoid purchasing cleaning supplies or paint in bulk. Buy only what you need.
  3. Never mix household cleansers. It may yield unintended results.
  4. Throw out “dry cleaning bags” as soon as possible. Most dry cleaning makes use of harmful VOCs.
  5. Do not burn tobacco products inside your home. 

There are a half-dozen other recommendations, too. They’re listed on the EPA website.

You can’t remove VOCs from your home, but you can minimize their negative effects. And keep your household as healthy as possible.