Sustainable Resolutions To Fit Your Home

Wondering what you can do to minimize your carbon footprint at your home?  Solar panels are great, but they aren’t a good fit for everyone.  If your house is in a shaded area, or your shingles are older but not quite ready for replacement, solar electric may not be practical for your house right now.  Fortunately, there are other things you can do.

1. Even without solar panels, you can choose a 100% renewable electric supplier for your electricity- which supports the development of renewable energy whether or not you get panels personally.  Instructions on how to do this in Ohio are available here:  https://uucaearth1.wordpress.com/signing-up-for-renewable-electricity/

induction hot plate

2. Try induction cooking before buying another gas cooktop.  Induction offers the performance of a gas cooktop without the fossil fuels or indoor air quality problems.  (Yes, your gas cooktop is bad for the air quality in your house.)  If you’d like to minimize your fossil fuel cooking even before you get a whole new cooktop, you can buy an induction hot plate to try it out.  They start at about $50.

3. If you haven’t already, get an energy audit for your house.  If you are a Dominion Natural Gas customer, you can get an audit for just $25  https://www.deohpwes.com/  They will do a blower door test on the house that helps to identify air leaks, which are even more important to the efficiency of the house than insulation is, and they’ll use an infra red camera to see insulation levels in the walls.  Air sealing and insulation will make the house more comfortable and reduce your utility bills, and if you aren’t using electricity for heating, reduce your use of fossil fuels too.  If your house is already all electric, First Energy offers a similar audit program: http://www.energysaveohio-homeaudit.com/home-audit.  These audits will give you more information about your house’s energy use, but if you have serious comfort problems or are ready to do a major energy renovation, you may want to talk with the consultant I used: http://energysmartohio.com/how_it_works/our-process-read-me/

4. Next time you need to replace your water tank, consider your options.  My preference is a heat pump water heater. It costs about the same to run as a gas water heater, but it’s all electric so there is no need to worry about carbon monoxide.  These are best in a basement, since the air around them gets pretty chilly sometimes! If you are going to keep your gas service for quite a while and don’t mind annual maintenance, an on-demand unit may make sense, but it will need a larger gas pipe than a tank-type heater.

heat pump water heater

5. If you are due to get a new air conditioner, be sure you get a heat pump that can provide heating as well as cooling.  That way you can use it to provide much of the heat for your house with renewable energy from your renewable supplier.  

6. Start thinking ahead for when you will need to replace your furnace.  Maybe you don’t need to rely on fossil fuels for your heating at all!  An air source heat pump can provide all of your heating and cooling needs if your house has good air sealing and insulation.  It is important to work with a professional specializing in this kind of work to make sure your house is ready for this so you don’t end up with excessive operating costs.  Energy Smart Home Performance has converted many homes in northeast Ohio to all electric with good success, including my house.

A-Frame House

This project is a whole house renovation and deep energy retrofit of an existing A-frame house. 

Register for the Heat Recovery Ventilator that provides a controlled supply of fresh air
View from the second floor over the two-story living room
Cable ties to replace the floor joists and keep the rafters from spreading apart over time
Mini-split heat pump for efficient heating

Posted in Uncategorized

Raising the Bar for the Quality of Home Construction

Our country could be building better quality homes, but we aren’t.  Why not?  The number of new homes built has risen steadily in the past 5 years, and continues to do so.   Unfortunately, most of these homes will be built to meet the current building code, and not much better.  Perhaps the worst news is that many of the people buying these homes don’t know that they COULD have a house that cost less to heat and cool, is more comfortable, is more durable, and provides a healthier environment for their families, at less total cost than a similar code minimum house.   We know how to design and build houses like these, and in fact we have for quite a while now.  So why don’t we?  According to Kevin Ireton of Fine Homebuilding Magazine, there are three core reasons.

Cost is not one of those reasons.  Money is part of the story, but the problem has much more to do with the way homes are financed than it has to do with actual dollars spent by the homeowner.  In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Energy comparison from October of 2015, a homeowner in our climate zone would save $43/month if they built a new home to the Zero Energy Ready Home standard than if they built a similar home using the current Ohio Residential Code energy standards 1.   But money can still be a problem because of the way appraisals are done.

Most banks and real estate appraisers place NO value on extra insulation or photovoltaic panels on the roof.  Zero.  None.   Appraisals are important because they are how banks decide whether a buyer will be able to make the payments on a mortgage.  Unfortunately, the factors currently used in making that evaluation do not take energy costs into account.  They consider principle, interest, taxes, and insurance, but not utilities.  Since energy costs are more expensive than either taxes or insurance, this is omitting a key part of the real-world accounting that affects the ability to make that monthly mortgage payment.  In addition,

the basic education required for an appraiser’s license does not cover high performance home features or renewable energy.  Combine these two items with the fact that in most areas it is difficult to find houses with “comparable” energy efficiency features, and it becomes very difficult to get a mortgage that recognizes the added value of a high-performance home.

This is a shame, because when it comes time to re-sell that home, the buyers will recognize this value.  According to a McGraw Hill Smart Market Report 2, 73% of single family home builders say consumers will pay more for green homes. 

The unique nature of the home building industry is another reason home quality hasn’t advanced faster. Building science based solutions for homes are not “one size fits all”. While a computer can be designed so it works just as well in Phoenix as in Boston, homes need to take climate into account.  A wall assembly that makes perfect sense in a hot, dry region is not at all appropriate in northeast Ohio.  Even if the best strategies were the same for the whole country, there are roughly 60,000 home builders in the U.S. and there is no single organization, tradeshow, or conference that reaches all of them with the latest information. 

According the NAHB Research Center, it takes up to 25 years for the housing industry to adopt new technologies.3 The details matter in high performance homes, but there is very little incentive for builders to learn these new methods.  Only eight states have continuing education requirements for contractor licenses.  In Ohio, general contractors for home construction are not required to be licensed by the state at all, and the cities that do require licensing are more interested in making sure the business will be around to complete the project than finding out if they know anything about construction.   Many contractors do in fact know a great deal about construction, and there is a lot to know.  They need to schedule work, order materials, find skilled labor, pay for insurance, market the company, and more.  Adding to their challenge is the fact that many prospective homeowners are focused on getting a low cost-per-square foot, focused completely on the initial construction cost because of the lending system.  As a result, contractors are apt to stay close to the “tried and true” construction methods they know, so they can focus on these other challenges.   

So, there is no system in place for getting the latest information on building science into the hands of builders, and little incentive for them to adopt new practices that add yet more complexity to what is already a very complicated and competitive business.   Which brings us to the final reason we aren’t building better houses.

“Because consumers haven’t asked us to.”  This is according to C. R. Herro, the VP of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes, one of the country’s largest home builders.  People don’t buy homes very often, and when they do they typically have a lot of other things going on in their lives.  They don’t have time to do a lot of research, and so they rely heavily on the advice of bankers, home builders, and people who own houses that were built many years ago.  We’ve just covered the reasons bankers and builders are not apt to champion the cause of high performance homes.  With competition so high, it is important that we as consumers learn to ask the right questions, expect the high performance that is completely attainable, and make energy efficiency one of the things contractors need to compete on.

So let’s start asking!   Ask builders for high performance homes, and insist that lenders take the costs of energy use for a house into account when they figure mortgage amounts.  For starters, every house should have a blower door test done during construction to check for air leaks.  Next, ask for the HERS score for your new home.  You would buy a car without knowing how many miles per gallon it gets, why would you buy a home without knowing how it performs compared to a code minimum house?  Likewise, you expect to see drawings showing what the house will look like when it is built, and perhaps even a CAD model so you can see it in three dimensions.  It is perfectly reasonable to expect computer modeling of how much energy the house will use.  Energy modeling can be used to help make cost effective choices about insulation levels and heating and cooling systems.

Even if you aren’t interested in getting your home certified to a sustainable construction standard like LEED, the National Green Building Standard, or Passivhouse, you can these standards as guideposts for learning about high performance home construction.  The U.S. Department of Energy has its own program, Zero Energy Ready Home certification.  Their website includes the “Tour of Zero”, where you can see dozens of high performance homes and their construction details.  I’ve included a link to this site below.  The Zero Energy Ready Home is specifically geared towards investing in a home’s thermal envelope to the point where it will be able to generate as much energy as it uses with the addition of solar photovoltaic panels.  The solar panels don’t need to be added at the time of construction.   These are easy to add on later, while changes to the building enclosure are much more difficult.  Quite a few of these Zero Energy Ready certified houses have already been built in northeast Ohio.

Let’s raise the bar and expect the construction of our new homes to give us better comfort, energy efficiency, and air quality.  We know how to do it.  It will save us money.  Let’s move forward together and make it happen!

This post draws heavily from Kevin Ireton’s article, “Why Don’t We Build Better Houses” in the spring/summer 2017 Houses issue of Fine Homebuilding magazine.  If you’d like a copy of the original article, send me an email and I can send you the pdf.  Or if you like audio you can find the Why Don’t We Build Better podcast here.

Click here for more information on the U.S.Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program.

To tour some homes already built using the Zero Energy Ready standard, see this page: DOE Tour of Zero.

Another good source for information about high performance home building is Green Building Advisor.

Sources:

1)      Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home Savings & Cost Estimate Summary

2)      McGraw Hill Construction Smart Market Report

3)      Sam Rashkin, Residential Architect, November 15, 2012

Sustainable Homes Network

The Sustainable Homes Network of Northeast Ohio continues to grow.  We are up to 173 members in our Meetup.com group!  We had a great “Powered by Pecha Kucha” night in February, with presentations by Certified Passive House Consultant Michael Peters, Jennifer Tomasek of Cornerstone Construction speaking about the LEED registered home they are building, Michael Whelan of Superior Walls talking about energy efficiency for foundation systems, Nate Adams of Energy Smart Home Performance speaking about energy efficiency improvements for existing homes, and myself discussing the difference between sustainable substance and green “fashion”.  This spring and summer we will be doing more tours of high performance new homes.  We are working on setting dates to see homes in Garretsville, Bath, and North Canton.  We are also planning a night to discuss Eco Villages, supporting a more sustainable lifestyle for an entire community.  If you’d like to get notices about upcoming tours and meetings, join the

group! Sustainable Homes Network of Northeast Ohio

Shaker Design Competition

In January of this year I had the honor of participating in a design competition hosted by the City of Shaker Heights.  Twelve teams submitted conceptual drawings for infill lots in the Moreland Heights neighborhood. 

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The city was looking for proposals that emphasize energy efficiency with net zero ready or passive design, that fit into traditional neighborhoods, and incorporate intergenerational accessibility.  I partnered with Bliss & Company developers and builders to create a design based on the historic Cleveland Double.  We provided an accessible home on the first floor for use by those wanting to age in place, and a larger two story unit above it.  This design also works well for home based businesses and artists’ studios.    Both units have open floor plans, with neighborhood-building front porches and plenty of natural light from the south facing windows.  We are looking forward to the opportunity to build this home or similar ones as Northeast Ohio takes advantage of the opportunity to high performance homes with modern amenities on the open lots in our

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established neighborhoods.  You can see the floor plans and full description of the project here: Hallie and Bliss and Shaker Design Competition

A Renewable Energy Future Is Here

Greetings!  It’s been quite a while since I wrote, and a lot has happened for our family since then.  Last spring my parents moved from their home of 42 years in Athens to be closer to us here in Akron.  No matter how well a house is adapted for aging in place, having family close by has a lot of advantages, and we decided to take the idea of “close by” seriously.  While Scott & I hadn’t been planning to move, there was a house for sale less than a block from where we were living. With its split level design, it wasn’t ideal for my parents but works quite well for us.  So, my parents moved into our ranch house, and we packed our things and moved up the street. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. The new house needed some work: new barn doors between my office and the dining room, updates to the master bath, more insulation, a new heating system, new hot water tank, and a new roof.

Those last three provided some great opportunities.  As I wrote in March of last year, we had just taken the ranch house to 100% renewable electric heating and cooling.  You can read that article here, Smart Sustainability – What It Meant For Our HouseBecause we needed a new heating system, we talked with our

consultant and decided to take the new house all electric too.  This meant an air source heat pump for heating instead of a gas furnace and a heat pump water heater. Both are more efficient than the “toaster” style heating of electric resistance heat. We didn’t need a new cooktop, but I enjoyed the induction cooktop at the ranch so much I was eager to get one for the split level. That allowed us to turn off the gas service and save the monthly fee for having an account with the gas company.  

Besides that, the new house has a nice big south-facing stretch of roof without shade!  So as soon as we got the shingles replaced, we installed solar panels. It’s a grid tied system that feeds electricity to our neighbors if we are generating more than we need.  If you have a sunny roof, you may want to look into panels soon: you can get a tax credit of up to 26% of the cost of the system through 2020, and 22% in 2021. Financing is available, including PACE financing linked to your property tax bill Renovate America, and since the panels start to save you money on your electricity as soon as they are running, they can pay for themselves!  With all that renewable goodness going on, I decided to go all electric with my car too: I just got a Chevy Bolt EV, with a range of 238 miles.

So over the last 2 years I’ve learned a lot, and I can speak from experience about some of the sustainable systems you may want to consider for your home. If you’d like to know more, just send me an email or give me a call! If you’re wondering where you might start with your home, stay tuned from next month’s issue of The Leaflet!

Smart Sustainability – What It Meant For Our House

Smart sustainability isn’t one size fits all. It wouldn’t be smart if it were. Each situation, each house, and each family are different. And each budget. So how do you decide what are the smart sustainable decisions for you? It’s a process. I recently went through this process for our family’s heating and cooling system, and here’s what it looked like for us.

Our furnace was due to be replaced soon and I didn’t want to have to pick a new system in a rush when it broke, so I called a consultant to start looking at our options. I’d already made some efficiency upgrades, starting with a blower door test and then adding caulking, attic insulation, spray foam in my basement rim joists, and a chimney cap that seals the fireplace flue from outside. I’d also switched our electricity supplier to one that provides 100% renewable power.* Still, I was surprised when my consultant suggested that the house was efficient enough to go off fossil fuels completely with an air-source heat pump.

I was excited about the idea of using only renewable energy to power our home, but the idea of a house with gas service available and no gas furnace was hard to get used to. Sure, I thought for a house built from the ground up for exceptional efficiency it would be easy and very practical to go all electric. And I’ve recommended all electric ground source heat pump systems for houses in the country with no gas available. But was this really a practical decision for our 1959 ranch in the city? Would we end up regretting it when we got our heating bills? Would it make more sense to get a less efficient heating system and spend the savings on more insulation?

We had modeling to compare the initial and operating cost of several solutions, but we had to make many other decisions about what was important to us before those comparisons could be useful. We were concerned about comfort, indoor air quality, and risks from carbon monoxide, so the system we selected needed to address those as well as efficiency. If we used a gas furnace, we wanted the safety and efficiency of sealed combustion. We also wanted the comfort of a variable speed fan. I was happy to go to an induction cooktop, so I wouldn’t

have to worry about creating indoor pollution every time I made tea. We wanted to get a heat pump rather than a simple air conditioner, so we could heat the house with renewables in the spring and fall. I was surprised to learn that eliminating the gas furnace could reduce the initial cost of the system, and that stopping the gas service would save us their monthly base fee.

With all these considerations, it became clear that going all electric made sense.

It was a smart decision. What made it smart was that we took the time to evaluate the options and consider all the factors from cost to comfort, rather than just replacing the old equipment with something similar. We considered what made sense for our individual house and family, rather than using a one-size-fits all solution. It took some extra effort, but making a smart sustainable decision was worth it.* To switch your electricity to 100% renewable power, visit Energy Choice Ohio and under the Residential heading choose your electricity provider (Ohio Edison, AEP, etc.). In the search bar at the left, choose “Renewable Content, 100%” and then click on “Filter Results”. The resulting chart will list the available plans with 100% renewable content.

Planning & Design

Here you will find all the articles we’ve written over the years. Pick and choose which articles most apply to you, or read them all. Improve your home with energy efficient upgrades, learn about non-traditional spaces and learn how an architect can affect your home project for the better. Whatever you decide to do, we’re glad you’re here. Welcome!

See the blog categories below and choose which articles you would like to read first.

Planning & Design (below)

Construction & Costs

Energy Efficiency & Maintenance 

City Living

New Homes

A Good Fit for New Leaf

At New Leaf, I’ve been working with several people on new home designs, in addition to my usual renovation projects. So I thought I’d share my thoughts about new home design, and what makes a new home project a good fit for New Leaf.  Read more of this article here.

Getting To Know You: Introduction Meetings and Consultation

It’s always nice to know what to expect when you do something new. And for most people, working with an architect is something new. So what happens after you decide to work with an architect and find one to call. During this first phone call, the architect will ask you some questions about your project: what you plan to do, where your home or building site is located, how soon you hope to start construction. Read more about this introduction here…

The Slow Home Movement

Some of you may have heard of the “Slow Food” movement: an approach to food based on the idea that food should taste delicious, be grown in a way that does not harm the environment or our health, and provide fair working conditions for the people who produce it.   Well, now there is a “Slow Home” movement that draws on this same kind of values-based approach.  As it turns out, the New Leaf approach to design has a lot in common with the Slow Home. Slowly read the rest of the article here.

The Checklist Manifesto

Reading this book had been on my list for a while, partly because it got a good deal of attention from USA Today, NPR and many other places, and partly because I went to high school with the author, Atul Gawande. It deals specifically with how checklists can improve the quality of medical care, but it applies to any complex process. You would think that once something becomes too complex, a checklist might become too inflexible and limited to be useful. Check this list article off your reading list here…

Spring. What a beautiful word!

As I write this I am sitting in a sunlit courtyard with early spring flowers in bloom, listening to the birds singing. Besides these natural sources of beauty, the surrounding building walls create a separation from the world outside, encouraging reflection. There are three benches available, to make it a comfortable place to sit. There is a tree in the center of the courtyard…Read the entire article before spring here.

What an architect really does all day…

When most people picture an architect, they probably think of her drawing “blueprints”.  I do spend some time drawing, but if you look in my office window, you are at least as likely to see me exchanging emails or talking on the phone. That’s because an architect doesn’t just “do drawings”.

What I really do is…Read the entire article here.

 

The Value of Design and Drawings

Not long ago I met with an older woman who had purchased a New Leaf consultation at an auction for a non-profit group.  Unfortunately, she had already had the addition to her home built, and had multiple complaints.  As a result, she wasn’t using the new spaces at all.  At this point there wasn’t a lot that I could do to correct the situation without substantial construction expense. Read the article here.

Beginning the Design Process: Programming

If you are just starting to think about a project things can seem a little overwhelming.  Where do you even begin? Fortunately, your architect has been here before.  We even have a name for this phase, where you may not have a clear idea of what the project should look like. It’s called Programming. At New Leaf Home Design, the programming process starts at our very first meeting, when you begin describing the big picture of what you want to accomplish. Finish the design process by reading the article here…

Add More Space without Adding Square Footage

This project is proof you can make your home look and live bigger without adding any square footage. Located in one of Highland Square’s multi-story condominium buildings, adding on wasn’t an option for this home. So instead of adding space, we used three strategies to make the space we had work better:

  1. We opened up the wall between the Kitchen and the entry hall, creating a visual connection with the living areas. Even with the Kitchen located diagonally from the living spaces, removing this wall allows you to See the before and after pictures here.   

Getting To Beautiful

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Someone thought those ceiling beams were beautiful. It would not have been me.” Debra Silber wrote this recently in an article for “Fine Homebuilding” magazine on what makes a house beautiful. And while I agreed with most of the article, I disagreed with her comment about the ugly ceiling beams. I am confident that no one ever really looked at them and said “these are beautiful”. So why were they there? See the beams here…

The Value of Good Planning

Whatever your project, it’s important to have plenty of time to find the right professionals for your team, consider your design options, and make decisions. Now is a good time to start planning for the projects you would like to have built next spring...Read the article here.

Beautiful Inside and Out: What The Leaflet is All About

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The photo above shows a lot of the things that get me excited about designing homes: the shelter provided by warm walls and roof; the natural light, views, and controlled sun warmth provided by well-placed windows; and the beauty of materials put together with craftsmanship in a way that will last a century or more. There are plenty of websites and magazines where you can find photos of beautiful finished homes and you can read more about it here…

Tiny Houses: The Big Picture

I confess, I secretly dream of building and living in a tiny house.  Apparently, there are aTiny Houses- the Big Picture1lot of people who share this dream.  You can now find websites, blogs, conferences, and more devoted to nothing but tiny houses. In case you’ve missed the attention they have been getting lately, “tiny house” refers to a stand-alone dwelling of roughly 500 square feet or less, with many smaller than 120 square feet. Read the big article here..

Energy Efficiency & Maintenance

Home Energy Renovations: When You Can’t Go Down To The Studs

A couple of months ago I met with a client who wanted to make significant energy improvements to an older house. But because the house was occupied, it wasn’t possible to go down to the studs to do the kind of deep energy retrofit Project Rebuild is doing in Canton. (If you missed that story in The Leaflet, you can find it here in the October issue.) Still, there were a lot of opportunities to reduce the energy usage and lower their utility bills. In fact, the suggestions I made for that house provide a pretty good checklist for things you might want to consider for improvements at your own home. Read More Here…

Raising the Bar for the Quality of Home Construction

Our country could be building better quality homes, but we aren’t.  Why not?  The number of newhomes built has risen steadily in the past 5 years, and continues to do so.   Unfortunately, most of these homes will be built to meet the current building code, and not much better.  Perhaps the worst news is that many of the people buying these homes don’t know that they COULD have a house that cost less to heat and cool, is more comfortable, is more durable, and provides a healthier environment for their families, at less total cost than a similar code minimum house. Raise the Bar by Reading More Here

Checking for Icicles

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This is a great time of year to see whether you could lower your heating bills by adding insulation. If you can see the pattern of your roof rafters in the snow on your roof…Watch for Icicles Here…

Get Ready for Winter

Now that it’s almost November, you’ve probably spent some time getting your yard ready for winter by raking leaves, putting the gardens to bed, and maybe putting away some outdoor furniture. But before you get too comfy with that cup of hot chocolate, you’ll want to make sure your house is ready for winter. And fall is the best time to start planning that renovation or addition you are thinking about for next spring. I’ll give you a few tips on things you can do to winterize your home. Get Ready to Read More

Green Certification and You

So, you may ask, just what is  Green certification and how does it help in building a Green home, or renovating my existing home? 

Simply put, Green certification is a way for you to know that a new home or renovation really incorporates design and features that make it more sustainable than a home “built to code”; that the word “Green” isn’t just being used as a marketing tool.  Several  regional and national organizations have developed programs to create Green benchmarks, with the goal of encouraging more high quality, sustainable home building around the country. Read more here.

Window Condensation Problems

I had a past client call the other day with a question about their windows. This summer they had some morework done on their home in Bath, including new siding and more new windows. Recently, as the temperatures outside got lower, they had been getting condensation inside the new windows. They’d never had condensation on either the original windows or the larger triple pane ones they had installed as part of our project together, so they wondered if the new windows were faulty. Read the entire article here…

Project Rebuild

*Project Rebuild:
Making A House Built in 1915 Green Enough for LEED Platinum
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Photo of Project REBUILD class with project partners from Saint Gobain, Northeast Ohio USGBC, Malone University, Learn About Green LLC, and New Leaf Home Design

Who says a house built in 1915 can’t have super low energy bills, great indoor air quality, and be super comfortable to live in?  New Leaf Home Design is excited to be a part of  the Project REBUILD, Inc. deep energy retrofit of this Canton home.  We are setting our sights on a LEED Platinum certificate, which will provide third party verification that the house meets a broad range of sustainability criteria. Read about Project Rebuild here.

Battle of The Energy Audits

I recently had not one, but two energy audits done on my house. I’ve mentioned before that Dominion East Ohio is offering audits through their Good Cents program for just $50. Then at the Home & Flower

jpeg (1)Show, I learned that Dr. Energy Saver will do an audit for free. I had wondered before how the Good Cents audit compared to others, so I decided this was a great opportunity to find out. My research isn’t complete though, since I have not (yet?) had an audit from Green Street Solutions, another local company who is currently charging $250. Even at $250, an audit is a great investment, since it provides you with information that can help you save considerably more than that. Here’s what I’ve found…

The Energy Audit Saga Continues

In my last newsletter, I wrote about the two energy audits I had done recently: one through Dominion East Ohio’s Goo

dCents program, the other through a company specializing in audits. If you missed that article and would like to read a comparison of the two audits, just click below: Battle of the Energy Audits. Well, after getting all that information on where my house is losing energy, you might wonder what I’m doing about it. Read all about it here…

Energy Efficiency Opportunities when you Renovate

Last week I talked with two different potential new clients about renovating their homes.  Two

home-rigid-foam-insulationthings on both of their lists were new siding and new shingles.  I perked right up because those are both great opportunities to make a home more energy efficient, and if you pass up the opportunity it will be a loooong time before you have another.  Let’s face it, energy efficiency usually isn’t the main thing that makes us want to renovate our homes.  The need to move the Master Bedroom to the first floor, the desire for a more functional Kitchen, and even wanting to update the look of the house are the kinds of things that motivate most renovations. Read more here.

Zero Energy Ready

zeroenergyreadyIf you have been following the buzz on sustainable homes, you may have heard the term “Net Zero Home”.  The idea of Net Zero is to create a home that generates as much energy as it uses.  Since energy usage affects both the operating costs and the environmental impact of a house long after construction is done, it’s arguably the most important consideration in building a more sustainable home.  So how do you know if you’ve met Net Zero?   And what can you do if solar panels are part of the long term plan for the house but you won’t be installing them right away? Read the answer here…

Shaker Design Competition

In January of this year I had the honor of participating in a design competition hosted by the City of Shaker Heights.  Twelve teams submitted conceptual drawings for infill lots in the Moreland Heights neighborhood. Read more here…

A Renewable Energy Future Is Here

Greetings!  It’s been quite a while since I wrote, and a lot has happened for our family since then.  Last spring my parents moved from their home of 42 years in Athens to be closer to us here in Akron.  Click here to read the entire article.

Smart Sustainability – What It Meant For Us House

Smart sustainability isn’t one size fits all. It wouldn’t be smart if it were. Each situation, each house, and each family are different. And each budget. So how do you decide what are the smart sustainable decisions for you? It’s a process. I recently went through this process for our family’s heating and cooling system, and here’s what it looked like for us. Read the article by clicking here.