How Can I Green Our House?

fandlilApril 10, 2008

We live in a 1600 square foot one-story house in central North Carolina, and are interested in exploring our options for going green. How do we go about getting the information we need so we can do the numbers and decide what makes sense? Some specific questions:

1. How do I find out if we have enough wind to use a personal windmill? If net metering is not an option (let's say our utility doesn't like it), can we use a windmill to generate juice that we use, and can the utility's juice kick in automatically when needed? Is there proven technology for this?

2. What about photovoltaic cells? I read that a new technology has greatly reduced their cost. Is this a breakthrough that translates into more widespread use at a price that makes them cost effective? How can I find out?

3. Solar collectors for heating water. For hot water we have a traditional gas heated water tank. We have forced air heat provided by a hydronic system, not as efficient as the latest gas furnaces but it doesn't dry the air as much. If, when the boiler goes ( or nears the end of its usable life), we replace it with a tankless type system (say, one made by Rinnai), will that be compatible with our hydronic heat AND could a solar heat collector be used to reduce the consumption of natural gas?

4. Finally, we live in a subdivision that has a homeowners association that is somewhat fussy about the appearance of things. So anything we want to do that affects the outside appearance of the house or that raises the noise level, which a windmill will do, would have to be cleared with them. How can I find out about the "environmental impact" of any of the green installations we might be putting in?

Many thanks for your help.

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Thanks, solargary, for your detailed post. It will take me a while to process all the info you've provided, and it's given me the start that I need to get moving.

BTW, there's a good book on global warming and what can be done about it, written by Fred Krupp, president of the Envir Defense Fund, EARTH: THE SEQUEL. He was on book tour at Duke a couple of weeks ago. Good speaker, good book, good ideas.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 4:14PM
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It certainly isn't sexy like a wind turbine, PV, or solar hot water, but how are the "bones" of your house? Have you done a blower door and duct blaster test? How efficient is your HVAC? How much insulation do you have? These are all things I'd take care of before thinking about dropping tens of thousands on green power. Especially since any of the options you've listed is going to have a very long-term payback.

Take a look at either the Energy Star program for homes or Southface's Earthcraft home program (both the new construction or renovation guidelines should help you get an idea of what's considered valuable).

IIRC, NC passed a renewable portfolio standard recently. There may be more incentives for the kinds of things you mentioned as a result. You may also be able to pay a surcharge to your utility (Duke Power, I presume) and claim a block of green power for yourself.

I hunted for an article from the AJC but couldn't find it (lousy search engine). Basically talking about someone in Atlanta who was planning to put in a wind turbine at a cost of ~$80k and how much opposition they were getting from the neighborhood.

I guess my point is- do the invisible stuff first. If you want to wear your green on your shoulder, start small, say with a rain barrel.

Go Devils!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 10:14AM
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homeowners association that is somewhat fussy about the appearance of things

Florida has some new laws - and I would imagine as is the norm here, they have mostly mirrored new laws from other states. Perhaps your state has similar laws.

Here, Homeowners associations, deed restrictions or most any normal type property restrictions for a home,,, no one can deny a home owner the rights to conserve energy with solar and other energy savings methods because of how it looks basicly... not sure if included windmills though.

We can even have clothes lines. No deed nor association or city/county restriction can enforce any rule denying normal energy savings aesthetics.
Anybody trying to enforce restrictions that might restrict savings of energy savings of any kind have liability issues for the home owners litigation costs and some other damages to resolve it.

Of course we as good neighbors always want to be considerate of our neighbors - But apparently we don't absolutely have to play nice.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 11:30AM
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The wave of tankless waterheaters rides on comparing them with tank type heaters of 30 years ago. If you have a fairly new water, just go put your hand on it. Modern insulation renders them just as efficient as the tankless. Electric heaters are ALL 85% efficient. That's a function of an electric heating element immersed in water. The big downside to tankless is the very high instantaneous current draw that will likely bring a power company surcharge down on you in the future. A large tank (80-120 gallon) connected to a HRU on the A/C (if you use A/C frequently) is the best way to heat water.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2008 at 5:09AM
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