The following interview was conducted with Marlayna Phenechka, a building subcontractor based in Asheville, North Carolina who practices green building and sustainable thinking. Phenechka has worked on both residential and commercial real estate projects in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. She outlines some basic upgrades to facilitate more efficient and less expensive heating and cooling. The upgrades are a smart investment for the average consumer since the money spent is quickly recouped.
Turn Off the Hot Water! On-Demand Hot Water Heaters
(Estimated Cost: $250-800 Labor: $400-1400)
The resources used to heat water is expensive, often the second highest residential energy use in homes. Did you know most hot water heaters in homes are designed to keep water hot constantly? One good way to save electricity or gas is to simply turn off the hot water, and turn it on only when needed. Consult an electrician to install a timer or switch. Have them turn the water heater down from a manufacture's scalding 140 to 115 degrees. Another overlooked method to cutting costly water utility bills is to simply buy a 'blanket' for your water heater.
In Europe, modern Asia and Israel, On-Demand, or Tankless, Hot Water Heaters are more common than the hot water tanks in US homes. These cost effective, efficient devices turn hot water off unless it's in use. Phenechka says, "There's an off mode on this system. There is no pilot light either, which saves valuable energy. Many On-Demand Hot Water Heaters are even made with a temperature remote control feature so the user can adjust the temperature to his or her preference, saving even more energy."
The best On-Demand or Tankless Hot Water Heater uses liquid propane or gas as a source of energy. If main power is shut down for some reason there will still be hot water. "The size of an On-Demand Hot Water Heater is about the same as a backpack and weighs approximately 30-40 pounds," Phenechka adds. In some cases, installing a gas line to fuel the On-Demand Hot Water Heater may incur an extra expense, though liquid propane may be a better option. The majority of US states offer a tax credit for these devices.
Heat Pump Heating and Cooling Systems
(Estimated Cost for the system and installation $3,000-8,500)
Heat Pumps are a great way to conserve money on heating and cooling. "Some heat pumps come with heat and air conditioning and are well worth the initial investment. During milder winter days, the heat pump draws in warm air through the home's ducts; in the summer, it pulls in cool air and dehumidifies it at the same time," says Phenechka. A heat pump is far more efficient then many other heating and cooling systems and saves some homeowners as much as $100 per month or more. Make sure you purchase a programmable thermostat with the system and check and seal any leaks all your original air ducts and returns to optimize your investment!
Attic Exhaust Fan
(Estimated Cost: $80-$250)
Installing (or repairing) an exhaust, or gable, fan in the attic can make a huge difference in airflow, humidity, and temperature in a home. Solar exhaust fans, with their own tiny solar panel are now available at many of the big box stores! Hot air especially gets trapped in the attic, and without an exhaust fan, it is hard for this air to move and the home's temperature stays high. Attic fans are easily installed, and most have sensors for temperature and humidity so the fan automatically turns on. A gable fan ensures that even if there is air conditioning in the home it is not overused.
There is also a whole house fan system made to work in conjunction with an attic fan. The whole house fan system is an alternative to air conditioning especially in cooler, dry climates. It harnesses and pulls in the cool air that exists outside to the interior of a home through open windows at night.
(Cost: $50-$100 each)
Ceiling fans also eliminate much of the need for air conditioning and sometimes act as a complete alternative to AC. "Ceiling fans have a wind chill factor of three and up," states Phenechka "a ceiling fan in each room can have a huge impact on the comfort inside." When a home is being heated in the winter, a ceiling fan will help spread the heated air more evenly throughout the house. Ceiling fans are a great way to upgrade a home, and many attractive fans, some with lighting fixtures, are available to choose from. Don't forget to use energy efficient bulbs in the ceiling fan for increased energy savings.
Green Upgrades and Renovations for Commercial Real Estate
Many of the green strategies mentioned not only have value for residential homeowners but also for commercial real estate such as retail stores, office buildings, apartment buildings, factory plants, restaurants and shopping malls. Heating and cooling costs are a major issue for commercial real estate developers and investors. If you want to save money on monthly bills consider hiring a green building and renovation specialist to upgrade the heating and cooling system of your commercial property. Commercial fan systems and on demand hot water heaters can hold great long term value for commercial real estate owners and are a healthy business investment.
These simple, green living recommendations will make your home or building more energy efficient and save you money over the long term. Whether you have hundred or thousands to spend on environmentally conscious, real estate upgrades and renovations there are affordable green solutions to keep your heating and cooling costs down. In a time of rising energy costs, it makes sense to go green. These kinds of heating and cooling upgrades and renovations will increase the value of your commercial or residential property and make it more attractive to future buyers.