Retrofitting Your Existing Home
One of the greatest challenges and opportunities green building faces is the renovation of homes. The majority of our existing stock requires some level of retrofit to enable us to live more sustainably. It can be difficult to prioritize which projects should be completed first when improving your existing home, but it is critical to adopt a tailored approach. Retrofitting isn’t a one size fits all approach, every home is different and with most renovations you only have one chance at things such as siding, sheet rock being removed, or finishing an attic or basement. It is essential to do it right the first time and by having a holistic approach and focusing on the whole house as a system, you can insure the sequencing of projects done is in the right order.
As of October 2013, in King County there are close to 500,000 single family homes and of those, 421,369 were built before 2000. Within the next 10 years, over 100,000 homes in the Puget Sound area will be significantly remodeled. So it's important to make the renovations count by doing things properly and in the right order.
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WHERE DO I BEGIN WITH RETROFITTING MY HOME?
The best place to start is with a professional energy assessment. There are numerous DIY checklists that exist, but it’s best to take advantage of all the diagnostic tools energy auditors have like infrared thermal scanners, duct blaster and blower door tests. Every home is unique, so it's important to find out what is specifically going on in your house to create a customized approach and plan. In addition, having a benchmark to your homes efficiency level will be useful in assessing how much energy savings you will have after the retrofit!
The easiest way to save money on energy is through conservation, so in my opinion, insulation and air sealing is one of the most important fundamental components of retrofitting.
Beyond the conservation of energy, the consumption and creation of energy within your house is also vital. Ultimately making good choices and using energy smart appliances will limit your consumption. People use energy, not our homes, so focusing on your plug loads is equally important when looking at the house as a whole. If you know how much demand your household needs then you start figuring out how to supplement that demand for electricity.
There are a lot of things that consume large amounts of energy that you may not be aware of. Using plug load monitors will let you know how much energy your devices use so you’ll know which ones need to be unplugged. Some of the top energy consuming devices people might not think about are aquariums, color copiers, dehumidifiers, and gaming devices such as Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360.
Solar & wind should be considered for a long term sustainable way to create energy. Solar panels and residential wind turbines are becoming more affordable with some break even points in 6-7 years instead of 12-15 like a few years ago. If you are planning on being in your house for a long time, your energy could be free after a short period of time. If you aren’t, the added value you will get from marketing a home with renewable energy could reimburse the installation cost when you sell it.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF RETROFITTING MY HOME?
Beyond the basics of green building benefits in helping the environment, improving your indoor air quality and being energy efficient, you can save money on energy as well as free yourself of being dependent on the electrical grid.
A huge benefit is an increase in the comfort and livability of the home. Some people never thought that cold spot in their home would go away!
You will also see an increase in the appreciation of your home and market value compared to other homes not retrofitted, and yours will likely spend less time on the market when for sale.
CHECKLIST ITEMS FOR RETROFITTING MY HOME
There are numerous things you can do to retrofit your home. But a great place to start with a low cost project is to replace all your traditional bulbs with CFLs or LEDs.
Lighting represents almost 10% of consumption, so switching to energy smart bulbs is critical. Small things can make a big difference and replacing energy wasting lighting is easy and affordable.
Seattle City Lights offers discounts on CFL bulbs as well as lighting fixtures. If Puget Sound Energy is your electrical provider they will come and replace up to 50 of them for you through their HomePrint Assessment program.
Ventilation – Ventilation includes both the exchange of air to the outside as well as circulation of air within a building. If a whole house fan isn’t an option, one way to achieve air exchanges in an existing home would be to use a Panasonic Whisper Light Fan in your bath, garage and laundry rooms. These are very quiet and can be set on a timer for convenience.
Insulation – The better insulated your home is, the less money you’ll spend on heating. You want to take care of your housing envelope and insulate when you have the opportunity. This is great to think about when replacing the roof, having sheet rock removed, siding replaced, or plumbing and electrical updates.
Material Use – Salvaging and reusing materials during your retrofitting project is very effective. If salvaging is not possible, look into incorporating locally produced or sustainable materials. Keep in mind low VOC paints and finishes as well as materials that don’t have formaldehyde or toxins in them for healthy indoor air.
Renewable Energy – For a long term sustainable energy source alternative power should be considered. Solar panels and residential wind turbines are becoming more affordable with some break even points in 6-7 years now instead of 12-15 like a few years ago. If you are planning on being in your house for long, your energy could be free after a short period of time.
Plug Loads – We use plug loads every day, and they represent a large amount of our energy consumption. Plug Load Monitors are available for you to see how much energy your devices use and which need to be unplugged. You’d be surprised! Some manufacturers offer smart appliances which can be connected to smart electric meters to shift your electric use to off-peak hours. At the very least using energy star appliances helps you save money and reduce your energy usage,thus reducing your carbon footprint.
Seal Air Drafts – Heat escapes through unsealed windows, outlets, ducting, doorways and more. Air sealing is one of the most inexpensive retrofits that can net you great energy savings.
Upgrade or Weatherize Windows & Doors – Older homes can benefit with a window and door upgrade.
Tune up your HVAC Systems – Having regular tune-ups of your HVAC system, as well as cleaning your filters monthly, can save you money and keep them running at optimal levels. If upgrading your furnace, choose a AFUE rating of at least 92%.
Upgrade your Skylights – Heat rises, and if your skylight is inefficient it can let a lot of warmth escape.
Install a Programmable Thermostat – Programming a thermostat to your schedule can help you save lots.
Decrease Water Usage – Install WaterSense low flow toilets, shower-heads & faucet aerators.
Plant Trees – Planting trees to provide shade in the summer and protect from wind in the winter helps keep energy costs down.
Low Impact Development- It is important to have low impact development. As communities grow, so does the amount of surface area covered by roads, roofs, and parking lots. Low impact development is a sustainable storm water practice that helps manage runoff.
Examples of L.I.D are:
- Rain Barrels catch rainwater for irrigation use.
- Rain Gardens and Bio swales which collects storm water runoff from roofs,
driveways and other impervious surfaces.
- Veggie Roof Tops absorb rain water and reduce energy costs.
- Permeable Pavement like roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks allow
rainwater to seep through which prevents soil erosion. These are black pavers,
porous asphalt or concrete and grid systems.