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Green living

Small remodeling jobs can reduce your home's environmental footprint

By Nina Wu

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 21, 2010

Remodeling your home is a perfect opportunity to go green.

Although it's a popular buzzword these days, the ultimate payoff for incorporating new environmentally friendly products and design in your home is that you can lower household maintenance and energy costs.

If you're rebuilding your home from the ground up, you might want to consider "passive design" strategies, according to design-build firm Graham Builders, which conducts seminars on the topic. That means using natural elements -- sunlight, for instance -- to light your home through strategically placed windows, or positioning your home to take advantage of natural breezes, lowering air-conditioning costs, or planting a tree in the right spot to provide shade.

HOME SEMINAR

Graham Builders' Building Comfort & Savings Seminar, Sat., July 17, 9-11 a.m., Honolulu Country Club

 

Installing a solar water heating system to reduce electrical bills is probably the single most cost-effective change to make, and tax credits can help homeowners recoup a portion of their investment.

Other steps include switching to EnergyStar appliances and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and installing water-saving low-flow shower heads and dual-flush toilets. The EnergyStar program, a joint effort by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, certifies products to be energy-efficient without sacrificing performance.

Eco-friendly building and finish materials include cork flooring, plastic composite lumber for decks and paints low in volatile organic compounds.

 

KEEPING COOL STARTS AT THE TOP

1. Reflective roof coatings
» Products such as Hawaiian SunGuard, which contains ceramic titanium for greater reflectivity, and White Lava can reduce heat by up to 20 degrees, according to manufacturers.
» Cost: A 5-gallon bucket of White Lava or Hawaiian SunGuard sells for $125 or $154, respectively.
» More info: www.hawaiiansunguard.com and www.leakmaster.com

 

THE POWER OF THE SUN

2. A solar-powered attic fan
» Ventilates attic space, reducing the load on your home's air-conditioning system and increasing fresh air circulation
» Cost: $659 to $1,000 before state and federal tax credits

3. Solatube Daylighting System
» A clear dome installed on the roof and connected to a glass diffuser in the ceiling via a metal tube -- provides natural light during the day
» Cost: $650 to $900 (qualifies for 30 percent federal tax credit)
» For more info: www.hawaiiskylights.com

4. Solar water heater systems
» Absorbs sunlight through collectors, usually flat panels mounted on south-facing roof, transferring the heat to water circulating through the collector. The heated water is then stored in a tank for use day or night. Solar water heaters can reduce energy costs by as much as 40 percent.
» Cost: $6,250 before tax credits and rebates, depending on the size of the system, according to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. After state and federal tax credits, plus a $750 utility rebate from the Hawaii Energy Efficiency Program, the cost dwindles to about $1,200. System takes about two years to pay for itself.

5. Solar photovoltaic systems
» Rooftop panels containing silicone cells that convert sunlight into energy and connect to an inverter box that supplies electricity to the home
» Cost: $25,000 to $50,000, depending on household energy use, sun zone, and size of system. A three-bedroom home in Kailua already equipped with a solar water heater, for example, can fully power itself with a 2.76-kilowatt solar PV system. Qualifies for both state and federal tax credits. Takes about six to 10 years to pay for itself, but savings from net metering should kick in right away.
» More info on tax incentives: www.energytaxincentives.org. Rebates: www.hawaiienergy.com

 

NOT JUST FOR WINE

6. Cork floors
» While bamboo has become popular as a sustainable material for floors, cork is making a comeback from the 1950s, according to Mike Reeves, owner of Green Builders Depot in Honolulu, which sells Nova Cork Klick Planks with a 20-year warranty. Cork is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees (mostly from forests in Spain and Portugal) about every nine or 10 years. Cork floors are ideal for kitchens, bathrooms and playrooms, according to Reeves. It's durable, mold-resistant and provides more cushion than hardwood floors.
» Cost: Home Depot sells a light or dark Lisbon cork for $1.99 per square foot; at Lowe's, a locking cork hardwood floor is $2.98 per square foot; Nova Cork ranges between $6 to $9 per square foot, depending on color, shade and cut. Compare with laminate flooring at 68 cents to $2.75 per square foot at Lowe's, ceramic tile starts for as low as 77 cents per square foot at Home Depot, and high-end hardwoods at $4.18 or more per square foot).
» More info: www.novafloorings.com

 

NO-ODOR

7. Paints low in volatile organic compounds
» Paints low in volatile organic compounds (VOC) are becoming a more popular choice for homeowners concerned about toxins released indoors, especially in a child's room. Low- and zero-VOC paints claim to emit no odor within 45 minutes to an hour after application. Green Builders Depot at the Airport Trade Center carries several choices of zero-VOC paints, including American Pride and Mythic Paints (which are certified by Greenwise). DuraSoy, a bio-based paint, is good for both indoors and outdoors without a primer. Home Depot and Lowe's also carry low-VOC paints, along with Benjamin Moore.
» Cost: $37 to $54 per gallon at Green Builders Depot; $27 to $37 per gallon for Martha Stewart Living low-VOC paint at Home Depot. Compare with standard Behr paint sells $23 to $33 per gallon.
» More info: www.greenbuilderesdepotintl.com

 

REUSE AND RECYCLE

8. Salvaged wood for decks
» When it comes to building a deck, there are several green choices, including recycled lumber, plastic lumber or a composite lumber made from a mix of plastic and wood. For recycled lumber, try visiting Reuse Hawaii in Kakaako, which stocks materials it salvages from taking homes apart. Trex, a composite lumber made of both wood and plastic fibers from used pallets and recycled plastic grocery bags, is available at Lowe's and Honsador. While it might cost slightly more than redwood, it won't have to be treated for termites and should last a good 20 to 30 years, according to the manufacturer.
» Cost: Trex composite decking costs anywhere from $23.97 to $46.97 per plank at Lowe's, depending on size; Honsador sells Trex direct to consumers at about $3.50 per lineal foot.
» More info: www.reusehawaii.org.

 

SAVE ON WATER BILLS

9. Low-flow/dual-flush toilets
» A low-flow toilet uses only 1.28 gallons of water per flush (gpf), compared with 1.6 gpf for a standard toilet -- a 20 percent savings. The Dual-Max dual-flush TOTO offers two settings: a flush of 0.9 gallons gpf for liquids and 1.6 gpf for solids. TOTO sales representative Ryoko Mizushima at the Bathroom Store on Dillingham said there are many low-flush choices, but a quality toilet should need only a single flush to do the job. Look for the WaterSense label, which requires third-party certification. An average family of four that replaces its older toilets with WaterSense fixtures can save more than $90 per year on water bills.
» Cost: Home Depot carries a Glacier Bay Dual Flush toilet for $158 (uses 1.1 gpf for liquids/1.6 gpf for solids), just slightly more than a low-flow American Standard Cadet 3 (1.28 gpf) at $147. A low-flow TOTO starts at about $100, while a dual-flush version costs $400 and up.
» More info: www.epa.gov/watersense/pubs/toilets.html

 

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