Building a Green Home, a Look Back

When my husband and I embarked on this project I believed green living and a tech lifestyle could co-exist, what I found was that technology helped us be more energy efficient, more connected and smarter in the way we designed, built and live in our home.  Looking back on the 24 months we have invested in this project, I have learned so much and have enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned with you, our daily readers. Today marks the final blog entry on Green Life Smart Life but I will continue to blog on green and energy topics on our Caster Blog and hope you join us there. The site and the blogs will remain intact for your future reference and I wish you well in your green building projects, feel free to email me at info {at} greenlifesmartlife.com if you have any questions.

Here is my final entry and an overview of what we did.

When we decided to build our new home in April of 2008, we also decided we wanted to build it green. We wanted a home that captured the incredible views of Narragansett Bay and the Newport Bridge; integrated sustainable design with durability measures that would handle the harsh weather elements of the Northeast corridor; and incorporated smart home technology to enable us to live in a high-tech, high-touch, entertainment driven environment.

We were dedicated to building the home to achieve LEED for Homes certification, and despite our 4,529 sq/ft of living space, our home achieved 92.5 points. From energy management to water conservation and from high performance building techniques to a systematic waste management plan, our team worked together every step of the way to bring Gold to this project.

The Nantucket style home was stick built and framed using FSC sourced lumber whenever it was available, FSC-certified white cedar shingles flanked the home’s exterior, with Versatex specified for all eaves, trim and moldings for their long life in the salt ridden air. Being built in a 120-mph coastal wind zone, we selected Pella’s Hurricaneshield windows for both their impact resistance and their ENERGY STAR ratings. With spray foam insulation filling the building envelope the home received a HERS rating of 58. The extra steps that we took in building our foundation included french drains and a sump pump really paid off for us when RI encountered the recent historic flooding; as neighbors pumped their basements, our home stayed completely dry through and after the storms!

We are thrilled with our decision to install a five-zone geothermal HVAC system, including a dedicated heat pump for the wine cellar. Our electric bills are coming in just slightly higher than our previous 2,200 sq/ft oil heated home, but we have no monthly oil or gas bill to pay. The system also included dual water tanks for holding hot water, two Environmental Recovery Ventilators, and a water pump for diverting water from the well to the 5,000 gallon rainwater harvesting system should their not be enough rainfall (looks doubtful) and eliminating any exterior municipal water for irrigation. Our water bill to date has been the lowest we’ve had in years, with no excess usage charges.

I really enjoyed working on the interior finished of our home which included 200 year old reclaimed barn wood floors, a wine cellar with racks made from the reclaimed Point Judith County Club deck, recycled countertops, sinks and tile, low-flow plumbing fixtures including 1.0 gpf toilets, 1.75 gpm showerheads and 1.5 gpm faucets; locally-made FSC early-American cabinetry and zero VOC paints and finishes. Wood scraps were used to make the custom closets, shorter floor boards were relegated to closet sections and even the lavette sink was crafted from leftover materials, but you’d never know it to look at the design of our house. Even our furniture and fabrics choices were sustainable!

One of the real unique attributes to the project was the complete integration of smart home technology to monitor and control every subsystem in the home. We really pushed the threshold of innovative technologies with the goal of saving energy while not forgoing our lifestyle. The design included a Control4 system for integrated management of HVAC, irrigation, Lutron lighting control, security and state-of-the art entertainment. It also includes an energy management system that aggregates data and communicates areas of consumption that can be lowered to conserve energy, which was really important when we first got into the house to help determine if we were hitting our energy goals (and budgets).

I know our home is big and we’ve taken our share of flack for that. But honestly, this is an affluent, waterfront community and a small house would have been both out-of-place and a bad investment. I truly feel our home could be anyone’s home, whether it is in whole or in part.  One of the things I learned during this process is you don’t have to do everything but you can do something and that was the point of this project, to inspire everyone to do something that makes a difference for our environment.

I hope you enjoyed reading us because I certainly enjoyed sharing. Happy greening!

posted by Kimberly Lancaster, founder Green Life Smart Life project (Twitter | newscaster)

Electrolux is taking cooking to a whole new level

Electrolux is planning a whole new way to use your stove.  Electronics are taking over and why not add a bit of intelligence to your cooktop?  Electrolux is looking at ways to make pots and pans obsolete.  They want people who enjoy cooking and those without any cooking experience to operate the same stove.  Forget getting sauce splattered all over your cookbook, it’s not even a necessity in the kitchen anymore. 

Henrik  Otto, director of Global Design for Electrolux in Sweden has come up with  smart kitchens of 2050. Otto and his team at Electrolux believe in energy efficient appliances as well as appliances that can serve many different functions.

Here is what they think it would look like.  Electrolux Design Concept “Heart of the home” animation

Heart of the home is a shape shifting cooktop that is directly on your countertop that responds to touch as well as a built in cookbook that responds to touch as well.  Ideally they will design this with a simple touch of the hand able to outline the size of the pot or pan you wish to use, the temperature as well as the texture of the pot or pan.  You will also be able to press down your hand to determine the depth of the pot or pan.  You will be able to move around your pots with a simple touch in order to have what you need in front of you. 

The countertop will also provide holes that allow you to place food or herbs in them and the built in cookbook will pop up recipes.  Otto thinks this will be a great way for people to try new flavors that they wouldn’t have imagined together.  I am hoping this will be coming out before 2050!

Posted by Kate Kiselka, Follow me on Twitter

Healthy Furniture is the Future in a Green Home

The new rage in interior design is eco friendly and healthy fabrics, surfaces, textures and finishes.   People are finding the importance to using local woods and organic material, they are making a change to their carbon footprint, and making changes in order to “green” their lives.  Switching to organic foods, cleaners and even the way they care for their pets and lawn.  Many people have started looking further into organic living and have started to purchase organic materials for their clothing as well as taking a step back and looking at the furniture including their beds which they spend almost half their lives lounging on. 

The things that make a couch structurally sound and comfortable may actually be harmful to humans and their pets.  According to research done by Building Green there is evidence that the flame halogenated retardants used on most couches can be very harmful to animals as well as humans.  Buying a couch that is made with Wool Linings is much safer.

BiOH polyols are a soy based ingredient used in upholstered furniture, bedding, carpet backing and even automobile seats.  The reason the switch to BiOH is such a great choice is because they are made from soy bean oil which is a renewable source unlike traditional foam which is made from petroleum-based products.  It is a comparable product without having such a large environmental footprint.  It is a responsible choice for those looking for an environmentally friendly product. 

Using locally harvested wood for furniture is another important factor when consumers think about green furniture purchases.  The amount of time, money, energy and fuel it costs to ship a piece of wood from one place to another is costly and damaging to the environment.  This is why so many consumers are looking for local manufacturers to purchase their furniture from. 

When we went furniture hunting we wanted a company that had a solid green mission and offered a range of products including natural local woods, natural fabrics, and sourced from local companies.

We fell in love with New England based Circle Furniture, who works with manufacturers that have a commitment to the environment.  Most of the wood products made for Circle are made by people in New England including one of my favorites Maine Cottage which is where we got the bunk beds and bookshelves (picutred below) for Max’s room, Abby’s desk, and the bed and side tables for the guest room. They are locally made with low-VOC paints and finishes and have beautiful natural fabric choices as well. Paints and finishes are one of the leading causes for polluted indoor air according to the EPA.  Paints and finishes allow low level toxic emissions into the air over time.  Volatile Organic Compounds were once important to the performance of the paint, but now low VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes are available and are becoming very popular and in some cases required by new environmental regulations. 

The same goes for mattresses, we even bought new organic mattresses for the new beds.  Circle also uses Copeland which is a manufacturer that uses woods from forests that are not threatened and do not contain genetically modified trees, making them part of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  Copeland was recently awarded the 2009 Sage Award for reducing the industry’s environmental footprint. We chose this gorgeous Milford “cuddle couch” in a super soft corduroy fabric.

There are so many ways to decorate your home in sustainable style; it is getting much easier every year to find companies that construct attractive furniture using solid woods (FSC certified in some cases), natural fibers and low or no VOC finishes and varnishes. 

Furniture is an investment. As we have moved several times over the years, we’ve actually sold furniture with our house and it was fun to get to buy a number of new eco-friendly furniture pieces for the new house. It is important to note that inexpensive furniture is often made using composite woods that are made from glues that can contain formaldehyde—a known carcinogen!   Furniture treated for stain resistance contains chemicals that can pollute the air in your home.  So though we left off the stain protection we selected pieces with highly durable fabrics and finishes yet didn’t forgo style or comfort to bring green furniture into our home.

Kimberly Lancaster | follow me on Twitter

Greening up your Spring Cleaning

A couple of years ago after being fed up buying bottles of “green” window cleaner that never offered a larger sized re-fill version–I started making a few of my own cleaning products for everyday use around the house. Since then I have enjoyed a home free of that stinky cleaning product smell-which absolutely nauseates me just thinking about it, and keeps my lean budget a little meatier. I also get a great sense of satisfaction making something that works just as well and sometimes even better than some chemically engineered toxic compound.

I’m not saying to dump all your cleaning products down the sink—that would be insane and it could actually come back to haunt you by ending up in your water supply in diluted form! Use up what you have and then if you can try to reuse the spray bottle container. If you can’t reuse what you have a simple trip to your local hardware store or janitorial supply store will do the trick.

Here are some of my favorite solutions that are easy to make—and more importantly…they smell great and are effective!

Here is what you’ll need to pick up to start making your own cleaners:

Baking Soda

Lemon Juice (bottled works-fresh is best!)

White Vinegar (I buy it by the gallon)

Kosher Salt

Pure Castile Soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap)

Tea Tree Oil (Try your natural food store)

1. Great abrasive cleaner *works fantastic in the bathroom and kitchen

In the tubsprinkle surfaces with baking soda, then scrub with a stiff bristled brush or scrubber sponge. To tackle soap scum, sprinkle on some kosher salt w, and work up some elbow grease.

You can also make a paste out of baking soda and water for tough stains or really grimy areas like the oven—even letting it sit overnight …spray on little white vinegar let the chemical reaction happen and watch that stainless steel sink, stove top, or refrigerator shelves and bins sparkle!!

Mold or mildew in the shower or on the curtain? Try spraying white vinegar or even lemon juice—let it sit for a few minutes then hit it with a stiff bristled brush or a hard toothbrush in between grout lines.

2. Disinfectant that smells fabulous *great bleach alternative.

Mix 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of castile soap and 20 to 25 drops of tea tree oil. This works great in the bathroom in the sink and around/in the toilet! You can adjust the fragrance by selecting a scented castile soap…I like eucalyptus and peppermint!

3. Windows with a streak free finish

Combine 4 tablespoons of white vinegar per gallon of warm water and pour into a spray bottle. Spray solution on windows or any glass surface (coffee tables, bathroom mirrors etc.) and use one of Dad’s old undershirts or even newspapers to produce the cleanest windows you’ve ever seen.

*If you don’t like the smell of white vinegar you can use a mixture of lemon juice and club soda.

4. Floor cleaner *can be used on hardwood, tile or linoleum

You can keep your floors clean by combining 3 ¾ cups of warm water and ¼ cup of white vinegar in a spray bottle or a bucket, mop floor as you usually would. If you need some grit for hard to clean areas try using kosher salt for a scratch free abrasive floor cleaner that is safe.

Use caution when washing walls—this solution did discolor a piece of painted wall when I became a little over zealous in my cleaning efforts…try a test area first in a very unnoticeable spot!

5. Drain Cleaner *works for slow moving drains—untested on a blocked one

Drain cleaner is probably the most dangerous chemical I have ever brought into my house…recently I had a slowly draining bathroom sink and tried a non lethal remedy…guess what—it actually worked!

Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the drain (unscrew the stopper if you can for better access) pour an entire tea kettle or if you are using a nuker about 4 cups of boiling water into the drain.

If that still doesn’t do the trick—replace the sink stopper and add more baking soda then pour ½ cup of white vinegar into the drain. Cover tightly by closing the stopper, allowing the fizzies created by the chemical reaction to break down the greasy grimy clog. Flush with another tea kettle of boiling water.

Happy cleaning!!

Posted by Amanda | Follow me on twitter

Skip a flush or change your system!

Skipping a flush just doesn’t seem right, it’s a personal thing for me but I can’t see it being sanitary.  There are so many way’s to go green and to help you save money and in return are also helping the environment.  Putting low flow water heads throughout your home is a huge step.  Putting in a waterless urinal in my bathroom doesn’t really seem like an option so many greenies have suggested to opt on flushing when not truly necessary. 

The average toilet uses between 1.5 gallons and 7 gallons with each flush.  This is an overuse of water in most cases.  Water is one of the biggest green issues, the earth only has so much water, and so much of it is carelessly being used up and polluted.  There are many way’s to make sure your toilet is saving you as much water and money as possible.  The first thing to do is make sure your toilet is running efficiently

Installing a dual flush system is a great choice for those who are concerned about overuse of water.  The system allows two flushing options one with little water for liquid and a little more water for those that need an extra push.  A dual flush system is available for most toilets and for those who are renovating and replacing their existing toilet can purchase a new toilet with it already built in.  Most major toilet manufacturers carry at least one and many people are opting for his option when remodeling.

Saving money and saving water are the two best reasons to switch the way your toilet works now.  Before ordering dual flush, make sure your toilet is compatible.  Studies have shown that toilets that have been replaced with a dual flush toilet have saved almost 17,000 gallons of water a year. 

Posted by Kate Kiselka, follow me on Twitter

Energy Efficient Window Treatments

 

When people are choosing window treatments for their homes, most often times their primary concern is decoration or privacy. But window treatments can be a major factor in how energy efficient your home is. Selecting the right treatment can help you lower energy consumption in your home which is not only good for the earth, but good for your wallet as well.

Window shades can be very effective at preventing heat loss in the winter if they are installed correctly. Shades should be mounted as close to the glass as possible and the sides should be held close to the wall. This will create a sealed air space that will make it difficult for heat to escape. Raising the shades on sunlit windows during the day and then lowering them at night will help make the shades as energy efficient as possible. Also, consider dual shades as they are highly reflective (white) on one side and heat absorbent (black) on the other.

To prevent heat gain in the summer, blinds may be your best option. Blinds don’t do very much good when trying to prevent heat loss as the numerous openings between the slats   make it difficult to control how much heat you lose. However, when it comes to reducing heat gain, blinds have an advantage over shades because these slats can be adjusted to control ventilation and light. Highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by around 45% when completely closed and lowered on a sunny window.

The material is also very important when selecting an energy efficient window treatment. The best way to check a treatment’s energy efficiency is to look at the R-Value and Shading Coefficient. The R-Value will tell you the material’s effectiveness in preventing heat loss while the Shading Coefficient tells you how much heat is coming through the window. So, for example, if you are more concerned with heat loss than you are with heat gain, you would want to choose a material with a high R-Value and a low Shading Coefficient.

No one treatment is the most energy efficient for every situation. It mostly depends on the region you live in and what your primary insulation needs are. But as long as you keep all of these things in mind, you’ll be able to choose a treatment that looks great and is energy efficient as well.

Richard Moyle is the Internet Marketing Coordinator for Horizon Window Treatments.

Horizon is the largest and most trusted retailer of window treatments in New York City. 

Coffee, more than a pick me up

Coffee is a part of 1.4 billion people’s morning rituals.  Little do all these people know that the coffee grounds used to make their coffee have many more uses!   You can use the coffee grounds in your garden around your house and even on your skin. 

You can use the coffee grinds around your house, by using them to clean soap scum in your bathroom shower as well as to get caked on food off your pots and pans.  They are also a great use in getting that awful smell of garlic or onions off your hands.  Just like baking soda, coffee grinds also have the capability to take out the lingering smells from your fridge and freezer, just put them in an old nylon or sock and place it in the back.  Why spend money on baking soda when you have used coffee grinds?

Using them in the garden is also very easy.  By sprinkling them on your vegetable garden and flower bed’s it acts as a natural fertilizer and also repels unwanted pests.  If you have a compost pile you can use coffee grinds to restore nitrogen levels.  Coffee grinds are also food for worm’s which helps out your compost pile as well as your garden. 

Lastly coffee grinds can be used as a natural exfoliate for your skin.  The best way is by adding an egg white to ¼ cup coffee grounds for a facial mask.  You can also take it right in the shower and use it on dry skin.  Why you are in there, remember that it can be used to wash away soap scum.

Who thought a simple must have every morning had so many other useful jobs!  It wakes you up and cleans the house, now only if you could sit there and let it do the work without you!  Remember making your own cup of Joe in the morning saves you money as well as saving many unwanted disposable cups from the local landfill! 

Posted by Kate Kiselka, follow me on Twitter