Thinking of making environmentally-friendly renovations to your house? Take advantage of generous rebates while lowering steep monthly bills
Looking to increase the property value of your dream house? Want to reduce that $1,000 monthly electric bill and make your home more energy efficient? If you’re in the least bit concerned about preserving natural resources, it makes sense to go green — not just for the environment, but for your wallet as well.
No matter where you stand on energy conservation, whether you think global warming is a hoax or everyone should be forced by law to drive a Prius, there are some forthcoming local and state measures that will affect every homeowners’ energy usage. Governor Schwarzenegger has already declared California in a drought and San Diego already has in place its own mandatory water restrictions. In March, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders imposed the first mandatory water-rationing directive in two decades. And beginning in July, residents who exceed their allocated water usage will face penalty rates of $2.42 to $4.85 for each hundred cubic feet over their allotment. Additional fines on customers who routinely exceed their allocation are also likely. There is also talk of restricting water lines to the most serious offenders.
Another statewide measure, going into effect this fall, will financially reward homeowners who purchase a photovoltaic solar system (electric solar). California Assembly Bill (AB811) will also allow cities to offer their residents low-cost loans for other big-ticket energy-efficient home improvements, such as high-efficiency air conditioners and solar with a long-term payback plan linked to property tax payments.
Not only can your home value increase, you may one day, after you’ve “greened” your house, be paying lower property taxes.
Sounds great, but where to begin? The choices are overwhelming, from solar electric systems and solar water heaters to low-water usage landscaping, recycling water, revamping insulation, and more.
Baby Steps — First The Appliances
Jeff Shipper, of Seagull Distribution, recommends taking small steps. First, he says, buy the best energy-efficient appliances on the market. Shipper is a distributor of the upscale German appliance brand, Miele. “Their products are some of the best on the market in terms of using less water and electricity,” says Shipper, who sells dozens of energy-efficient products for the home, such as vacuums, microwaves, steam ovens, and even water-saving coffee makers.
Purchasing a front-loading washer is a great way to cut down on water usage. “Water companies are giving rebates to homeowners on front-loading washers because they use only two-thirds the water as top-loading ones,” says Shipper.
Indeed, Shipper is correct.
The San Diego County Water Authority, through its 20 Gallon Challenge campaign lists on its Web site several financial incentives to use less water. Case in point, the front-loading washer: Rebates start at $135 for high-efficiency washers (HEW), which supposedly also use less detergent, clean better, and are gentler on clothes than standard washers.
One Flush Or Two?
Megan Touchett, a U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leaders of Energy and Environmental Design)-accredited professional, says that low-flush toilets and even waterless toilets can be an easy step towards achieving eco-consciousness.
“You can get a rebate of up to $100 for a high-efficiency toilet,” says Touchett. “You’ll save more than 60 percent every time you flush.” If your home was built prior to 1981, she says, you could be flushing away five times more water.
But for the more privileged and discerning homeowner, the thought of a waterless toilet harks back to the dustbowl days of archaic outhouses. “Today’s waterless toilets are much more upscale,” claims Touchett, adding, “You can’t see the waste and it’s virtually no maintenance involved — the sewage company periodically collects the waste for compost.”
If a waterless toilet is too much for you to stomach (no pun intended), another way for you to be an eco-warrior is to practice the art of xeriscaping. Also called (mistakenly) and pronounced “zeroscaping,” xeriscaping uses native and drought-tolerant plants and mulching.
The Academy Award-winning actor, Richard Dreyfuss, is at the forefront of the xeriscaping movement. Dreyfuss’ 4,800 square-foot Olivenhain home — he will in the near future permanently retire in this Encinitas hamlet — is one of a few homes that San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is using as a case study for its Advanced Homes Program.
Still in progress, the study and renovation of Dreyfuss’ house, which will one day be at or near-zero in getting off of the energy grid, will be one model that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will examine. The CPUC’s stated goal is to have 50 percent of all new homes built to be at 35 percent above the state energy efficiency standards by 2011, and ten percent of all new homes to be 50 percent over this energy code this same year.
Practice Your Puts, Make Money
Dreyfuss has instructed Deniece Duscheone to install an eco-friendly putting green on his property. Co-partner of S.K.I.N. (Sustainable Kinetic Integrated Nature), Duscheone, who oversaw San Diego’s US Grant Hotel’s $56 million eco-makeover, says that her team will use synthetic grass. (Homeowners may be entitled to a $0.50 per square-foot rebate for synthetic turf; call your local water authority for information.)
“Some of the projects we will be doing for Mr. Dreyfuss include water reclamation and doing research on indigenous grasses that don’t have to be mowed and use very little water,” says Duscheone, who adds that if you’re looking to xeriscape your property, fret not that your lot will look like a backyard in Tucson, full of cacti. “There are plenty of non-cactus species that are indigenous to California,” she says.
And you don’t have to be a celebrity to have a water-consumption audit. In fact, your local water company, through the San Diego County Water Authority, offers free residential surveys for those looking to reduce outdoor water usage.
But like Dreyfuss, who is spending less than $1 million to get entirely off the energy grid, you can invest in sprinklers with sensors, drip irrigation, and other water-saving measures. Rebates start at $230 for single family properties of less than one acre. (Once again, check with the San Diego County Water Authority or call your local water provider.)
Seal The Envelope
Mark Letizia, of Eco-Artisan Builders, recently did an energy audit on a home built in Mission Hills to determine where heat escapes from the house. Built in 1927, the house was much too drafty for the owner’s comfort. After installing polyurethane foam insulation in the crawl space and attic, the home, says Letizia, is like brand-new. The envelope was sealed — no heat escaping and no cold, drafty air encroaching.
“It’s a different house now. We did a substantial remodel, installing new windows, insulation, lighting, an on-demand gas water heater, non-toxic paint, and sustainable-harvested oak woods, certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council,” says Letizia.
An innovative product that can also be purchased to seal the envelope is a mesh covering for windows and doors. Scott Sadick of Sun Control Systems installs motorized, remote-controlled, hi-tech fiberglass mesh units that prevent heat and ultraviolet rays from coming into the house, “without taking away your view,” adds Sadick, who claims that the mesh can potentially cool a house 10-20 degrees.
Sadick says he has approached SDG&E about providing buyers of the mesh with a rebate. He was told that because it’s not a fixed system, there are too many variables to calculate a rebate.
Yet another way those with high-end homes can seal the envelope is with sun-protective glass tinting. Janie Talvy of Stop the Sun says that homeowners paradoxically spend a small fortune in windows yet cover up their view with blinds to keep out the sun.
“Glass tinting has become state of the art in the last five years and is now virtually invisible,” says Talvy, who adds another benefit: “If you want to keep expensive furnishings in pristine condition, glass tinting will do just that and also cut down on your air-conditioning bills in the summer.”
Going Solar — It’s Not Just For Ed Begley, Jr. Anymore
Through the California Solar Initiative, a stimulus Investment Tax Credit (ITC) defrays the cost of a solar system by 30 percent. And now that a federal cap of $2,000 for a residential solar system has been removed, upgrading to solar electricity or solar water heaters can help save you thousands of dollars per year.
In addition, Ashley Rye of Baker Electric Solar in Escondido says that California also offers a rebate of up to 14-20 percent. That means you could potentially have up to 50 percent of solar available as a tax incentive.
If your monthly SDG&E bill is $500 using conventional electricity, Baker claims that you will pay $500,000 over the next 25 years, considering a predicted 7.3 percent increase, which has been typical of utility companies over the last 30 years.
“Due to an energy crisis, that figure could be even higher, especially for those paying in the higher tiers,” Baker says.
So how much does it cost to go solar for your electricity needs? A 14 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system costs approximately $55,000, taking into account rebates and tax credits. Does that figure sound stratospheric? If so, Baker says consider that your savings would be $466,000 over the next 25 years.
Solar water heaters, while definitely a significant expense to install, also have a 30 percent federal tax rebate incentive — yet another home-greening concept every eco-conscious homeowner should consider.
“Solar is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint — it’s the equivalent of planting thousands of acres of trees or removing your car completely off the road,” says Baker. “You can really feel good doing something for the environment while also making an incredible financial investment in your family’s future.”
Real Estate Agents Gone Green
Heather Hunter is a real estate agent certified as an eco-broker with Green Coast Real Estate. She says that by installing energy-efficient windows, solar water heaters, solar electricity, and by replacing your water-thirsty lawn, your utility bills will go way down and your resale value of your house will go up.
“If you resell your house and have some or all of these features to offer, you will have a big selling point to offer and perhaps an easier time selling your house,” says Hunter, who adds, “These improvements are positive for the home buyer because after all — they’ll be paying less on utility bills.” JUDD HANDLER