|Residential Green Building Questions|
1. I'm shopping for a new home. What green building questions should I be asking the new home sales staff?
2. What are the top things I can do NOW to green my home without spending any money?
You can immediately start operating your home in a green fashion.
Save energy by:
- turning off lights, TV, or stereo when you are not in a room
- using ceiling fans to cool yourself, but turning them off when you are not in the room
- don’t overheat or overcool your home, and adjust your system for when you are not home.
Save water by:
- not running water from any fixture when you are not using it directly
- checking your timing schedule on your irrigation system and only running it when needed
- washing only full loads of laundry or dishes, or setting the water level to the appropriate depth
Improve indoor air quality by:
- taking your shoes off when you enter the home or using a sturdy welcome mat as this is how most of the dust and particles come into your home
- running your bathroom and stovetop exhaust fans to remove humidity and fumes
- keeping cleaning materials, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals safely stored in the garage rather than inside the home near the children. When you do buy these materials next time, try buying ones which are less toxic.
Lead a green lifestyle by:
- preventing waste before it starts, only buy what you need
- being conscientious about recycling and reusing as much as you can
- start trying to compost some kitchen and yard wastes
3. I'd like to remodel my home green, but I'm unsure about what products to use?
First, look for products that:
- 1) make your home more energy efficient and/or comfortable
- 2)save water
- 3) are safe for your family
- 4) are durable so you won’t have to replace or repair
- 5) made from recycled materials
- 6) manufactured in an environmentally-friendly way
- 7) made locally
Second, read the Home Remodeling Guidelines posted on this site to familiarize yourself with green products and techniques.
Third, ask your retailer's staff or management what types of green products they carry and for a list of them.
4. What should I look for in a contractor?
There is a lot at stake in choosing a building contractor for a big or even a small job. You will spend hard-earned money, are expecting to receive a product or service that is going to last for a long time, and installation may take a long-time making your relationship pretty close for quite a while during construction and after to handle any follow-up.
- First, take the time to thoroughly research and plan exactly why and what you’d like to do in your job. Its much cheeper and easier to make changes on paper than it is to make changes once your project is underway.
- Second, interview a number of contractors to understand the wide array of professionals you could get (also ask friends for recommendations of good contractors). You can also find a list of NARI Certified Green Building Professionals on this web site or at http://www.build-green.org/. During the interviews: see if they are properly licensed and insured; get references of past clients and definitely call them; ask to see photos and/or visit past jobs; ask them if they how about green building practices; ask for their advice on your project and how they would approach the job, and then ask for a written bid from the contractors with whom you feel the most comfortable.
- Third, as you review the bids and the contractors, be sure you and they are clear on what it will cost, what will be done, how it will be done, what happens if things go wrong in the process, how are change orders handled, and what guarantees and warranties will you have that the work will be completed to your satisfaction. Most problems between contractors and homeowners are a result of a homeowner not doing good research to pick the best contractor for their job and a lack of good communication between the contractor and the homeowner resulting in differing expectations. Construction jobs will always have some problems along the way, but the key to picking a good contractor is how well she/he will resolve those problems along the way. Remember that, more times than not, you get what you pay for and headaches, problems, and bad communication can cost a lot more money than the initial bid price.
- Fourth, when you feel comfortable with everything: make your choice, read your contract thoroughly and ask questions before you sign, and then maintain good communication with your contractor to keep things running smoothly.
5. What is the best way to save water in my home?
6. What does building "green" cost more?
That’s a pretty wide open question and the most common question. A first response is to ask you "more than what?" It is kind of like asking, does building "better" cost more or does building more attractive cost more or does a "better" car cost more? The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. It all depends on what you are comparing it to and what "it" is that you want to get?
"Green" building cannot be easily defined as costing more, the same or less than "standard" building, because standard building has an unlimited range of prices just like green building can have. This is not an easy or simple side-by-side comparison. A building is a gigantic mix of costs in design, systems and materials choices, construction methods, and operational methods filled with thousands of decisions that can be made by the designer, builder, or owner. Costs and results vary based upon who designs, builds and maintains the building. Costs vary based upon the design, the materials used, the places where materials are purchased, and who assembles them. This is true of green or standard building.
Green buildings seek to achieve high quality buildings that are conscientiously designed to save energy, water, and maintenance, to use materials in a resource efficient manner, to maintain healthy indoor air quality, and to use low-maintenance landscapes. The most important words in the previous statement are higher quality. Higher quality can be achieved at less, the same or more cost than the "standard" building, based upon the choices made in design, materials, and construction method as well as the creativity and experience of your design and construction team. One also has to look at how much and what your definition of higher quality or green is that you looking for.
So to conclude on the question of "does it cost more?" That is for you to look at comprehensively on your own. You, the buyer, determine the standard of what typical buildings look like, because you buy everything the building industry sells, and if you want something different, better, greener, or whatever characteristic, you have to tell the industry with your dollar. Most of us in the industry green or not, try to build quality buildings, but we are of the opinion that you, the buyer, have set your standards a bit too low for what you are buying in a home or a commercial building.
7. What is a HEPA filter?
A HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) filter can remove the smallest pollutants from the air stream flowing through the home's air handler. These filters are rated up to 99% efficient in the removal of indoor air pollutants. They are, though, incredibly restrictive to air flow and can severely inhibit the function of your heating/cooling system if the system is not designed to handle them. Other filters, such as electronic, electrostatic, and pleated media fabric types will filter the air at various stages of efficiency that will perform very successfully for your system without extra engineering (stay between a filtration rating of MERV 6 and 12 for the best performance with the least problems).
8. How can I prevent air infiltration into my home?
Blown-in or foamed insulation ("total-fill") and advanced sealing and weatherstripping are effective methods for tightening a home. These techniques reduce unwanted air infiltration and the loss of conditioned air. Sealing the home with an advanced sealing techniques (new construction) or with basic sealing from the inside (existing home) can make a big difference in heating/cooling bills and overall comfort, as well as reduce the infiltration of outside pollutants, such as dust, pollen, molds, carbon monoxide, odors, and excess humidity.
9. How can I prevent leaky ducts?
Studies have shown a typical duct system leaks from 20-40% of the heated air that's supposed to be getting to the rooms of your house. This is bad for your comfort and energy bill, but it could be worse for your health and safety. A leaky duct system can create pressure differences in your heating system that can draw in contaminants like dust from the attic, excess humidity from the outdoors, soil gasses from the crawlspace, or flue gasses from the fireplace or gas hot water heater. The duct system should be sealed at all joints and penetrations with brush-on, low-VOC, water-based mastic, rather than less effective duct tape. The ducts should also be professionally tested for leakage (with a "duct blaster" machine) and achieve a leakage rate of less than 10%.
10. What is the Home Performance Rating?
The Home Performance Rating is the state recognized home energy rating system (HERS) in California, called CHEERS (www.cheers.org). Trained Home Performance Raters use uniform, nationally recognized guidelines to review a home's energy related components (levels of insulation, types of windows, local climate, efficiency of mechanicals, utility rates, etc.) and issue an energy rating for a home. Upon your request, the rater can additionally use a testing devices to see how leaky your home is, how leaky your ducts are, if the proper airflow is coming from each duct register, and if your HVAC system is backdrafting dangerous combustion gases. Measured on a scale of 1 to 100, the rating scale indicates how energy efficient a home is, with higher scores meaning greater efficiency. Like a miles per gallon figure for a car, the rating gives homeowners and homebuyers a basis for comparing the energy efficiency of various homes. Over time the rating score can be used as an indicator of additional value for a home that is energy efficient.
11. Is solar energy better?
Good passive solar building design takes advantage of the sun's "free" energy to help heat your home and in turn, save you energy. Solar water heating is already cheaper than using electricity to heat water. Solar electric (photovoltaics or PVs) is becoming more affordable especially with today’s state rebates. To find out more about solar energy, visit the California Solar Center at comparing the energy efficiency of various homes. Over time the rating score can be used as an http://www.californiasolarcenter.org or the Northern California Solar Energy Society at comparing the energy efficiency of various homes. Over time the rating score can be used as an http://www.norcalsolar.org
12. Can I save energy by way of my water heater?
Most heat is lost from pipes close to the water heater (within six feet), where the temperature is being maintained at the water heater's set point. The higher the temperature, the greater the heat loss through uninsulated pipes. It's similar to cooling a hot cup of coffee more quickly by putting a metal spoon in it. Look for readily available water heaters with an Energy Factor (EF) of at least 0.60 and use hot water insulation blankets and pipe insulation to minimize energy loss. In a typical home, your water heater is heating water 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, therefore even slight increases in efficiency are an important improvement. Abetter option is to use an on-demand or tankless water heater that only heats water exactly when you open a faucet. Tankless hot water heaters are more affordable than before ($500) and significantly reduce your water heating bill.
13. What does the Energy Star sticker on appliances mean?
Energy Star is a government-backed program helping homeowners and businesses protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. Energy efficient choices can save families about a third on their energy bill with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort. If looking for new household products, look for ones that have earned the Energy Star. They meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and US Department of Energy. If looking for a new home, look for one that has been built and tested to earn the Energy Star designation. For answers to all you questions about Energy Star, visit their website at http://www.energystar.gov.
14. Can I use wood flooring in my home and still qualify under green building criteria?
Yes, if you use domestically harvested hardwood, reused wood, rapidly renewable flooring (like bamboo), or certified sustainably harvested wood (FSC Certified).
15. What is the greenest flooring option I can use?
Many factors are involved in determining the "greenness" of a product, and those factors must be weighed in relation to personal tastes and the specific requirements of the project. In determining the best options, consider what the use will be (high traffic entry, kitchen, children’s playroom, bathroom, bedroom, etc.) and what your personal preferences are. Some people just love the feel of carpet, while others find it hard to clean and prefer hard surfaces that hold less dirt.
For new construction on a concrete slab first floor, a simple flooring is to just use the concrete slab foundation and have it steel troweled to a slick surface, then colored with a pigment, stain or acid, and then sealed with a clear sealer.
- "Green" floor finishes include carpet made with recycled polyester, nylon or even new natural materials like corn silk, sisal, seagrass, and wool.
- Choose a durable floor covering that comes from rapidly renewable sources such as bamboo, cork or natural linoleum.
- Tile is always a good choice for a durable hard surface, but you can go even better in the green department by buying a tile that is made from recycled materials.
- If you like the feel of wood, choose a local wood (to promote the local economy and reduce transportation pollution), a recycled wood (to reduce the stress on new forests), or a new wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which certifies that the wood comes from sustainably harvested forests.
Always look for flooring that is durable, and consider maintenance requirements. Choosing a product that is locally available or manufactured will reduce environmental impacts from shipping. A locally quarried stone may be an environmentally responsible choice for one site, while for another reclaimed wood from a nearby site may make more sense.
Finally, make sure other materials required to install or finish the product have low or no VOC content.
16. What is certified sustainably harvested lumber and where can I find it?
Sustainably harvested lumber is harvested using forestry practices that maintain the diversity of native species, while maximizing the quality and quantity of timber grown under sustained-yield management principles. These principles include developing a formal plan to ensure long-term forest management, minimizing the damage to remaining forest during harvesting, protecting local biodiversity and watersheds, prevents over-cutting of popular timber species, planting trees on degraded or cleared land with an emphasis on native species and ecosystem restoration, and developing positive relationships with local communities and workers. Consumers will encounter a number of organizations certifying lumber, but the system preferred by green building experts due to its strict standards and world-wide acceptance is the certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). For more information please see www.fscus.org.
17. Why are "engineered" wood products better?
Engineered wood products use smaller, younger trees, avoiding the use of larger, older trees that are found in disappearing old growth forests. Engineered lumber achieves the same or better structural characteristics as solid dimensional lumber with 10-50% less wood material, again saving trees. Engineered wood products are also factory manufactured to be strong, light and straight, eliminating the waste associated with warped, twisted or otherwise unusable solid lumber.
18. What is recycled plastic lumber?
A number of recycled-content deck products are currently on the market. They are typically made of 100% recycled plastic or a 50/50 mix of recycled plastic and waste wood chips or sawdust. These products are very low-maintenance and extremely durable. They require no annual application of sealers and they do not warp, twist, rot or splinter. It is an attractive, safer, cost-effective alternative to chemically treated wood and avoids the need for logging precious woods like redwood and cedar. However, be aware that some plastic lumber products are not made from recycled materials and are not therefore considered a green building material.
19. What are the benefits of high-performance windows?
Perhaps more than any other building components, windows have seen a significant increase in performance resulting from new technologies, from "low-e" glass coatings to gas-filled windows. While high performance windows may cost slightly more, when the rest of the home's heating system is adjusted accordingly, these costs can be offset and the on-going energy savings will pay back that extra cost more quickly. However, the most frequent selling point for these high-performance windows is the added comfort over a standard window. To find out more about high performance windows, visit the Efficient Windows Collaborative at http://www.efficientwindows.org.
20. What are the alternatives to cabinets made from particleboard (PB) or medium density fiberboard (MDF)?
Traditional particleboard is made with urea formaldehyde resin (glue) that is considered a human carcinogen. An alternative is an MDF that uses a resin that is formaldehyde-free. This MDF can be made with wood sawdust or with straw. As a last resort, one can also use at least two coats of a good sealer (to lock in the formaldehyde somewhat) on all six sides of every panel of plywood, particleboard or MDF used in the cabinetry.
21. What is a "less-toxic" finish?
Less-toxic finishes are typically water-based finishes that are very low odor, or contain few or no unhealthy volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
22. What are "low-toxic, solvent free adhesives"?
Less-toxic typically refers to lower VOCs (typically measured in grams per liter). Old adhesives tend to be solvent-based and high VOC (250-800 grams/liter). Today, you can easily buy equally or better performing adhesives that are water-based and range from 0 to 250 grams per liter VOC. Always consider health issues and look for the lowest VOC level you can get in any product (adhesives, paints, sealers, caulks, etc.).
23. How long do VOCs outgas from paints? How about particleboard?
VOCs or volatile organic compounds are a very large class of chemicals that offgas malodorous and often unhealthy fumes. Common chemicals in this group for paints are toluene, benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde, while for particleboard it is formaldehyde.
Paints offgas as many VOCs as they can in a short period of time. It is said that paints offgas 80-90% of their VOCs within a couple of weeks of their application, while the last 10-20% offgases over the next year rising during times of higher temperature and humidity. The VOCs are transported into the air to be breathed in by occupants, attached to soft materials such as clothes, drapes, furniture and carpeting, and dissipated to the outdoor air to help cause low level smog. Ways to avoid VOC are to buy paints with very low or no VOCs at all. Federal standards require water-based paints to generally be under 250 grams/liter in VOC content and oil-based paints to be under 380 grams/liter in VOC content. Water-based paints have improved radically over the last few years in quality and there are few reasons to use oil-based paints anymore. We like to recommend and personally only use no-VOC paints for wall and ceiling painting. All of the major paint manufacturers make a no-VOC paint and they have all improved their formulations significantly to the point where these are some of the highest quality paints.
Particleboard is made with urea formaldehyde based glue, which it is said offgases fairly slowly over many years; some people say seven to ten years. Due to voluntary regulations and some customer pressure, the levels of formaldehyde have been reduced by most manufacturers, but they can still be significant to sensitive people. Some manufacturers have taken pains to alter their glues and some even have formaldehyde-free glues that they use. A nice thing to recommend is a formaldehyde-free medium density fiberboard (MDF), which is a denser form of what you may know as particleboard typically used for cabinets and shelving. It is more expensive than standard particleboard, but it is a high quality product, and is a small cost in the assembly of the entire cabinet considering how much labor is typically used in a job versus the materials.
As an overall direction, we like to promote the concept of "prudent avoidance" in dealing with chemicals from building materials. We know many of these chemicals range from little to very unhealthy, but the science has not and will probably never be able to tell us exactly how safe or harmful they are, so why not just try to avoid them in the first place whenever yu can. We’d have some better answers if the scientists could convince some humans to be willing to live in a lab for 20 years and be tested for all of these chemicals and their various mixtures, but they have not had many volunteers.
24. Why is fiber-cement siding considered to be green?
Although significant energy is required to make cement, cementitious siding does not require multiple layers of paint throughout a house’s life-cycle and it avoids using wood or plastics. Additionally, it is less expensive than many other alternatives allowing you to spend money on other green aspects of the home.
25. Why is fiber-cement siding considered to be green?
Although significant energy is required to make cement, cementitious siding does not require multiple layers of paint throughout a house’s life-cycle and it avoids using wood or plastics. Additionally, it is less expensive than many other alternatives allowing you to spend money on other green aspects of the home.
26. What constitutes fiber-cement siding and other exterior finish alternatives?
Fiber-cement siding is made of a mixture of cement and some type of fiber (typically wood). Highly durable, it holds paint longer and does not warp, split, rot or get attacked by termites. Other durable, green building siding options include stucco and locally produced brick and stone. Long lasting, low maintenance exterior finish products reduce replacement frequency, resulting in cost savings, reduced landfill impact, and fewer resources devoted to maintenance and replacement.
27. What types of green building insulation is available?
You can choose between several types of recycled content insulation with no added formaldehyde. Cotton batt insulation uses recycled trimmings from jeans factories, while blown-in fiberglass (often up to 30% recycled content) or cellulose (75-95% recycled) typically gives you a tighter better insulated home, because there is less opportunity for air leakage, while cotton batt insulation. Spray-on, expanding foams make for very tight insulations, and there is even one manufacturer that uses soybeans as the base material. Typical insulation levels are R-15 in the walls, R-30 in the attic, and R-11 on basement walls. New energy codes anticipated over the next year will increase these requirements. Appropriate insulation levels in walls, attics and on basement walls make the home more resistant to energy loss, lowering energy bills, improving comfort, reducing pollution related to energy production and saving precious resources.
28. When is the start date of the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
The start date of the program is April 19, 2010 and will end on October 1, 2012 or when funds are no longer available, whichever comes first.
29. How do I sign up or enroll for the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
This program does not have a sign up or enrollment process. This program is on a first come, first serve basis. You must meet all of the criteria listed on the rebate application form, complete and sign the rebate application form, and have your contractor pull a building permit, you will then be entitled to a rebate and no-cost permit.
30. If I installed a qualifying product prior to the start date of the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program, can I still apply for a rebate?
If a qualifying product is installed prior to April 19, 2010, you would not be able to qualify for the program. However, you would be eligible for any other qualifying products on or after April 19, 2010.
31. Will the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate cover the full cost of the qualifying product?
The rebate will cover only the retail price of the qualifying product up to a maximum of $500. For example, if the retail price of the qualifying product is $700, the rebate amount will be $500. If the retail price of the qualifying product is $400, the rebate amount will be $400.
32. What type of cost is not covered by the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate?
The rebate will not cover any cost beyond the retail price of the qualifying product, including but not limited to, local, state or federal taxes or fees, contractor's labor to install the product, shipping fees, other miscellaneous fees, etc.
33. What type of work is covered in the no-cost permit?
The no-cost permit will only cover the cost of the Department's inspection time for the one qualifying product. All other construction related work will require a separate permit and the fees associated with that work will be assessed. In addition, permits by other Departments or Agencies may be required depending on the type of qualifying product to be installed and is not included as part of the no-cost permit.
34. Do I need to purchase the qualifying product before applying for the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
As part of the application process for the program, a proof of purchase is one of the required documentation needed at the time of application submittal. Please refer to the Department's "Information Bulletin BU-026 Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program" for other required documentation
35. Does the qualifying product have to be purchased in a retail store in Long Beach?
No. The qualifying product can be purchased anywhere provide the product meets all of the criteria of the program.
36. How do I know if the product I plan to purchase is a qualifying product?
For a product to be considered a qualifying product, it must be (1) Energy Star rated and (2) one of the six products listed on the Department's "Information Bulletin BU-026 Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program" (i.e., solar hot water heater, tank-less hot water heater, door, window, skylight, and roof). You can visit the Energy Star website at www.energystar.gov to verify the product's listing. In addition, it is recommended that you consult with the retailer and check to see if the Energy Star label is shown on the product. Please refer to the information bulletin for additional information.
37. If I want to select an alternative product that is an energy efficient product but is not Energy Star rated or one of the six products listed on the Department's "Information Bulletin BU-026 Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program", can I still take advantage of the program? If not, how can I get the alternative product to become a qualifying product?
At this time, the alternative product that you select that does not meet all of the criteria of the program would not allow you to be eligible. If the demand for this specific non-qualifying product is high and the Department determines that it meets the objectives of the program, the Department would need to request and receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Energy to change the pre-approved qualifying products to include the new product. This process may take several months. The funds are available on a first come first serve basis and the program will end when funds are no longer be available.
38. How many products can I have qualify for the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
The program provides no-cost permit and rebate for one qualifying product. For example, you purchase 5 qualifying products, only one of the 5 qualifying products will be eligible for the no-cost permit and rebate. The installation of the other products beyond the first product will require a separate permit and the associated fees will be assessed.
39. How many times can I qualify for the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
If you meet all of the eligibility criteria of the program, you can take advantage of the no-cost permit and rebate one time for the life of the program.
40. If there are multiple residential owners of a residential property, can each residential owner take advantage of the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program for that residential property?
Only one no-cost permit and rebate will be permitted for a residential property (i.e., single-family home, condominium or live/work unit).
41. If a residential owner has multiple qualifying residential properties, can each residential property qualify for the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
Only one no-cost permit and rebate will be permitted for a residential owner.
42. If I live in a residential property in Long Beach and I am not the owner the property, can I take advantage of the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
Only residential owner of a qualifying residential property (i.e., single-family home, condominium or live/work unit) in Long Beach can be eligible to participate in the program.
43. Does the qualifying product have to be installed on a qualifying residential property in Long Beach to be eligible for the program?
Yes. This program is not applicable for properties located outside of Long Beach.
44. Does the residential owner have to be occupying the qualifying residential property in Long Beach to be eligible for the Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program?
No. The residential owner does not have to currently occupy the qualifying residential property. As long as the qualifying property is located in Long Beach and the residential owner complies with all the criteria of the program, the residential owner can be eligible for the program.
45. Why do I need to hire a contractor to pull the permit and install the qualifying product on my property?
The funds for this program was made possible by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program (EECBG) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. As a condition to receiving the fund, the Department is required to show that the fund will be used to improve energy efficiency in the building sector and reduce fossil fuel emissions as well as create jobs. Therefore, in order to qualify for the program, the service of a licensed contractor will be required. In addition, due to the potential complexity of installing a qualified product, it is recommended that professional help be obtained to ensure that the proper installation of the product will pass the City's inspection.
46. Do I need to have the contractor physically come into your office to pull the permit?
The contractor can send an authorized agent to pull the permit on behalf of the contractor. A letter of authorization by the contractor permitting the agent to sign and secure the permit, a copy of the contractor's city's business license, state contractor license, and driver license will be required at the time of permit issuance. In order to be eligible for the program, a contractor is required to install the qualifying product and pass the City's inspection.
47. Does the installation of the qualifying product have to receive a final city inspection approval in order for me to receive my rebate?
To ensure that the pre-approved qualifying product is installed on the property and meets all applicable code requirements, a final city inspection approval is required as part of the condition of the program. The rebate will be processed and issued within 8 weeks after final approval is received.