By Jackie Kennedy
In the current economy, home energy efficiency has become increasingly important.
Making home improvements geared to conserve energy has become a popular choice in recent years for those who could afford the cash up front to incorporate the changes. But today, “going green” is more economical than ever.
Cost-conscious Jennifer Cockrill and Michael Hagearty bought their house in Midtown Atlanta instead of paying for a big wedding and moved into it the night they married in June 2002. At 1,200 square feet, the bungalow was just the right size for the couple and their dog Dakota.
“We bought the house with plans to renovate someday, which at the time seemed very far off,” says Cockrill. Soon after their second daughter was born, they began remodeling in early 2008. The couple chose The Building Firm to handle the renovation (The Building Firm and DeckWright have since merged to become Mosiac Group Architects and Remodelers). When owner William Fadul suggested that Cockrill and Hagearty make their renovation an EarthCraft house project, the couple eagerly agreed.
“This building method matched well with their lifestyle and concerns for the environment,” says Diane Kelly, marketing manager for Mosaic Group, which incorporates “green” building practices into every job, either by recycling building materials or searching out renewable materials.
“Many characteristics of an EarthCraft House are desirable features, not only for the sustainable living aspect, but for energy costs and cleanliness,” says Hagearty. “The fact that it was a responsible environmental choice only made it more appealing.”
The two-story addition includes a kitchen and family room on the ground floor and a master suite on the second level. The small bungalow tripled in size, yet maintains its character and coziness, say the homeowners.
Improving air quality
Achieving optimum air quality was of primary importance, says Project Manager Charles Butler who performed initial air-exchange tests that charted the home’s total air volume exchanged once every 45 minutes, revealing that the home was losing valuable heated or cooled air. When the remodel was complete, tests revealed the air exchanged once every three hours, meeting EarthCraft House standards by enhancing air quality, says Butler.
Among the components incorporated to improve air quality and reduce energy consumption were the installation of high-efficiency HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system and sealing the envelope of the house with Icynene, a renewable-base spray foam insulation touted for its energy efficiency and sustainability; these items work in unison to ensure consistent temperature throughout the house and keep bad air from coming inside. The home’s crawl space (which had mold, mildew and water drainage issues) was sealed and a dehumidifier included in the space to prevent mold and further enhance air quality, says Kelly.
“There’s much less dust in the house now,” Hagearty observes. “It’s easy to actually see it when, at just the right time of day, the sun makes a perfect beam through the front door; the dust count is significantly lower. And it used to be that during the summer months you couldn’t go in the attic after 8 in the morning due to suffocating heat. Now the attic temperature stays consistently comfortable regardless of weather.”
Additional Earth-friendly upgrades
Other environmentally friendly elements include framing based on green building standards and installation of an engineered floor system made from recycled materials. A tankless water heater was installed, enabling residents to heat water on demand, an efficient alternative to traditional water heaters. Old windows were replaced with energy-efficient, Aragon-filled, double-pane models. Energy Star appliances were installed along with 1.6-gallon toilets, which use less water per flush as compared to standard models. Reclaimed pine from an old warehouse was used for a hard wood floor upstairs.
“The house is just beautiful and very much in keeping with what we envisioned, if not better,” says Cockrill. “It’s spacious, but has a cozy feel. Our architect and The Building Firm helped up strike a balance of bungalow style with modern improvements. Now with two children and Dakota, our small-but-sweet bungalow is a roomier three-bedroom home where I can easily picture our family growing for years to come.”
David Shepard, a Certified Green Professional through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) carpenter, served as Mosaic’s production manager on the Midtown remodel.
“This project passed all the EarthCraft requirements with flying colors,” says Shepard. “It incorporated building sciences that address energy efficiency, air quality and renewable resources—the three main components considered in an EarthCraft home.”
While some measures incorporated in green remodeling are costlier than in standard construction, more options than ever are available to homeowners who wish to conserve both energy and cash, according to Shepard.
“There are certainly things you can do that don’t require extra money, and one is using recyclable materials such as bamboo or cork flooring, FSC certified [Forest Stewardship Council] lumber that’s harvested in a way that’s not harmful to the environment, or even recycled concrete,” says Shepard.
Renewable energy systems
Other energy-conserving measures used more frequently in the construction today include renewable energy systems such as solar panels, according to Russell Seifert who founded Creative Solar USA in Canton last summer as an alternative energy business dedicated to renewable resources.
“The renewable energy field is where my heart lies, and I’m excited to be part of the change, “ says Seifert. “Having access to renewable energy is just one of the myriad ways each of us can lower our carbon footprints.”
Creative Solar USA designs and installs renewable energy systems, from hot water to solar power and wind generators, and represents products from three major distributors.
“There are creative ways to make these additions architecturally appealing,” says Seifert. “You don’t have to simply stick solar panels on the roof; you can use them as carport covers or in the sunroom so they serve a dual purpose while generating energy for your home.”
Previously considered cost-prohibitive, tax incentives now make installing such energy systems a realistic option, according to Seifert who says that while upfront costs of a 2.5 to 4-kilowatt system may run up to $30,000, tax credits may reduce the cost by more than two-thirds.
“The tax credits Georgia provides make it more affordable to achieve long-term savings by using solar power,” Seifert adds. “Plus, every dollar you save annually with renewable energy increases the value of you property by $20.73.”
As technologies improve, the cost to implement renewable energy sources at home will come down even more, Seifert says.
“The Department of Energy estimates that by the year 2030, the solar power industry worldwide will have 26-percent increase per year,” he concludes, noting that Germany currently has 47 percent renewable energy. “Georgia has the opportunity to be the leader on the East Coast for these types of initiatives.”