Low-cost Strategies for Green Building

water senseYou hear it all the time, but I am here to tell you:: Green does not cost more, quality costs more. Here are 17 tips that will not add to your building costs, but will save you money and protect the earth.

  1. Orient building to maximize natural lighting and solar heat gain.
  2. Place windows to provide good natural ventilation.
  3. Select a light-colored “cool roof”
  4. Provide overhangs on south-facing windows.17
  5. install LED lights.
  6. Install high R-value insulation
  7. select energy star appliances.
  8. Design Water-efficient landscapes.
  9. Install water-efficient toilets and fixtures.
  10. Use permeable paving materials.
  11. Use concrete with flyash.
  12. Use engineered wood for headers, joists, and sheathing.
  13. Use recycled content insulation, drywall, and carpet.
  14. Use Low or No VOC paint.
  15. Use formaldehyde-free or fully sealed materials for cabinets and counters.
  16. Vent rangehood to the outside.
  17. install carbon monoxide detector.

Go green and take advantage of the tax-free weekend for school supplies

Tax-free weekend

Each year it seems the school supply displays appear earlier and earlier. There are countless options for notebooks, pens, and folders. I noticed recently that now you are not only able to buy 64 different crayola colors, you can purchase boxes of 8 variations of a single color per box (green, pink, red, blue…). So how do you decide which sale is best, which crayolanotebook to purchase, and which store to visit on tax-free weekend? Here are a few tips that might get you started:

  1. Think of any locally owned stores that you can check out first. Shopping local is a huge benefit for your community as a whole.
  2. Take a look at the local thrift stores for any items they might stock: binders, clothes, shoes
  3. Recycled content: look for products that are made from recycled content and can be recycled when you are finished with them. 
  4. Make sure any plastic you purchase is BPA-Free (lunch box, water bottles)
  5. Look for durable items that will last for years, especially backpacks and lunch boxes. These items take a beating, but good quality will survive.
  6. Purchase some reusable utensils to include in lunches (these can be found in the local thrift stores)
  7. Host a clothing swap party with your school friends
  8. Avoid buying too many supplies by inventorying what you already have at home.
  9. Look for pens and pencils made from sustainably harvested wood or recycled content.
  10. Spend as little as possible to get the best quality and quantity that you need for a successful school year. Take advantage of the sales tax holiday. Remember, if it is not affordable, it is not sustainable.

Sales tax holiday information:

Under Virginia law, most purchases of tangible personal property are subject to both state and local sales and use taxes. The tax rate is generally 5.3% (6% in certain jurisdictions) of the cost price. The rate on sales of food for home consumption is 2.5%.

A sales tax holiday is a temporary period during which purchases of certain items are exempt from the sales and use taxes. Following legislation enacted by the 2007 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, Virginia now has three annual sales tax holidays. In addition to the specific items exempted for each holiday period, dealers may also elect to absorb the tax on any item they wish during that period.

August 2-4, 2013 is the School supplies and clothing sales tax holiday. During this three-day period, purchases of certain school supplies, clothing, and footwear will be exempt from the Virginia sales tax. Each eligible school supply item must be priced at $20 or less and each eligible article of clothing and footwear must be priced at $100 or less. “School supply,” means an item that is commonly used by a student in a course of study. For purposes of the sales tax holiday, the term includes, “school art supply,” “school instructional material,” and “school music supply.” The term does not include computers or “school computer supplies,” and such items may not be purchased exempt of the tax.

The next sales tax holiday is October 11-14, 2013: Energy star and watersense qualified products.

Does Going Green cost more?

I get asked all the time “how much more does it cost to do all that extra green stuff“? So many people think of going green as an added burden or an option that you add to a design for a home or business. Is this really the case? We are seeing real impacts of climate change (no this is not going to be a post about climate change being a man-made issue). We are seeing energy costs going up and quick. We have an incredible population growth rate worldwide that shows no signs of slowing down. We know that there are limited resources available to all of us including some essentials like water, air, food, and energy. So how could a decision that allows you to use less, be a better steward of what you do have, and save money be an option – this, green design, is needed now and should be seen as a requirement for all of us ethically. So my first answer is no, it does not cost more to go green (or as I like to point out, do it right).

HOWEVER, I know many people don’t share my views on our ethical obligations. So once again, does it cost more to ‘go green’?I still have to say no, it does not add a penny to your budget day one of moving into the home, but it may save you money if done right. Here is a real example. I designed a modest home locally for a young couple that wanted energy efficiency to be part of their project. They had their home priced by a few contractors with a variety of levels of understanding of energy-efficient design. One suggested that they get rid of all that ‘extra stuff’ the architect added to their design to save some money. They did the calculations and the savings on a 30 year mortgage for taking out those extras would cost them an extra $15 per month in energy costs (being very conservative about expected monthly electric bills compared to their current fees in a non-energy efficient home).

The added costs of an energy-efficient home are primarily in the cost of the insulation and the HVAC system. These are both areas that pay back monthly in savings from reduced energy usage. There are other things that you can add to a home to call it ‘green’ which are in fact more expensive than other options, but those decisions should be based on your beliefs in what is important. For instance, it is hard to justify using FSC wood financially here in Central Virginia, but if you think about the rain forests being cut down and the reduced capacity of those forests to offset carbon emissions, then you might make it a priority for your project. A FSC forest is required to meet certain standards and clear cutting is not allowed. The use of low VOC products can sometimes add some costs to a project, but if you think of the reduced risk of cancer for your family (VOC’s are known to off-gas for up to six years after installation and are known carcinogens) then perhaps the reduced stress and hospital bills will be valid motivation to spend a little more. We all have our belief systems that we make decisions and financial is just one of them. I can tell you it does not cost more to build a ‘green’ home that is energy-efficient, you just have to decide what factors you are adding to the equation to determine how much you spend.