Updated Solar PV incentives

30 01 2009

solar-powerI’ll let Anthony do the talking…

Greeninharlem.com is a blog written by two of our favorite clients about the trials and tribulations of doing a green restoration of a historic brownstone in a NYC landmark district.

Click here to see an excellent post of the current status of incentives as related to solar PV.


Persuasive (I hope) reasons to weatherize

17 12 2008

dollarsignongreenbackgroundSeveral of my friends and neighbors commented that after reading the previous post about the cost of weatherizing my house, they considered proceeding with the improvements but then wrote it off as too expensive or couldn’t convince their Co-Op partners to spend the money.

Another interesting phenomenon I noticed is that when there is a government incentive involved, there is this immediate psychological desire to game the system somehow to get something for free. I feel it too but I also realize that there is no “free” in construction (there aren’t even an bargains in construction but that’s another post entirely). When I asked Jimmy how busy they were, expecting them to be booked for months ahead, he mentioned that a lot of people only do the work covered by the incentives, sometimes ignoring safety measures and doing fewer measures than would lead to maximum efficiency (for example, insulating the roof but not replacing single-pane windows).

I’m neither judging nor criticizing those who decide not to weatherize for cost reasons but here’s one last attempt to change your mind.

Here are my top 6 reasons to weatherize.

  1. Weatherization adds value to the house.
  2. Close your eyes and imagine all the heat and air conditioning that you pay for just wandering out of the house. Imagine dollars just floating out the window and through the roof.
  3. While your eyes are closed, imagine your house during the winter, now imagine it with a sweater on. Doesn’t that feel better? A well-insulated house is more comfortable.
  4. The improvements will be paid back eventually via lower heating and cooling bills. The payback period will probably be less than anticipated because energy costs will only rise over time.
  5. The incentives are in place now. Government incentives are a moving target. Who knows how long they will last?
  6. Our electricity comes mostly from coal. Look at these great graphics if you want more detailed information. The less energy we consume, the fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants we emit and the less money we’ll have to pay as a society for new power plants. Conservation can be our newest source of cheap energy!

Greenest house in America (so far)

20 11 2008

housefrontw180h135As the LEED for Homes Advocate for the USGBC-New York Chapter, I receive a LOT of mail and press releases about LEED certified projects.

This one is particularly exciting – The Gottfried Home, which received the highest score ever received since LEED for Homes launched early this year.

I’m not particularly excited by the high score (106.5 points of 136 possible points – Platinum threshold is 80 points).  What excites me is that this is an example of a very small existing home that was fully renovated unlike the vast majority of LEED for Homes projects which are new buildings and the few that aim to be green McMansions by attaining LEED for Homes certification.

From the press release:

The 1,500-square-foot home in the Oakland neighborhood of Rockridge is half as large as the Gottfrieds’ previous home in the Berkeley Hills. Gottfried specifically wanted the home to be small to reduce the home’s footprint and show that a family of four can live happily in a smaller space, as humans historically have.

“We hoped to showcase how to green an old historic home and still achieve LEED Platinum, as well as downsize 50% for a family of four,” David Gottfried said.

The restored 1915 craftsman bungalow further reduces its impact on the environment because, as a restoration, it enables reuse of many materials and doesn’t eliminate open space on a previously home-free site.

Gottfried works in a regenerative “Lifepod” in the back yard of the home, cutting out the air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with a commute to the office. It is built in an extremely walkable neighborhood, with most amenities available to the family without their needing to drive. The home is designed to be a net-zero energy home, meaning that with its solar photovoltaic power generation and its solar- and hydronic-powered water-heating systems, the home strives to produce all the energy it needs to operate without drawing from the power grid.

Rainwater is captured and diverted for use in one of the home’s toilets, reducing reliance on potable water supplies. “Graywater” – used water from the home’s two showers, bathtub and two sinks – is used to water the landscaping. And the family plans to grow its own vegetables.

And the home manages to conserve resources without scrimping on style. Some 27 colors make up the décor, including beautiful recycled abalone tile. The Gottfrieds call it “eco-bling”.  And the renovation process engaged the neighborhood, teaching the community about the ways a green home can be beautiful and livable.

The renovation was funded in part by a green construction loan from New Resource Bank and an interest rate break for its use of solar power and LEED.

Learn more about the Gottfrieds’ home at http://www.gottfriedhome.com. Also, visit the popular environmental Web site Planet Green, at planetgreen.discovery.com, to view David Gottfried’s video blog documenting the renovation process and the home’s green features.

• The cost and slow pace of custom construction.
• Finishing and getting subcontractors out of the house.
• Small is noisy – need to work more on acoustics with young kids.
• Getting graywater permitted.

About LEED®
The LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification system is a feature-oriented certification program that awards buildings points for satisfying specified green building criteria.  The six major environmental categories of review include: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation and Design.  Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels of LEED green building certification are awarded based on the total number of points earned within each LEED category.  LEED can be applied to all building types including new construction, commercial interiors, core & shell developments, existing buildings, homes, neighborhood developments, schools and retail facilities.  LEED for Healthcare is currently under development and is expected to be released in early 2008.

Visit http://www.gottfriedhome.com.
Also visit planetgreen.discovery.com, to view David Gottfried’s video blog.

LOCATION: Oakland, Calif.
SIZE: 1,440 square feet
STYLE: Craftsman bungalow

LEED Points
• Innovation & Design: 8 of 11 possible
• Locations & Linkages: 10 of 10 possible
• Sustainable Sites: 19 of 22 possible
• Water Efficiency: 13 of 15 possible
• Energy & Atmosphere: 31 of 38 possible
• Materials & Resources: 12.5 of 16 possible
• Indoor Environmental Quality: 11 of 21 possible
• Awareness & Education: 2 of 3 possible
• Total: 106.5 of 136 possible (Platinum threshold: 80 points)

Some of the Home’s Green Features
• Small physical footprint – less than 1,500 square feet for a family of four.
• Reuse and restoration – giving 1915 craftsman bungalow new life.
• Incredibly walkable neighborhood, with everything just outside doorstep.
• David Gottfried works in a regenerative “Lifepod” (120-square-foot steel building with 50% flyash floor) in the back yard – no commute.
• A net-zero-energy goal, using solar photovoltaic power generation, solar-heated water and hydronic water heating; off-sets if necessary.
• All landscape water from graywater.
• Rainwater capture for toilet use and vegetable garden.
• “Eco-bling” beauty throughout – 27 colors, beautiful abalone recycled tile.
• Incredible interest and support of neighbors.

Get Rid of Junkmail…For Good

17 11 2008

Everyday, when sifting through the mail, I am astounded at the giant mass of junk mail that finds itself through my door. The pointless and annoying envelopes and catalogs that fill the recycling bin are very wasteful as well. You may ask: How do these companies even know my address? Well, these conniving people get many of their addresses from banks, credit card companies, magazine subscription lists and other commercial services. So essentially, these junk mail companies are using approximately 100 million trees per year to send you these useless pieces of paper that are almost always thrown away before they’re opened. According to the Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention, Americans receive up to 400 million tons of junk mail per year and 250,000 homes could be heated with one day’s supply of junk mail.  Also, it is estimated, that most Americans can spend up to 8 months of their lives dealing with junk mail.   These staggering figures really show how much these annoying envelopes really impact our environment, and how easy it is to stop it.

To put an end to your constant flow of junkmail, there are a few websites that can assist you in this very “green” process: OnlineOrganizing.com, Ecocycle.org, GreenDimes.com, catalogchoice.org and so many more.  These organizations will give you numbers and websites to contact in order to secure your name, and to get it away from these harmful and pestering companies that flood your home with unwanted pleas for business.

Ask what you can do for your country

9 11 2008

american_flag_2Al Gore, founder of The Alliance for Climate Protection, in today’s Op Ed piece in the New York Times outlines a 5-part plan to “repower America with a commitment to producing 100% of our electricity from carbon-free sources in 10 years”. This will help the United States achieve energy independence, offset the economic crisis as well as create millions of “green jobs” that can’t be outsourced.

Four of the five parts of the plan can only be accomplished by forward thinking governments, utilities or car companies:

  1. Large scale investment for concentrated solar thermal plants, wind farms and geothermal plants that will generate large amounts of clean energy.
  2. Build a unified national smart grid (read Tom Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded if you want to get weepingly excited about this)
  3. Help America’s big and small auto companies rapidly convert to plug-in hybrids which can be charged at night during off-peak energy-use hours and then contribute the power back to the grid during peak hours.
  4. (see below)
  5. Institute a carbon tax, lead the way to an upgrade of the Kyoto Treaty and work with other nations to reduce deforestation (read Jared Diamond’s Collapse if you want to get weepingly terrified about this.)

Now for #4:

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

There is no easy solution to the mess we’re in environmentally or economically but for a start, this is one smart strategy all citizens can do for their country.

Insulation Project: Comprehensive Energy Audit

6 11 2008

blowerdoorJimmy and John from ASK Construction came over to do a Home Performance Energy Audit (a comprehensive energy and safety inspection) of my home.

First they did a fairly quick survey inside and out to determine the overall volume of the house, including the size of all the windows and doors.

The Audit was divided into 2 parts: Energy Efficiency and Health|Safety.

The items they looked for in the Health|Safety category are fairly obvious but are often overlooked including:

  • Adequate Carbon Monoxide (CO) coverage: in addition to having a sufficient number of detectors, each needs to be located such that if one of them is activated, all the occupants will hear the alarm, no matter where they are in the house.  Suggested locations are: at the top of the Basement stairs in case there is a problem with the mechanical equipment and just outside the kitchen because when you turn on your oven, carbon monoxide levels of 700-2000 parts per million can accumulate until they are vented away by your hood exhaust.
  • They checked all the mechanical equipment in the house to see if there was any carbon monoxide (CO) leakage (there wasn’t any), and that there is adequate fresh air intake and exhaust (there’s plenty).
  • They checked to make sure all mechanical gas-fired equipment was enclosed in a fire-rated room (this item needs a little work).
  • They checked that the bathroom exhaust fans were working properly.  An adequate bathroom exhaust fan should run for 20 minutes after a shower to remove the moisture from the room. (Ours are pretty good – loud but powerful).
  • At the Basement, where we have a de-humidifier running all year round, they tried to determine where the moisture was entering from (I think it’s from along the side garden wall – more difficult to fix than if it was just the rear wall at the backyard) and we had a long discussion about what kind of exhaust fan to install.

Now for Energy Efficiency (!)

Heating/Cooling system: First they had me turn the thermostats for the furnace way up so they could check if there was any leakage in the air ducts.  Turns out that there was a 50% drop in pressure when they added up the measured supply of air in each room.  Unfortunately, these ducts are concealed in the ceiling – this wastes a lot of energy in both the heating and cooling seasons because a lot of conditioned air is wasted heating and cooling the duct enclosure so expect to see big holes in the ceiling sometime soon so we can get in there and repair the ducts.

Air Infiltration: Jimmy and John tested all the windows to make sure they were operational and then closed up all the doors and windows for the blower door test – that’s what is going on in the picture above.  The idea is to close up the house and then measure the volume of air that leaks in from openings in the building envelope and locate the source of those air leaks so that they can be corrected.  The red fabric shown in the picture is stretched over a temporary frame in the door (you can sort of see the digital gauge attached to the edge of the door that measures the air flow).  Jimmy said the air leakage in the house didn’t seem so bad but he wanted to do the calculations back in his office to confirm.

We have an opening in the ceiling in one of the bedroom closets in order to access some valves and it was totally screwing up the test so they taped the door closed to get the proper seal.  Apparently, it’s openings like this that can suck out your heat in the winter and conditioned air in the summer.  Closing up this opening will be a high priority.

Windows: John mentioned that our aluminum windows with double-pane glass, circa 1990’s could be improved.  I know that vinyl or wood windows are more efficient (vinyl and wood are better insulators than aluminum) and new double-pane glass comes with Low-E coatings and can be filled with argon glass for added efficiency but these types of new windows are VERY expensive and I don’t think they will fit in our budget for a while.  In the meantime, we will invest in high-efficiency double-honeycomb shades to better insulate at the windows.

Insulation: John made a small hole in the wall adjacent to the garden and found that it was PACKED with fiberglass insulation.  This is very good news.


As for costs, the audit cost $350 which I believe will be refundable by the Home Performance with Energy Star Program if we do more than $2,000 worth of weatherization work (which seems likely).  Having completed the audit, we will now be eligible to take advantage of the incentives offered by the program which can be up to 20 per cent cash back on the total amount of eligible measures, plus federal and state tax credits.  The whole point of this exercise is to improve the efficiency of our home so we should also expect to see a large cost savings in our heating and cooling costs.

I expect the full report in about 10 days, after which we will start the corrective work to repair all deficient conditions.

Is zero waste possible in this consumer culture?

28 10 2008

I’m reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte.

It’s an amazing book although it’s now a bit outdated (it was written during the period of time in the early 2000’s when the Bloomberg Administration stopped the recycling programs for a while.) I can’t put it down.   The author (measured/weighed) her kitchen trash and tracked its route “away” from her house. A major theme throughout the book is that there is no “away”.  Another major theme is how secretive landfill managers are (I haven’t finished the book yet, I hope she gets to see a landfill close up).

When we throw things out, there is an incredible amount of energy, labor and thought put into how to make these things inert so as to not cause damage as they become a part of our environment.  Unfortunately, when it comes to fixing the world, most people just don’t want to talk about garbage.

One of my favorite chapters is the one about the solid waste treatment plant and the bio-solids created from New York sludge which is then shipped all over the country.  In graduate school I helped a friend photograph the West Side Sewage Treatment Plant just after it opened and Ms. Royte actually managed to capture the smell in written form.

This book is transformative. What I previously just thought of as “crap”, I am now clearly thinking of in terms of their component pieces and will do my best to avoid creating more crap to be thrown out.  If you liked Cradle to Cradle, read Garbage Land.

This post from Reactions discusses about the false sense of biodegradability you get with compostable garbage bags.  I bought these bio bags for our countertop compost pail because it gets slimy, smelly and a bit hard to clean after a few days.  However, when I pulled the bag out of the pail to drop it into the compost bin, it almost fell apart.  I guess it started to biodegrade before it even left the pail.  I’ll have to check the compost bin in a few days to see how the plastic is doing.

Garbage Land taught me how truly evil plastic is because it is practically impossible to upcycle it.  However, thanks to our friends at Brooklyn Green Team, we now learn about a company called Recycline who makes new products of out old #5 plastics.  You will recall how much I couldn’t stand having old yogurt containers on the countertop awaiting recycling so we started making our own yogurt.  Now I’ll just stack them in a box until I have 5 pounds.

I’ll re-print the requirements for sending the plastic to Recycline because the BGT’s blog seems to cut off some of the information.

  • Many common food containers – yogurt cups, sour cream containers, hummus tubs, ketchup bottles – are #5 plastics.
  • We accept any CLEAN plastic item with a #5 stamp on the bottom. Please check to make sure that there are no other materials (paper, screws, other number plastics) on the items that you send to us.
  • Make sure that the #5 plastics are clean – the cleaner the plastic, the cleaner the recycling process.
  • To help make this program a win for the environment, it is important that you send your plastics back to us via ground shipping (as opposed to air). Reuse a box if you can!
  • Shipments should weigh at least 5 pounds and no more than 50 pounds. Any package greater than 50 pounds must be pre-approved by Recycline.
  • Make sure to include your return address on the box and add your name and email address inside the box so we can thank you for your good work.

Send Gimme 5 shipments to:
Preserve Gimme 5
823 NYS Rte 13
Cortland NY 13045

If you have any questions about the Gimme 5 program or need to get a shipment approved, call us at 888-354-7296.

yay garbage.