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!

Teen Green: Ice Skating Efficiently

8 12 2008

Winter’s coming, which means that uncountable New Yorkers will be putting on their skates and skating around in endless circles on the city’s many rinks. But when skating, people tend to forget one important factor about the rink: it takes a ridiculous amount of energy to keep them frozen. In fact, it is estimated that a typical small rink requires about $30,000 worth of electricity a month to operate. Not only is this expensive, but it readily contributes to Global Warming as well. The constant energy that is required to keep the rink frozen makes ice skating one of the most energy intensive forms of recreation there is out there.

The Natural History Museum is doing something about this. Opened to the public until February 28th, the “Polar Rink” is open for business. This is not any ordinary skating rink, though. It is made out of a recyclable synthetic surface (100% recyclable and non-toxic materials), still giving skaters the impression of skating on ice. This rink is more efficient because it requires no maintenance or refrigeration, the risk of melting is eliminated.

If you’re worried that this surface won’t give you the full ice skating experience, trust me, it really does feel like skating on ice; it’s almost surreal how realistic it is.

To get details on ticket pricing and business hours, go to the Polar Rink Website.

Results from Energy Audit

7 12 2008

As you can imagine, I was so excited to receive the results from the
energy audit we had done on November 4th. Jimmy from ASK construction came over to review the list of recommended measures and the related costs.

As I mentioned in the previous post about the audit, ASK came to us very highly recommended so I’m not particularly concerned about being taken advantage of but since the repairs will be completed by the same company that performed the testing, there is a serious opportunity for customer-gouging. I’ll put in a call to NYSERDA to see what their response is about this. But I digress.

Let’s start with the related to Health|Safety work. The following measures are related to isolating the boiler room and insuring adequate fresh air for the equipment.

  1. Install 1 fire-rated door at Boiler Room
  2. Seal ceiling of Boiler Room
  3. Install fresh air louver (required since we’re isolating the Boiler Room)
  4. Install additional Carbon Monoxide/Smoke detectors

The total for this work is $2,065. These are all very important items we have been meaning to do for a long time and I’m so happy we’re finally doing then. Since this work is not directly related to energy conservation, it is not eligible for rebates or incentives (more about this later).

Now to the sexier stuff: Energy Conservation Measures:

  1. Insulate Main Roof with cellulose to R-43 value (including the roofs of the front and rear previous additions which are really cold in the winter). Cost: $1,890.00
  2. Insulate crawl space at Basement below the front room with High Density foam to R30 (foam allows it to stick to the underside of the ceiling). Cost: $1,350.00
  3. Insulate exposed basement wall with cellulose to R-12 value. Cost: $140.00
  4. Air sealing including: Seal at back wall of meter room, Install new interior vestibule door and install louver at exterior Basement entry door to make a weatherproof vestibule at the Basement, weatherstrip at front entrance door, close up and insulate existing opening at 2nd floor ceiling. Cost: $1,350.00
  5. Install CFL’s (compact fluorescent lights), I’ll specify them after I figure out which ones we need. Cost: $250.00
  6. Replace the Kitchen exterior door with new door and storm door. Cost $1,250.00
  7. Install chimney cap & liner. Cost: $250.00
  8. Remove and repair roof at abandoned skylight. Cost: $300.00
  9. Replace two sections of bent gutter that was not draining properly. Cost: $1,250.00

We’re also going to add an air exchanger for approx. $1,200.00. We currently have an in-line exhaust fan which is basically a fan inside a little duct located in an 8″ diameter hole in the Basement wall that sucks air out of our house when it is turned on. The fan is uninsulated and pulls unconditioned air back into the house through various existing openings. An air exchanger is a mechanical ventilation system that exhausts all the air in a particular area of the house replaces it with fresh air 6x/ day (these are called air changes). Since most of the year, the air outside is too hot or too cold to bring into the house directly without heating or cooling it and thus adding energy costs, an air exchanger will pre-heat or -cool the air to allow fresh air to come in without terribly impacting the heating/cooling system and will help remove moisture from the Basement.

The sub-total for all this work is approx. $11,295, less the $350 we paid at the audit for a total of $10,945. Of this, $8,880 is eligible for incentives as follows:

National Grid: 20% of work up to max. $750

NYSERDA (Tier 3): 20% cash back up to max. $4,500

$8,880 – $750 (National Grid) – $1,776 (NYSERDA 20% of $8,880) = $6,354.00 for the energy conservation work + $2,065 for the Health | Safety work for a total of $8,419.00

That is a hefty savings for this amount of critical work. As for energy savings, they calculate approximately $489/year in electrical and gas savings for a payback of about 13 years which will certainly come sooner as energy prices rise.

More about the incentives:

NYSERDA has 3 tiers of incentives:

If your project includes 2 of the following types of measures, the incentive is 10% cash back.

If your project includes 3 of the following types of measures, the incentive is 15% cash back.

If your project includes 5 of the following types of measures, the incentive is 20% cash back.

  1. Air sealing
  2. Insulation
  3. Domestic hot water
  4. Heating equipment
  5. Windows and eligible doors
  6. Mechanical ventilation
  7. Appliances
  8. Lighting and fixtures
  9. Distribution system
  10. Cooling equipment.

Hitting 5 (or more) of these categories of measures is not difficult if you have an old leaky house like ours.

In addition, since we’re doing this work during 2009, we’ll be eligible for an additional $500 Federal Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit but we won’t see that money until 2010 tax time.

And they gave me a nifty report – all the site-specific items were incorrect though (age of home, size of home, age and efficiency of boiler) but these items were not relevant to the repairs so I’m putting this down to Architect’s persnickityness.

Stay tuned. Repairs expected first week of January.

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.