Because of the low power requirement for LEDs, using solar panels becomes more practical and less expensive than running an electrical line, especially in rural or remote areas. John Miggins, owner of Harvest Solar & Wind Power in Tulsa, recently installed solar power on an area boat dock for under $1,500.
“And I just completed a solar system for a Tulsa client to power his safe room,” says Miggins. “He could survive for months, completely off the grid.”
While Oklahoma doesn’t provide any tax incentives for installing solar panels, there are current federal incentives that make the potential of solar even more affordable. And unlike other home modifications that stay with your house in case of a move, solar panels can be relocated.
“Investing in a full-house solar system that generates clean, renewable energy can run between $10-20,000,” adds Miggins. Additional separate, smaller solar electric systems can power outdoor lighting, remote-controlled gates, attic fans, pumps for fountains and ponds as well as heating for a swimming pool. Solar water heaters are also a popular item. Check for current tax incentives when pricing and considering solar products.
Since keeping water hot can often account for 30 percent of an energy bill, tankless water heaters can be more efficient, especially if you are building. But be aware of the total costs of replacing an existing storage-type water heater because tankless models require electrical outlets for fan and electronics and possibly upgraded gas pipes as well as a new ventilation system.
Water conservation is also a consideration when looking to create an eco-conscious home. Beedon has created 50-gallon rain barrels for homeowners to collect runoff.
“I have one that holds 700 gallons at my home,” says Beedon.
Navarro is known for creating innovative designs to harvest rainwater runoff for the homes he creates.
Clare Ashby, ASLA and owner of Ashby Landscape, promotes the use of rain/freeze sensors for outdoor irrigation systems.
“I’m sure everyone has seen someone’s sprinkler system going off while it’s raining,” says Ashby.
A rain/freeze sensor can save on the cost of wasted water and the electricity to operate the pump. The unit runs from $20 to $50, with installation around $100. A more expensive option is the “smart” controller that adjusts daily watering to real-time weather information received via satellite.
“In addition to choosing plant materials that don’t require high water usage, we are also working with paving materials that reduce runoff,” she says.
Inside the house, the design and usage of low-flow shower faucets and low-flow dual flush toilets are a considerable improvement from the dreaded products of the early 1990s. Since the toilet accounts for about 30 percent of a home’s water usage, replacing an old six-gallon flush toilet with a 1.6-gallon low-flow unit can save thousands of gallons of water each year. Another interesting trend for saving water is installing a foot pedal at any home faucet. You can have your hands full with food preparation and control both hot and cold water with the tap of your foot. There are also positive safety considerations since you don’t have to touch the faucet after handling raw meat. Hands-free motion sensor faucets for both the bathroom and kitchen help conserve water and are available at local hardware or plumbing supply stores.
In addition to the benefits of saving money while conserving energy and water, another advantage of creating a green house is the general health benefits gained by selecting less toxic materials for the home.
“Using low or non-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint is an easy start,” says Immel. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the indoor air quality of the average home is three times more polluted than outdoor air. One of the biggest contributors is paint because the VOC ingredients can slowly off-gas for years after initial application. Luckily, many major manufacturers, from Sherman Williams to Benjamin Moore, now offer low or non-VOC paint options available at most paint supply locations.
Carpet, carpet pad and adhesives also emit VOCs, with latex backing used in the majority of carpets being the biggest culprit. Although some off-gassing can linger for years, it is most intense in the first 72 hours and can cause burning eyes and respiratory problems, especially for those who are chemically sensitive. The best green option is to install hard surface flooring and use area rugs made of natural fibers, such as wool, cotton, sisal, jute or hemp.
While homeowners can make choices about what products to install, renters don’t have that option. So if you are in a location with new carpet, be sure and keep windows open and run fans for the first few days. Vacuum with a HEPA filter and, if possible, clean with hot water extraction to help remove VOCs. You may also apply sealants designed to prevent the off-gassing.
Bamboo and cork flooring are popular sustainable flooring choices. And if you want wood flooring, consider reclaimed wood or check that your lumber comes from sustainably managed forests.
“Make sure your installer is using non-toxic sealers,” says Cavillin. Check for products that have received GREENGUARD certification for indoor air quality.
Colorful recycled glass is another option for sustainable countertops, flooring, tables and unique hardware. Riverfield Recycled Glass countertops are made in Oklahoma.
“We always prefer to buy locally produced building materials, including timber and stone,” says Immel.
“And we focus on reusing building materials when possible,” adds Beedon.
Both builders work with local waste companies to recycle whatever materials they can.
Building a green home offers options from how the home sits on the lot to utilizing the newest energy efficient technologies. But there are plenty of possibilities if you are remodeling. Do some research; and whether it’s a DIY project or you are working with a builder, look for healthier options. Local building supply stores offer products from non-formaldehyde plywood to Energy Smart appliances. Work with builders who are committed to utilizing green building materials. You can make a few small changes in your everyday habits, from watching your water consumption to using non-toxic cleaning supplies. Enjoy saving money while improving the health of your home.