Ask the Expert: How do I make an existing home green?

| by Teena Hammond
Ask the Expert: How do I make an existing home green?

Many people want to build a green home, but the prospect of building a new house is not always an option. There are many ways to remodel an existing home to make it more energy efficient. So we asked our Approved Contributing Experts, also known as ACEs, what they recommend. Read on about this sometimes controversial topic.

Our ACEs responding are Ted Clifton, home designer and builder from Coupeville, Wash., and owner of Zero-Energy Plans LLC and CVH Inc., and Heather Ferrier, marketing manager for Texas-based green homebuilder Ferrier Custom Homes.


ProudGreenHome:What are easy ways to retrofit an existing home to include green features?

Heather Ferrier:

In my experience, when people consider a green remodel, they often start with a focus on energy-efficient upgrades. Their energy bills are often double or triple what newer, well-built homes are and they're looking for ways to make those energy prices come down. If you look at all the resources it takes to produce the electricity to keep the light bulb burning or heater running, it's astonishing and proves it's a good place to start making changes.

Even though the desire to make energy improvements may exist, it's often hard to know where to start. That's why we suggest having a Home Energy Rater come to your home to perform a series of tests to find the "trouble spots" of your home. Based on the results of the tests, they'll make a prioritized list of the biggest energy hogs in your home. Most often we see the following items make that list of items that need upgrading/replacing:

  • Windows and doors
  • AC units and ducts
  • Insulation in the roof, walls and crawlspace
  • Sealing around windows and doors

Another approach to incorporating green features is to make incremental changes to your home. When a light bulb burns out, replace it with an LED or CFL bulb. When your hot water heater goes out, consider upgrading to a tankless or solar hot water unit. When your toilet finally bites the dust, opt for a high-efficiency, dual-flush toilet to take its place.

Whether you're looking to venture into a whole-house remodel or to simply incorporate small changes along the way, any action you take to make your home more efficient & sustainable will not only improve your well being, but will also be an encouraging message to those around you to follow in step.

Ted Clifton:

One of the big problems with many green building programs, including LEED for Homes, is that it's not about adding green features to an existing home, it is about making the house perform in a way that is more green. Forget the features, go for the performance, whether remodeling or building a new house. Energy efficiency, indoor air quality, resource efficiency, site and water efficiency, these are the things that count. Features are not worth the ink it takes to describe them if they do not lead to better results.

(Photos courtesy of Pella.)

Topics: Building Green, Heating & Cooling, Lighting, Remodeling, Windows

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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