Remodeling your home? Think green now and earn green later

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Whether you want to save money on heating bills or do your part to save the planet, there are many reasons to improve your home’s energy efficiency. But there’s an additional payoff that many homeowners aren’t aware of: Homes defined as ‘green,’ Built Green, Energy Star or LEED certified, or that have other environmentally-friendly features, sell for more money and in less time than conventional homes.

Green Homes expert and Edmonds resident Mark Mays shared that good news during the fourth and final meeting in the Home & Business Energy Efficiency series presented by Sustainable Edmonds last week. (The series will be repeated through the City of Edmonds Parks & Recreation on four Saturdays in January and February; register here.)

“Green homes sell for 5-10 percent more in 25 percent less time, and that’s a statistical fact,” said Mays, citing data from the Northwest Multiple Listings Service. “If you are going to do a remodel, do it green, because when you go to put your home on the market, there’s real value there.”

But even if you aren’t planning to sell your home any time soon, environmentally friendly improvements can save you some serious money. Mays showed the calculated savings over seven years (the average length of time a person owns a home before selling it) that ranged from $2,145 on the low end, to $20,875 on the high end, for making three types of improvements: weatherization, insulation and lighting.

According to Mays, the easiest way to increase your home’s value is to weatherize it, which involves little expense and usually can be done by the homeowner. Use a caulking gun to seal gaps inside and out that allow cold air into your home or warm air to escape. Common culprits include hose bibs and dryer vents, pipes under sinks and toilets, electrical switches and outlets, and ceiling light fixtures. Insulate your hot water pipes and gas water heater, if you have one. And upgrade your insulation to reduce heat loss (the attic is the best place to start, since heat rises, and an “R” value of 49 is recommended for our climate zone, Mays said).

If you are adding insulation to any part of your home, Mays offered these thoughts: Blown-in insulation is made from recycled newsprint, and the ink can outgas formaldehyde into your home, while levels of formaldehyde in fiberglass insulation can vary from 0 to 15 percent. So people concerned about exposure to these chemicals, or who have young children, might want to consider UltraTouch cotton batting insulation, which is made from recycled blue jean scrap waste that is treated with an environmentally friendly fire retardant called borate and offers superior soundproofing.

Other recommended upgrades to improve your home’s resale value include:

– Adding low-flow showerheads, which can save 30 percent on your hot water bill.

– Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, which Mays said will save a typical homeowner $17 per month.

Mays also shared his analysis of the potential savings from other energy-efficiency upgrades from Energy Star-rated appliances to insulated windows to solar hot water heaters. While these upgrades don’t necessarily offer a quick payback to homeowners, they do offer a variety of other benefits, including the positive environmental effects of using less energy, he noted.

In addition, the two public utilities serving Edmonds, the Snohomish County PUD and Puget Sound Energy, do offer a variety of rebates and low-interest loans (see report from an earlier Sustainable Edmonds seminar here) for homeowners and renters who are interested in making these types of improvements.

If you are thinking about making green improvements to your home for quick resale, Mays recommends you focus on the following areas:

-weatherization

-painting, using non-toxic or low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint

-energy-efficient indoor and outdoor lighting

-landscaping, including a rain barrel

-flooring, countertops and cabinets using eco-friendly materials. For examples of these, visit Mays’ EcoHomeSeattle website.

-Energy Star appliances.

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