How to Purchase/Lease Solar Panels for My Home

When deciding on going solar there are many different options and scenarios you need to understand before making any final decisions. Therefore, learning all you can about how solar contracts work, as well as their associated issues, will help you make an educated decision about which solar option is best for your particular situation. If you don’t, you could end up making a long-term commitment that doesn’t fit with your long-term goals costing you a significant amount of money in the long run.

Here are the different areas of the solar arena you need to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Solar Company Warranties

There are three common types of warranties that might be offered with a solar PV system.

1. Product Warranty

The product warranty covers the panels and some of the other components of your system. Most manufacturers offer a 25-year warranty on their panels which means if anything happens to them, the affected part(s) will be replaced at no charge.  However, most solar panels will last much longer, even as many as 40+ years.  One caveat to this is the inverter and other power optimizers which generally carry a shorter warranty period. For lower grade inverters, the warranty is generally about two years. And for higher grade inverters the warranty is usually between 10-15 years.

2. Workmanship Warranty

The workmanship warranty covers any labor and installation related issues. Workmanship warranties will vary greatly depending on the company. However, most workmanship warranties will range between two and ten years with 10 years being the most common.

3. Performance Warranty

A performance warranty is for the solar panels energy production, which is based on an average number of years. For example,  a common performance warranty will generally guarantee 90% production for 10 years, and 80% production for 25 years. All solar panels lose a small amount of production each year, so this is not uncommon.

Solar Payment Options

Understanding the different types of solar payment options and their associated contracts is one of the most important aspects of deciding on which one is right for you. Therefore, you should spend a significant amount of time learning about your options before making any decisions. And always make sure every detail discussed is clearly written in your contract.

Outright Purchase, Finance Option or Energy Efficient Mortgage

An outright purchase is a solar PV system you pay for with cash or via a home equity loan, etc. and is always your best bet. However, if you don’t want to go that route, a third-party solar loan is another option to consider. Many solar companies work with preferred lenders who are familiar with the green energy sector and are willing to offer financing for such services. However, some solar companies don’t, in which case you would have to acquire your own financing. Or, you could check into getting an energy efficient mortgage to finance your solar panels.

Solar Lease or Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s)

Solar leases and PPA’s are very similar. These work much like renting anything else. The solar company owns the equipment and you rent it to receive the monthly benefits which amount to a reduced utility rate. These are very popular because oftentimes they don’t require any money down and there are no associated upkeep or maintenance costs.

A word of caution though, opting for a solar lease is something you need to thoroughly understand before deciding on which route to go. Many people have been duped into a solar lease because they didn’t really understand what they were getting into. So please take heed and do your homework prior to signing a contract. However, with that being said, a solar lease/PPA is the perfect option for some, so please don’t take this warning as a non-recommendation for choosing a solar lease.

  • Solar Lease. With a solar lease, you will receive a fixed monthly rate (rent) or lease payment. This rate is based on the estimated amount of electricity your system is anticipated to produce in exchange for using the solar company’s system.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). A power purchase agreement is slightly different from a lease because instead of paying to rent/lease the PV system, instead, you agree to purchase the power that’s generated by the solar company’s system based on a set per-kWh price.

Important Factors Regarding a Lease/PPA Option

Most lease/PPA options don’t require any money down, have no installation costs and don’t require the homeowner to perform any maintenance. Therefore, you can’t have a solar PV system installed and start saving immediately. Additionally, when you choose a lease/PPA option the company who installed the system is the one who retains all incentives and rebates. This is how they are able to offer you a system at no cost.

Solar energy rates can be between 20-30% lower than traditional utility electricity costs. However, the price paid for solar electricity generally increases annually at a pre-determined rate; therefore, you’ll have to factor this into your savings equation while making sure this pre-determined rate is clearly stated in your contract.

In some leases, if you put money down, usually between $1,000 and $3,000 you will receive a lower monthly payment, a lower per kWh, and avoid any annual increases.  Additionally, at the end of the lease, which is usually either 20 or 25 years, you could be offered the option of extending your contract or having the panels removed at no cost to you.

Tax Credits and Rebates

The tax credits and rebates on solar PV systems vary significantly from state to state with some states not offering much of anything at all for installing a solar PV system on your home. However, in several states, the tax credits and rebates are so significant that they will, in many cases, pay for the majority of your system making it much more affordable than you might think. Therefore, you will need to check into what the state incentives are for any given state for more details. However, California has some very generous solar incentives available.

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Other Things to Consider

Here are a few more things to consider when trying to decide whether or not a solar PV system is right for you.

Solar Equipment Monitoring

Most solar PV systems come with one or more monitoring options. Online monitoring is the preferred option as it allows you and the solar company to monitor your system’s energy production and usage online from your Smartphone, tablet or PC. But not all solar companies offer both production and usage monitoring options; therefore, you will need to confirm this with your chosen solar company.

System monitoring is also important in the event of any malfunctions because if there is any type of error, the solar company will be notified immediately and be able to repair the problem before you lose too much money and energy savings due to long periods of downtime. The only issue with monitoring is who pays for it. Therefore, be sure you inquire about who pays for the monitoring before you make any final decisions.

Moving Options and Issues

It’s important to find out who pays the moving costs should you need to have your panels moved to replace your roof. Not all solar companies offer this service. If they don’t, you’ll have to find a qualified electrician or builder who is experienced in moving solar panels. And, in this case, if any of the panels are damaged during the move, they will generally not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Are the Warranties Transferable?

You should always ask the solar company you’ve chosen if their warranties are transferable to the new owner should you decide to sell your home. Just keep in mind the new owner will have to qualify for that solar system just like you did.

Damages

Another issue you should get in writing is who pays for any damages done to your roof, home and/or property during installation should they occur. Especially if the solar company doesn’t use an in-house technician and/or roofer to assist with the install.

Solar Contractors

When signing (up to) a 25-year contract, you want to make sure the solar contractor you’ve chosen will be around long enough to honor their warranty and to handle any repairs, etc. Therefore, you should inquire about how long they’ve been in business and check their Better Business Bureau rating. This will give you a sense of their reputability and how they handle any customer service or repair issues. Additionally, many solar installers are certified, and the company accredited, by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) which is helpful, but not a requirement.

For more tips on improving your home’s energy efficiency, check out the Green Living section on our blog.

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy for Your Home

Seems like everyone’s going green these days… and with good reason! If you’ve noticed more homes sporting those shiny solar panels on the roof, you’re not alone: solar energy is growing in popularity year over year, with installations increasing exponentially over the past decade. Along with rising popularity comes falling prices for consumers. Since 2010, the cost of solar panels has decreased more than 60 percent, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Given solar’s popularity among homeowners, you may think you already know all there is to know about this increasingly prevalent renewable energy source. Here are six facts you might not realize about solar energy for your home.

1. Solar Energy is the Earth’s Most Abundant Energy Source

At any given time, about 173,000 terawatts of solar energy are striking the planet’s surface. That’s enough energy to power the entire world 10,000 times over, all striking the Earth continuously! Put another way, enough solar energy shines on the Earth in 40 minutes to meet the entire world’s power needs for a year. (One full day of solar energy would power every city on the planet for almost 30 years!)

To put it in perspective, Hoover Dam generates about two gigawatts of hydro-electric power, enough to provide energy to more than 350,000 homes. New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant, also a two gigawatt plant, generates enough power for 1.4 million homes. In contrast, one single terawatt consists of 1,000 megawatts…. that’s a lot of energy.

2. Solar Energy Cells Date Back More than Half a Century

Though most of us tend to think of solar power as a relatively new technology, the first solar cell was actually invented in 1954. Built by Bell Laboratories, the first solar cell was made of silicon and was hailed as the harbinger of a new era in energy. The space industry was among the first to take advantage of solar cell technology, using the sun to generate energy aboard spacecraft. The oldest satellite still in orbit, launched in 1958, uses solar cell technology and has logged more than six billion miles during its long trek around our planet. Vanguard I remains a testament to the long-lasting, renewable power of solar.

3. California is Home to the World’s Largest Solar Power Plant

The biggest solar thermal energy plant on Earth is found in California’s Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Facility employs more than 173,000 mirrored panels to generate 377 megawatts of power. Each year, Ivanpah generates electricity for 140,000 California homes, reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tons.

4. Demand for Solar Power is Strong… and Growing

According to the Department of Energy, the demand for solar power in homes has never been stronger… and it continues to increase. In 2008, about 1.2 gigawatts of power used in American homes came from solar energy. At the end of 2015, that amount had ballooned to 27 gigawatts, a.k.a. a 23-fold increase. That means about 5.4 million homes across the country are powered by solar, making the United States the third-largest solar power market in the world.

5. Solar Prices Continue to Drop

Demand for solar powered homes may be growing, but prices are dropping. The Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA) reports that cost for residential solar installation has dropped more than 60 percent over the past decade, including a 29 percent drop from 2015 to 2016 alone. In large part, price drops are due to the availability of less expensive hardware. As residential solar power continues to experience high demand, many predict that prices will continue to fall.

6. Solar is Growing More Affordable

California leads the way when it comes to solar power. According to the SEIA, the Golden State has, by far, the largest capacity for solar power access in the country. Programs such as incentives and tax rebates make solar more affordable, while financing and lease options can make solar more accessible. The energy savings from solar generally pay for themselves within just a few years. Further, solar panels may increase the resale value of homes.

7. Homeowners Enjoy More Solar Options than Ever

You may be surprised to learn how many appliances and other home products have gone solar. From the grill in your backyard to the burbling fountain on your patio, solar powered devices offer a sustainable option. New sun-powered products include stepping stones to light your outdoor paths, security lights, attic fans to further cut down on A/C bills, pool heaters for summer fun, water heaters and even outdoor speakers.

Innovative ways to collect and store solar energy are on the market, as well. If you’re not keen on the idea of solar panels on your roof, consider using flexible film modules. These thin sheets offer easy peel-and-stick installation and weigh significantly less than traditional panels. For shingled roofs, solar shingles offer an attractive, high-tech solution.

As a renewable, sustainable energy source, solar is a win-win for homeowners. To learn more about how solar can work for you, contact the experts at Glasshouse.

DIY Home Energy Audit

Small problems can add up to a lot — just consider the idea that Americans spend more than $300 billion a year on energy that’s wasted because of drafty doors and windows. If you’re a homeowner concerned about your share of that hefty energy bill, you’re probably checking your house for any cracks or gaps around your door and window frames.

However, there are numerous other glitches around your home that can contribute to a higher energy bill that can be fixed easily. The difficulty with solving these little problems, however, is knowing what they are and where to find them. Although hiring a professional to conduct an energy audit can be a great idea for catching all of the biggest and smallest inefficiencies in a home, a regular DIY home energy audit may be one way homeowners can stay on top of any potential issues and fix them before they become larger complications.

The following checklist covers the most common areas around the home where small problems can have a negative impact on its energy efficiency. With it, you’ll be able to conduct a simple DIY energy audit and keep those little problems around your home from adding up on your energy bills.

DIY_Home_Energy_Audit_Checklist

Infographic brought to you by Mendel Plumbing and Heating

How to Maintain Energy Efficiency

If you are a new convert to energy efficient living, you should start with an energy audit. This way you know exactly where your energy is being wasted and how you can make it more efficient. Then you have to maintain energy efficiency.

If you don’t change air filters, leave lights on because they are LEDs, or haven’t upgraded your thermostat to a programmable one, you are not really saving much. Fortunately there are some very basic ways that you can boost your home’s energy efficiency.

Open Up Your Windows – Harness Sunlight (or Block It)

Your windows are a huge source of energy savings and waste. You can use the sun to your advantage in the summers by opening up your blinds and using natural light to brighten up your interiors while the sun is out.

By the same token, direct sunlight through windows that are not well insulated could be making your air conditioning work overtime. Use curtains and drapes to temper direct sunlight if you don’t have insulated windows; same thing in the winter to keep cold drafts out to save on heating bills.

Of course, in concert with natural light, you should have already switched from incandescent and halogen bulbs to LEDs. If you haven’t, you should do so now. LEDs last 10 times longer than traditional bulbs and can save you close to a hundred dollars a year by just replacing your most used light bulbs.

Turn Down the HVAC

For every degree you turn your HVAC down, you knock 1% of off your annual heating and cooling bill. Your HVAC system is by far the biggest energy draw in your home. If you take time to adjust your thermostat down when you are away and when you go to sleep, it can take around 10% off of your heating and cooling costs in a year.

One way to do that is to invest in a programmable thermostat. That way you can set it to turn on and off or go up and down on a timer. This one simple change can add up to close to $200 in savings per year.

You can double your savings by taking advantage of mild and balmy days by turning your HVAC off completely, opening windows, and letting your ceiling fans do the work. They use a lot less energy than your A/C unit and can be extremely effective at slashing your energy bills in spring and fall.

Plug Holes and Cracks

A lot of energy efficiency is lost through cracks and holes throughout your house. There could be a crack in your window sill, holes around your hanging lights, and drafts coming from your attic.

Go to any hardware store for a caulk gun and some caulk. Then seal any leaks, holes, and cracks that you find inside and outside of your house to maintain energy efficiency. It can save you over $200 per year for this change alone.

Have Your HVAC Unit Inspected

Having your HVAC inspected and tuned up at least once a year can add up to more than $400 in savings over the year. Don’t attempt to do this yourself. Professionals are trained to fine tune your system motors, your gas connections, and voltage among other things to find leaks and energy waste.

Change Your Filters

Just like direct sunlight beaming into your living room can tax your air conditioning, clogged and dirty air filters will block cool and heated air, also making your HVAC systems work overtime. By simply changing your filters every three months and cleaning them at least once a month, you will not only reduce your utility bills, but your indoor air will be much cleaner.

Remember to Conserve

Finally a note of caution; a recent study shows that most people use more energy because they have converted to energy efficient bulbs. One survey put the number at nearly 60% of people who are getting higher energy bills despite having gone EE. The problem is that too many are forgetting to conserve energy.

Instead, because LEDs last longer and use less energy, many people are using them more, which of course, is resulting in bigger bills. Remember when maintaining energy efficiency that you also have to remember to conserve energy as well.

[INFOGRAPHIC] What Is Sustainable Building?

Green construction involves the design, construction and/or operation of buildings in ways that reduce any harmful impact on the environment and/or on human health. Some of these include:

  • Reducing the carbon footprint of manufacture.
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of materials transportation.
  • Reducing habitat loss.
  • Preserving and/or improving air and water quality.
  • Reducing materials waste.
  • Minimizing toxic emissions.
  • Increasing energy efficiency in building operations.

Sustainable building also can be economically beneficial. Using green materials and practices often benefits local economies, and the focus on energy efficiency frequently results in significant savings for property owners. The following infographic highlights 10 green building materials to consider for your next green building project.

green-building-materials

This infographic is courtesy of Accurate Perforating Company.

How to Improve the Indoor Air Quality in Your Home

As anyone with environmental allergies or asthma will tell you, air quality can dramatically impact one’s overall health and wellness. While changing the air around you may seem like an enormous task, there’s many small steps you can take that will have a huge impact on you and your family’s overall well-being. So in honor of Air Quality Awareness Week (yes, that’s a thing), we’ve compiled a list of ways to make the air you breathe a little cleaner.

1.) Clean Your Floors

Most of the dirt and debris in homes collects on the floors. In addition to regularly vacuuming (we recommend using a machine with a HEPA filter) and washing your floors, you should have your carpets professionally cleaned once a year to improve air quality.

2.) Clean/Replace Your Air Filters

Many homeowners forget to maintain the air filters in their heating and cooling systems, but deferring this can lead to poor air quality throughout your entire house. To avoid exposure to dust and allergens, clean or replace your air filters every 90 days for a regular home, every 60 days if you have a cat or dog, and every 30 days if you have multiple pets or a family member with severe allergies. If it’s been a few years, you may want to consider having your air ducts professionally cleaned as well.

3.) Add Plants to Your Home

There are a number of air purifying plants that can both clean the air you breathe and add an elegant touch to your home’s decor. Here’s a list a of 9 that have a bonus value of being difficult to kill.

4.) Replace Chemical Products With Natural Solutions

Now is as good a time as any to dig through your cabinets and dispose of household chemicals. Using natural products throughout your home will not only improve your air quality, but will make it less toxic for small children and pets.

Keep in mind that you can’t just toss these products in the garbage or flush them down the sink. Most communities have local businesses or dedicated centers where you can drop off hazardous waste. You might even have a hazardous waste pick-up day for your neighborhood.

5.) Ditch the Artificial Scents

According to WebMD, “synthetic fragrances in laundry products and air fresheners emit dozens of different chemicals into the air.” So while you are gathering up your household chemicals, make sure to toss in any aerosol sprays, plug-in air fresheners, or scented detergents. Instead open some windows, set out a bouquet of fresh flowers, and clean with natural solutions like lemon juice and baking soda to keep your home smelling fresh.
Do you have any air purifying tips that work for you? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear your advice.

Natural Ways to Treat the Most Common Household Pests

Pests are a common household problem. But how you approach that problem, could mean the difference between a comfortable, happy life or one of constant misery.

The Top Three Most Common Household Pests

There are plenty of household pests causing people all sorts of problems. However, the top three most common are:

  • Spiders
  • Ants
  • Fleas

Therefore, we are going to give you several natural methods you can use to get rid of them.

Preventing the Most Common Household Pests

Sometimes it’s possible to get rid of spiders, ants, and fleas using natural methods. And sometimes, depending on the severity and where you live, you might have to call in a professional. However, you can start with trying to address the situation yourself. Then, if it becomes apparent you are going to need some help, don’t hesitate to contact your local pest control company for assistance.

Natural Ways to Treat Pests_Spiders

Natural Pest Control Methods for Spiders

We all know that spiders are beneficial and a necessary part of our environment. However, most of us don’t really want them hanging around our house. So here are a few harmless ways to keep spiders out of your home.

  • Peppermint. Spiders hate peppermint; therefore, you can buy some peppermint essential oil, put it in a spray bottle and apply it around your home. And it smells great too!
  • Vinegar. White vinegar works beautifully for repelling spiders. Just put a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water and spray it around your home concentrating on the cracks and crevices. Yes, it does have an unpleasant odor, but don’t worry the smell doesn’t linger for very long.
  • Citrus. Yep, you got it. Spiders hate citrus as well. Take some citrus peels and rub them on the areas where spiders are known to frequent. Another option that works equally as well, and is a bit more convenient, is using lemon scented furniture polish as that same citrus scent will help repel spiders as well.
  • Chestnuts. We know this sounds a little odd, but chestnuts can also repel spiders and they last a long time before going bad. You simply place a few chestnuts around your home. For example, you can put them on your windowsills, along your baseboards, in your storage cabinets, or anywhere else spiders like to hang out.
  • Cedar. Cedar also works great for repelling spiders. Just take some cedar mulch and put it down around the perimeter of your home and this will help keep them from getting inside. You can also put some cedar blocks or shavings inside your home to repel spiders there as well.

Natural Ways to Treat Pests_Ants

Natural Pest Control Methods for Ants

There are many different kinds of ants. However, these particular natural methods for controlling ants will work for killing fire ants, black ants, carpenter ants and sugar ants.

  • Place cayenne pepper where you see the ants.
  • Spray lemon juice onto the trail of ants. The ants will then get this on their antenna which will, in turn, pollute and kill the entire colony.
  • Lemon juice and bay leaves. Make this into a paste and place the mixture where you see ants.
  • Spray a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water and spray it directly onto the ants to kill them.
  • Use food-grade Diatomaceous Earth and place it around the affected areas. The DE will dry out the exoskeleton of the ants and kill them.

Horse Apples

Natural Pest Control Methods for Fleas

Fleas are probably one of the hardest pests to control. However, it can be done, but you have to be diligent as it will generally require several repeated treatments before you will be rid of them completely.

  • Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth works for fleas just like it does for ants, which is by drying out their exoskeleton. You can also use boric acid, which has the same drying effect and will handily kill fleas. Just sprinkle whichever substance you’ve chosen onto your carpet and work it in with a broom and let it sit for 12-48 hours. Then vacuum and repeat the process after two weeks. Please note, however, that DE could possibly damage some vacuum cleaners so you might want to use a Shop-Vac instead for the first post-treatment vacuuming.
  • Horse apples can be used for flea control. Take whole horse apples and cut them into halves. Then place the apple halves all around your home. This method lasts for approximately two to three months when in an air-conditioned environment.
  • Plain old table salt works wonders for getting rid of fleas. You just sprinkle salt on your carpets, floors and around your baseboards. This method works by drying out the exoskeleton of the fleas which kills them.

The Bottom Line

Pest control can be a time-consuming task; however, it’s a necessary one if you want to keep pests from invading your home. But no matter which pest control method you’ve chosen to use, there might be times when you will have to call in a professional. Especially if you don’t have the time or patience for treating and retreating your home for pests. And that’s OK. Many people find that using a professional is a much quicker, easier route to go. You just have to decide which method is best for you and your particular situation.

 


 

If you liked this article, you might find our earlier post helpful as well: How to Prevent Pest Problems

4 Lessons Learned from Tackling a Green Building Project

Although green building is a trending topic in the construction industry, it hasn’t really evolved from an industry niche to a widely-accepted best practice. Education —both on the industry and consumer side— continues to bring green building into the light, yet there is still a wealth of mystery around the subject.

Shannon Bloemker, Founder of Glasshouse, recently sat down with Builder and Developer Magazine to chat about her experience transforming her mid-century modern Piedmont, California home into a LEED Platinum certified green home (the first in Piedmont and only the third in the San Francisco’s East Bay).

Whether you’re a consumer thinking about tackling a green building project or a contractor or builder who wants to segway into green building, here are four lessons that she learned from tackling that project.

1.) Get Your Squad Together

Tackling a green building project is no small feat. There is the environmental impact to consider, but also the cost, user experience, maintenance, design and more —and you’ll be hard pressed to find an expert that specializes in each of these areas. To make any green building project come to life, be sure to enlist the support and collaborative effort of a team of experts.  

From the onset —even during the research and planning stages— start building a team. Choices that are made for a certain design aesthetic could create high installation costs, for example, or a decision on building materials could impact design. When the homeowner, architect, builder, and subs are working toward the same end goal (your awesome home!), the result is a terrific design with a reasonable scope at a cost that everyone understands.  

2.) Brush Up On City Codes

Code restrictions, homeowners association CC&Rs and LEED certification requirements (among others) will have a huge impact on your green building project. During Shannon’s project, she found that the city had an array of ordinances (viewsheds, lot coverage, garage requirements, and design restrictions) that impacted the project. Her team needed to develop plans to make the vast majority of changes fit within the home’s existing footprint to maximize the existing space, including converting the garage and carport areas into living space.

As you begin your green building project, make sure to brush up on any codes, ordinances and restrictions that might impact the project. It might not be easy to design with these items in mind, but the alternative can be unforgiving.

3.) Be Patient When Sourcing Materials

The difficult and time consuming process of sourcing green materials can be a surprise for those tackling green building projects. In her interview with Builder and Developer Magazine, Shannon reflected on the material-sourcing process.

“The LEED Certification team I worked with was excellent at making sure materials used in the project contained no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and wouldn’t off-gas any detrimental materials into the home’s interior. This is more challenging than it sounds considering “green materials” extend into multitudinous categories from the glue used to adhere various surfaces to types of plywood, paint, carpet, shelving —everything you can think of inside a home’s interior.”

The lesson here is to remember to be patient, to think outside the box and to work with a team that shares your vision so you can effectively source quality green materials that bring the project to life.

4.) Don’t Forget the Interior

One of Shannon’s professors used to say a building is only green until it’s occupied. Meaning, what you bring into the building and the behavior of the inhabitants (cooking, showering, etc.) can change a healthy building into a sick one.

As you begin any green building project, don’t forget the interior components. From furniture and bedding, to plants and interior design features —sourcing eco-friendly materials in these areas will ensure that your home is not only built with sustainable principles in mind, but is also healthy to live in.

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Making Green Building Work For You

If there’s one key takeaway to learn from Shannon’s experience, it’s perseverance. Because green building is still a relatively new concept, it’s takes perseverance and persistence to get to the finish line. Having a team on your side, understanding the parameters of what’s possible, sourcing materials effectively and looking at the project holistically can help you get there.
Have you recently tackled a green building project? We’d love to hear from you! Whether you’re a builder or homeowner, share your green building experience with us on Facebook. Together we can help bring green building further into the mainstream.

10-Minute Fixes to Improve Energy Efficiency this Weekend

Have you got about an hour? That’s all you’ll need this weekend to make these five 10-minute fixes that will improve your home’s energy efficiency —resulting in potentially hundreds of dollars in savings.

1.) Unplug Things that Sap Energy

The Energy Department provides a handy visual guide for just how much those little appliances that you keep plugged in at all times are costing you. Whether they are actually turned on or not, little electrical pulses are still flowing through the outlet that they are plugged in, increasing your overall energy costs.

Turn off and unplug TVs in rooms where no one is watching. Unplug your toaster, computers, portable stereos, and other electronics when not in use to immediately start bringing down your electric bill. Take ten minutes this weekend to pick the items that should be unplugged and do it.

2.) Automate as Many Things as You Can (Like your thermostat!)

Technology has made it even easier to mind your electricity use, ironically considering most technology runs on electricity. Still, when you can program your thermostat and HVAC systems, you can potentially knock a huge chunk out of your energy bill.

By far, heating and cooling eats up the majority of your energy budget, accounting for 40% of all energy consumption in the average household. Turning it down by just one degree can cut that 40% down by 1%. Lights and sprinklers are programmable now. Automate these tiny energy wasters today if you can.

3.) Vacuum Your Vents and Air Filters

Clogged filters are a huge energy guzzler. When your vents are clogged, your air conditioning unit has to work twice as hard to cool the place down (and vice versa in the winter). Cleaning your vents and air filters regularly can cut your energy waste by 15%. Clean them this weekend but replace them every three months for maximum effect.

4.) Caulk Windows and Doors in Drafty Rooms

Is there a particularly drafty room in your house? Hundreds of dollars a year are escaping from some crack in there every year. Take 10 minutes to walk around your house with a caulk gun inspecting the air around your windows, doors, and any cracks in the foundation, filling them as you go.

5.) Swap Out Halogen and Incandescent Bulbs for EE Ones

When you go on an errand this weekend, don’t forget to pick up some energy efficient bulbs; enough to replace all of your halogen and incandescent ones. Take ten minutes by yourself or with your family to replace old bulbs in each room with energy efficient ones to reduce each light’s energy use by 75%!

How to Prevent Pest Problems

Whether you have a spider phobia or can’t stand the thought of creepy-crawlers invading your home, it’s always a good idea to take precautions to prevent pest problems at home. In fact, a national study by HomeTeam Pest Defense found that 84 percent of America’s homeowners experienced a pest problem over a 12 month period. The top pest issues were ants (49 percent), spiders (43 percent), flies (37 percent), mosquitoes (34 percent), mice (30 percent) and wasps (29 percent).

While no home is completely safe from the occasional ant or spider, there are some simple —and practical— steps you can take to ensure you’re keeping the creepy-crawlers at bay. Follow these tips so you don’t become part of the statistic:

1. Inspect Your Home Regularly

Common pests like ants and spiders tend to sneak in through the cracks, so be sure to look around your home for holes, cracks and other potential entry points on a regular basis. Some of the most often overlooked areas are those around pipes and wires that enter the home. Make sure these areas are sealed and checked regularly.

2. Don’t Forget the Chimney

Forget ants and spiders, imagine having a bat infestation in your chimney! To prevent these and other critters like squirrels from entering your home, be sure to install and inspect chimney screens. A similar area that’s often forgotten? Flood vents in low-country garages, which need screens to not only prevent animals from entering, but debris from potential flood waters.

3. Fido Needs an Inspection, Too   

Critters can enter your home in more ways than you can imagine, so it’s important to think outside the box. Be sure to check your dog or cat regularly for fleas and ticks and, should you find any, be sure to spray your furniture and carpets with treatment spray.

4. Use Airtight Containers

It may seem like common knowledge, but sometimes we need reminding. Always store your food and pantry essentials in airtight containers to avoid late-night feasts in your kitchen. A quality set of Tupperware can last for years and —bonus— your pantry will be super clean and organized.

5. Maintain Your Faucets and Drains

Not only will pests enter your home in the cracks and openings around pipes and wires (Tip #1), many are attracted to water, since they need that to survive. Be sure to fix leaky faucets immediately, and make sure your drains are clear of leftover food.

A great, all-natural solution for this is to pour ½ a cup of baking soda then ½ cup of vinegar down the drain. Wait a few minutes and then bour boiling water down the drain to clear it all out.

6. Go All-Natural

Essential oils are all the rage right now, and they can keep the pests at bay, too! Whether you’re trying to keep mosquitoes out of the house or want to prevent ants and spiders from coming inside, you can mix 2 ½ teaspoons of essential oil with 1 cup of grain alcohol (like vodka) in an empty spray bottle to mist throughout your home or in problem areas.

Here are a few common uses:

  • Citronella essential oil = mosquitoes
  • Lavender essential oil = mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, flies
  • Peppermint essential oil = spiders and ants
  • Rosemary essential oil = fleas and ticks
  • Tea tree essential oil = mosquitoes and ants

7. Keep Nature at a Distance

Bugs and creepy-crawlers can live in the soil, grass and trees in your yard, so keep these plants at a slight distance from your house. Be sure to also manicure your grass, shrubs, bushes and trees regularly to cultivate your yard’s landscape and keep pests from coming inside.

Along the same lines, don’t pile firewood directly against your home’s walls or foundation and keep any piles of mulch or leaves at a distance.

8. Cover Up Your Trash

Unwanted visitors can be drawn to your garbage, so make sure you’re putting a lid on your trash —both inside and outside the home. And, be sure to rinse out your trash can regularly with a combination of water and vinegar to ensure bugs are not enticed to snoop around.

How to Prevent Other Home Issues

From tips on how to prevent pest problems to articles on numerous DIY projects around the home, be sure to explore our “How to” series to find more ways to maintain your home with ease. With a little effort and some elbow grease, keeping your home in tip-top shape can be simple.
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