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Green Building - Homeowners faqs

 

Q.

What can I do around my house to conserve energy and water, and help protect the environment?

A.

As a homeowner, you can use the following information to help you conserve energy and water, and help protect the environment. Many of these steps can also help you save money or even allow you and your family to feel more comfortable in your home.

Energy Efficiency

Most residential appliances and heating or cooling systems are powered either by electricity or by natural gas. In James City County, electricity and natural gas are provided by Dominion Virginia Power or Virginia Natural Gas. Energy savings can be achieved through a number of different means, including electricity use habits; appliances and electronics; insulation and air sealing; lighting and day lighting; windows, doors and skylights; heating and cooling; landscaping; and water heating.

There are many everyday practices that homeowners can do that cost little to no money and will help improve energy efficiency and save money, like raising the thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer, keeping window shades closed while the air conditioner is on, turning off lights, unplugging equipment not in use, and lowering water heater temperature setting. Other ways to improve energy efficiency and save money may involve putting a new product in place in your home or completing some type of home-improvement project. For example, you might wish to buy a new appliance like an EnergyStar refrigerator, weather strip doors and windows, add an insulation blanket to a water heater, or put in new landscaping to shade your house or create a wind-block. Some of these products or projects cost very little money, while others may take more of an investment – either way, they will likely save you money over time (see the section on Audits below for more information).

If you are looking to make your home more energy efficient, there is no shortage of ideas available to you. There are many websites that have great information on things you can do to make your house more energy efficient. For a few sites recommended sites, see below:

Home Energy Audits and Cost-Benefit Considerations

While the good news is that there are a lot of practices and measures that can help you save energy and money in your home, the drawback is that it is sometimes hard to know where to start and what will make the most difference for the money.  Fortunately, there is help out there for you! There are a number of websites that will take you through an on-line energy audit that you can do yourself which will provide information and/or recommendations specific to your household. Several sites also include information about hiring a professional home energy auditor who can do tests that will give you an even better picture of where to start.

  • U.S. Department of Energy (Energy Savers Program) – Provides information on both DIY and professional energy audits.  http://www.energysavers.gov/.
  • The US EPA Energy Star website provides information on both DIY and professional energy audits. For the DIY audit, the site includes the option of entering actual data on your energy use and receiving comparison information and recommendations tailored to you. This website also includes contact information for professional home energy auditors in Virginia, including in the Hampton Roads area. Click here for more information:
  • http://www.energystar.gov/.
  • The Virginia Sustainable Building Network website has a list of Building Performance Institute (BPI) Certified and Home Energy Rating System Program (HERS) Rater energy auditors (http://www.vsbn.org/).
  • Dominion Virginia Power has a Home Energy Calculator to help tailor recommendations to your house. This site also has calculators that will tell you how much you can save by adjusting your thermostat and evaluate whether it might be time for a new heating or cooling system. Visit this site: http://www.dom.com/.

Homeowners are now able to specify that they would like to buy renewable energy. Dominion Virginia Power launched the Dominion Green Power program on January 1, 2009, which allows customers to voluntarily support the production and development of electricity generated from renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass). This program offers convenient and cost-effective options for customers to match all or part of their electrical usage with renewable energy. Visit the Dominion website to learn more:  http://www.dom.com/.

Water Conservation

In James City County, businesses receive water from the James City Service Authority (JCSA) (in some parts of the County, this service is in partnership with Newport News Waterworks), or from a private well. Regardless of the source, saving water is an important goal, and may also help your business save money.

The JCSA is committed to helping their customers conserve water, and have an extensive website with information to help homeowners save water both inside the home (appliances) and outside the home (lawn and landscaping). Their webpage also provides information on the many rebates that are available. Click on this link for more information: http://www.jamescitycountyva.gov/jcsa/water-conservation.html.

There are several websites that offer on-line home efficiency audits that cover not only energy, but other green building measures such as water conservation:


Other green building measures

Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation are two of the major factors in Green Building, but there are other aspects of building and maintaining greener buildings. These other aspects include use of renewable resources for materials in the house, choosing products that can improve indoor air quality, and paying attention to what happens to the waste that is created when a home is renovated or remodeled. These steps not only help protect the environment, but some of them can help protect the health of your family. Whether you’re thinking about replacing a carpet, painting the bedroom, buying a new set of living room furniture, or remodeling the whole house, you may want to consider the following information. For more information about where these products are available to purchase, see the “Where Can I Purchase Green Building Products?” section below.

Materials from Renewable Resources and Using Recycled Products - Green building often includes using products from renewable resources and/or products that are made from recycled material. Products made from renewable resources include Bamboo flooring; Cork flooring; Wool Carpets; Natural Linoleum; Natural Stone; Solid Wood Cabinetry, Furniture, and Doors; and Clay and Copper roofing tile. For wood products, look for certification of the Forest Stewardship Council to help ensure that the forest the wood came from is being responsibly managed. In terms of recycled or reclaimed products, look for reclaimed wood flooring, ceramic tiles with recycled content, and carpet or carpet pad with recycled content.

Indoor Air Quality and Chemical Reduction - Many indoor products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This family of chemical compounds negatively affects human health. The “new car smell” can be attributed to VOCs, as well as the smell of many paints and finishes. Foam furniture, carpet pad and particleboard often contain urea-formaldehyde, which off-gases VOCs. Conscious choices can be made to minimize the amount of VOCs in a home. Paints are available in low VOC and no VOC varieties by major paint manufacturers. Urea formaldehyde furniture can be avoided. Particleboard furniture can be avoided or the particleboard sealed to keep the VOCs from off-gassing. (This information is from the EarthCraft Homes Renovation Guidelines).

Waste Management - Building waste can be recycled (wood, metal, drywall, etc.) or salvaged for reuse (bathtubs or sinks, wood floors, doors, etc.) which saves space in our landfills.

Q.

Green Building Projects - Do It Myself or Hire a Contractor?

A.

If you have some projects in mind, you may wonder whether you can do them yourself or whether it might be a good idea to hire a contractor. While the answer may be different depending on the project and on your particular skills and experience, the HGTVPro.com website has information that could help you decide which way to go. For example, the website has information and instructions for installing a storm door or more efficient lighting as DIY projects, while listing installation of green flooring materials or air-sealing the garage as projects that might be worthy of bringing in a contractor. For more information, visit: http://www.hgtvpro.com/.

Another resource is the Lowe’s website which has videos to walk you through green building DIY projects: http://www.lowes.com/.

Q.

Where can I purchase Green Building Products?

A.

Green building products are available at a wide variety of stores. Some stores have taken the extra step of providing information on their websites, and some have included labeling products to help their customers distinguish green building products.

One example is Home Depot, which has an “Eco Options” label. The Home Depot website explains that “Every product with an Eco Options label has less of an impact on the environment than competing products. Specifically Eco Options products offer one or more of the following benefits: Energy Efficient, Water Conservation, Healthy Home, Clean Air and Sustainable Forestry.” For example, if you wanted to paint a room using paint with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), purchase a door or moldings from a responsibly managed forest, or buy an EnergyStar appliance, Home Depot has an Eco Options label on those products. For more information, please visit the Home Depot website

Another example is Lowes, which has an “Efficient Home” section on its website that provides information on products that help save water, energy, and money:
http://www.lowes.com/.

Another source is a company called Green Building Supply, which sells products, but can also be a useful resource in researching products that are available: http://www.greenbuildingsupply.com/.

Q.

What if I’m about to renovate my house?

A.

There are also resources that can help homeowners evaluate and put in place features that cover the green building spectrum. One example is the EarthCraft Homes House Renovation Program which includes an evaluation of energy efficiency, resource efficient building materials, managing waste, improving indoor air quality and conserving water during the renovation of an existing home, and can allow homeowners to certify their house as an EarthCraft House. Click here for more information:  http://www.earthcrafthouse.com/About/renovation.htm.

Q.

Are there any financial resources that can help?  What incentives and tax credits are available?

A.

The following are some resources that could help offset the costs of making improvements to your home.  Please check back again for more information, as additional resources may be added to this page in the future. In addition, you may wish to visit the website for the Tax Incentives Assistance Project, which has flyers and other materials summarizing tax incentives available to homeowners: http://energytaxincentives.org/.

Virginia Natural Gas Incentives (http://www.virginianaturalgas.com/Universal/energySMART.aspx)

  • Free Programmable Thermostat.
  • Equipment Rebates (temporarily suspended – hope to reinstate them)
  • $500 for a 90 percent + AFUE Furnace
  • $500 for a tankless gas water heater (.82+ EF)
  • $150 for a tank type gas water heater (.62+ EF)
  • Low Income Weatherization Program - Virginia Natural Gas has partnered with state certified weatherization agencies – including the Williamsburg/James City County Community Action Network to provide cost-effective energy efficiency measures for customers with an income below 175 percent of the federal poverty ($38,588 for a family of four). Besides weatherization measures, the agency may determine that equipment and appliance repair or aid with appliance replacement is needed. Participants are asked to partner with the program to develop and carry out a household energy savings Action Plan. All efficiency measures and energy education services are provided free of charge to the customer. Peninsula Residents (other than Hampton) should call the Williamsburg - James City County Community Action Network at 757-229-9389.

Federal Tax Credits for Homeowners
(http://www.energystar.gov/taxcredits)

Tax Credit for 30 percent of the cost of materials ($1,500 cap, and placed in service in 2009-2010 on a primary residence) for the following:

  • Insulation
  • Windows and Doors meeting efficiency requirements
  • Asphalt and Metal Roofing meeting energy star reflectivity requirements
  • HVAC equipment meeting efficiency requirements
  • Non-solar water heaters meeting efficiency requirements
  • Biomass stove meeting efficiency requirements

Tax Credit for 30 percent of the Total Cost (no cost cap, and placed in service by 2016) for the following:

  • Geothermal Heat Pump Systems
  • Solar Hot Water Systems
  • Solar Photovoltaic Systems for power
  • Residential Wind Power Systems
  • Fuel Cell and micro-turbine systems (limit of $500 per ½ KW)

Other types of incentives

Renewable Energy Credits – Available through some solar and wind installers, these are available for at least solar hot water, solar PV, and wind systems, and provide an annual cash payment. Estimated payment for an $8-$9,000 residential solar hot water system is $800 annually (in addition to 30 percent tax credit on installation of system). One source for more information is: Solar Services, Inc. 757-427-6300.

Virginia Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Rebate Programs – Applications for the first round of rebates closed in mid-November 2009, however, a second round of rebate funds is expected to be made available at a later date to be determined. Visit the following website to sign up to be notified of the second round: http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/. These rebates cover energy audits, central air conditioners, air source heat pumps, natural gas or propane furnace, commercial lighting upgrades, high efficiency motors and drives, and much more. Visit this section of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy website for the complete list: http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/.

State Tax Exemption Holiday: From Friday, Oct. 9 through Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 Virginia's ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday took place. During the holiday, Virginians were exempt from paying the state and local sales tax on ENERGY STAR qualified products that cost $2,500 or less (products such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), Ceiling Fans, Clothes washers, Dehumidifiers, Dishwashers, Programmable Thermostats, Refrigerators, and Room Air Conditioners). Additional Tax Holidays may occur in the future.

Ongoing Virginia State Tax Deduction for certain Energy efficient appliances: 20 percent of the sales tax paid in purchasing heat pumps, water heaters, oil furnaces, air conditioning systems that meet certain efficiency standards, as well as clothes washers, room air conditioners, dishwashers, and standard size refrigerators that meet applicable energy star requirements. See website for details: http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/

 

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