Don’t spend green to live green

Greening your home is trendy these days – not that it’s a bad thing. Conserving resources and being kind to the environment have intrinsic values. But it also makes ‘cents.’ According to a recent article in Smart Money magazine, the extra costs associated with “green” construction or home improvements are often offset by savings in home utility and other bills.

And the good news is that green construction has become more accessible to the average homeowner, not just the privilege of the rich and famous. A construction premium of 11 percent to 25 percent just a few years ago is now down to about 3-5 percent, according to the article. Environmentally friendly homes are expected to account for nearly 10 percent of new home construction by next year. And despite the grim state of the real estate market, these homes hold their value.

But what if you just want to do something good for the environment with the home you have? According to Michael Grosvenor, a co-author of Green Living For Dummies®, there are many inexpensive options.
“Two of my favorite ones are to ask your local energy provider to convert you from the normal electrical energy supply source (traditionally supplied by burning coal) to a green power source, such as solar and wind power,” he said. “You still get the same amount of electricity into your home; it’s just that your electricity provider uses your money to get its electricity from alternative energy sources.”

Also, “collect your household fruit and veggie scraps in a separate bin for use in your own household compost. You can mix the fermented scraps (you can buy a special recycled plastic bin to collect and store the scraps) in with leaves, lawn clippings and some paper (from your recycling pile) and use as fertilizer for your garden.”
Another inexpensive way to “green” your kitchen – and bathroom – is to install faucet aerators on the taps, said Grosvenor. These reduce water volume while maintaining good water pressure. In the bathroom, water-saving showerheads and toilets are both easy to install and relatively inexpensive. Other cheap tips include turning off the water while you brush your teeth and taking a shower instead of a bath.

In the time it takes to brush (dentists recommend two minutes), nearly two gallons of good water goes down the drain. And as a general rule, a shower uses a third of the water it takes to fill your bathtub.
For a little more investment – of time and money – Sullivan County Community College offers several ways to learn how to build a new home or renew your current home with the environment in mind.

Starting this spring, the school plans to offer new green-related non-credit programs and courses, including a series of low-cost workshops specifically for consumers and homeowners. Topics scheduled to be covered include consumer conservation, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) incentives for homeowners, and building/remodeling a green home.
SCCC also offers a variety of green-focused online classes through their e-learning center at

Current course offerings include Energy Savings in Building Electrical, Mechanical and Plumbing Systems; Small Wind Powered Electric Generation Systems; and Sustainable Design. And if you’re really serious, the school offers an Associate’s Degree in Green Building Maintenance and Management. While the program is primarily aimed at construction professionals, instructor Helena le Roux says “Much of the course material is directly applicable to residential design or re-design.”

Homeowners who want to make healthy changes in their bedroom might consider replacing their bed with an environmentally friendly mattresses. These are free of chemicals and typically combine organic cotton and natural latex with untreated wool. Last year, Simmons introduced a line of eco-friendly mattresses at select JCPenney stores.

Products in the company’s Natural Care line start at $1,599. Latex mattresses are considered by many to be comfortable and supportive. They’re also hypoallergenic and naturally dust mite-, mold- and mildew-resistant. Throughout the house, homemade cleaning solutions are a healthy alterative to many store-bought products. Vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and Borax are the primary ingredients in many of these readily-available recipes.

Meanwhile, bamboo – a quickly-growing grass that can be renewed in much less time than it takes to grow a tree – can be used for hard flooring and soft bed linens. And to conserve energy in your living room and family room, rooms that typically have lots of small entertainment units, consider using a single electric panel that can be turned off with one switch.

While compact fluorescent lights have received a lot of attention lately because they use less energy and last longer than traditional, incandescent bulbs, they also contain mercury, which is toxic when dumped in landfills, according to Barbara Vaughn, manager of Ulster Electric in Kingston. “Compact flourecents are a big thing right now, but the problem is their disposal,” said Vaughn. A better option, she said, is LED lighting.
If you’re ready to make a substantial investment in green living, Green Acres is a new development, currently under construction in New Paltz. The neighborhood is expected to feature 25 “zero net energy” homes. In other words, homeowners are not expected to have utility bills, according to Wendie Reid, the agent representing the development. To accomplish this, the homes will feature geothermal heating/cooling systems, roof-mounted solar systems, insulated concrete forms and a heat recovery system. Building materials will be free of toxic materials.

The three- and four-bedroom homes range from 2,400 to 4,000 square feet. Prices start at $499,000.
Grosvenor said that “Although one individual action alone might not be enough to save the planet, that action will have such an influence on your mindset and make so much sense to you that you’ll inevitably adopt many more sustainable actions.”