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A guide to energy efficiency 

Save money by making your home more energy efficient

click to enlarge Global Green's LEED Platinum home in the Lower 9th Ward features eco-friendly construction materials like reclaimed wood and Energy Star appliances.

Global Green's LEED Platinum home in the Lower 9th Ward features eco-friendly construction materials like reclaimed wood and Energy Star appliances.

Criteria for a new home may include a spacious kitchen with new appliances, deep closets and glossy wood floors, or — for this writer — at least one coffee shop within walking distance. The eco-friendly and energy-efficient elements of a home often are overlooked, even though they can help save money.

 According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American spends $2,000 on energy costs each year, and $200 to $400 of that is caused by drafts, air leaks around openings and outdated ventilation systems.

 Green construction materials and appli- ances can eliminate those problems, and they're better for your health and the environment. But finding resources and determining what's best for your home can be difficult. A few local folks who are passionate and knowledgeable about green buildings offer some advice.

 Michelle Pyne, the New Orleans director of Global Green, a national nonprofit organization promoting sustainable living, says the first step of building a green home is selecting the right location. Consider lots near public transportation hubs, then decide which direction the house should face.

 "In New Orleans, having the east and west ends of the home as the shorter ends means that the rising and the setting of the sun only catches (the smaller) parts of the house ... so the sun isn't beating down on the long ends of the home all day," says Pyne, citing a shotgun home as an example.

 Craig Turner, owner of Argyle Construction, says the foundation of energy efficiency is good construction. Pre-fabricated wall panels, for example, provide better insulation and help builders save time and money. On hot days, double-pane argon gas windows reduce the amount of heat entering the house.

 "If you can reduce the amount of heat transferred from the exterior to the interior of the house, the capacity of the air conditioning system can be reduced," he says.

 Pyne recommends salvaged or recycled construction materials from shops like the The Green Project and Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Look for appliances, light bulbs and electronics with the Energy Star label, which help save energy without sacrificing functionality, she says.

 Pyne says the eco-friendly approach also improves indoor air quality, which can be up to five times worse than outdoors because paints, carpets and anything with sealants can release harmful gas compounds.

 Eco-friendly updates also can be made to older homes, including historic buildings.

 Rebecca Gipson, director of Operation Comeback at the Preservation Resource Center, suggests changing air filters regularly in ventilating systems and installing a programmable thermostat to regulate your home's temperature. "Having it set while you're not there, either a few degrees cooler or warmer ... can help," she says.

 Check windows and doors for leaks; they can be sealed easily with weather stripping. Update the attic with cellulose insulation made with renewable or natural materials, and with radiant barriers, which rebound energy waves from the sun's heat.

 Gipson encourages homeowners to keep a building's original wooden windows rather than install new ones.

 "Older wood windows tend to hold up better in our humidity," she says. "They expand and change with temperature, whereas replacement windows are not going to do that."

 She also recommends a tankless water heater that heats water only when you need it, reducing energy consumption and water use.

 Water and its effects on our homes and streets are constant concerns in the South, but Gipson suggests ways to reuse all that spring rain.

 "Here, we have to deal with so much water management," Gipson says. "Rain barrels, along with rubber drip lines, can feed water into your garden, and also keep water out of our streets and our drainage system."



A quick guide to energy-efficiency labels

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability. — U.S. Green Building Council (www.new.usgbc.org/leed)

A new home with the Energy Star label has undergone a process of inspections to meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Energy Star-certified homes use significantly less energy than typical new homes. — Energy Star (www.energystar.gov)

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish National Green Building Standards, which provides a standard definition of green building for homes. The highest level calls for a building to save 60 percent or more of its energy use. A Green Scoring Tool is used for the certification process. — Green Building Alliance (www.go-gba.org)

For additional facts on energy efficiency, visit www.energy.gov.

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