By Beth Botts
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
Tips from Jennifer Roberts, author of "Good Green Homes."
Think about energy efficiency
Roberts says energy that you don't use doesn't have to be produced by running nuclear reactors or burning fossil fuels. A remodel is a perfect time to add insulation, Roberts says, and the best place to put it is in the attic.
Roberts suggests looking into new forms of insulation, such as cellulose, made from recycled newspapers, which can be blown into attics, or rolls and batts of blue-tinged insulation made from recycled denim.
These will help save money year after year. A new furnace might be 15% more efficient than your old one. And Roberts says that's going to save you money. Energy Star has helpful information.
Don't build more space than you need
Every square foot will generate construction debris, require building materials, take energy to build and cost energy to heat and cool once it's done. So think about whether you really need more space, or simply need to better use the space you have.
Reuse whatever you can
Maybe you can reface your kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them. Maybe wood flooring or moldings can be salvaged. Maybe dated but still functional light fixtures can go in the basement or a child's room. What you keep stays out of a landfill. Old lumber, from your own home or a salvage site, gives character to a home and saves cutting down timber.
Search out healthy materials
Many common building materials release harmful materials into the air of the home. For example, particleboard and some fiberglass insulation is made with irritating formaldehyde, Roberts says, and many paints release ozone-foaming volatile organic compounds. Look for VOC- and formaldehyde-free products.
Consider new lumber technologies
Long, wide lengths of lumber for wood framing must be cut from increasingly scarce old-growth trees. Instead, consider trusses, which can be assembled with narrower lumber from smaller trees. Engineered beams, made largely from lumber byproducts, can span wide spaces with less weight than conventional lumber.
Use skylights or shrewd window placement to bring daylight into interior spaces, reducing the need for electric lighting. To minimize heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, consider slender tube skylights that introduce a spotlight or daylight.
NOT REMODELING? YOU CAN STILL THINK GREEN
Install compact fluorescent light bulbs
They use one-third to one-fourth of the energy of a conventional incandescent bulb and last 8 to 10 times as long, Roberts says. "They cost more upfront, but over the life of the bulb, you really save," she says.
Caulk windows and doors
Prevent heated air from leaking out in winter and cooled air from leaking in summer, and you prevent a bit of the pollution that is created to run a furnace or generate energy for an air conditioner.
Shut down "phantom loads"
Many appliances, such as TVs, microwaves, VCRs and cell phone charges, draw power any time they are plugged in, even if they are turned off. Any appliance with a remote control, a clock or a memory draws a "phantom load," Roberts says, and it's not negligible. "I've read some studies that say as much as 10% of your energy use is attributed to these kinds of loads." Plug these appliances into a power strip so you can switch off the power when you're not using them. And enable the energy-saving feature on computers so they go into "sleep" mode after a period of inactivity.
Keep surfaces light
Light-colored wall and floor finished reflect light and reduce the need for electric lighting.