We had a great response to our call for green questions! Skip to specific questions by clicking on the appropriate category below, or scroll down to read them all.
Is it possible to have an environmentally friendly section or tag for companies or products? Angie's List changed how I search for contractors, and if you take the lead in the eco-contractor market I'll follow gladly. -Rob H., Odessa, Fla.
As we speak, our IT department is working on 'Project Tree Hugger,' which will add a green icon next to each company that utilizes green work practices. Our goal is to have the tags live this summer. In the meantime, the April green issue has state-by-state green resources and green product listings.
I want to downsize and am willing to pay more for green. How do I find a place, preferably in Denver, but actually anywhere? -Ricky K., Denver
Check with the local Built Green chapter for a list of green builders and communities. Or, check EcoBroker for green real estate agents by selecting the state and city where you're looking to buy.
I'm just starting to build a green home and think I need to go with an experienced builder and architect, as I don't want to be the guinea pig. The not-as-experienced builders say they can research and learn all they need to – your thoughts? -Ginnie J., Downers Grove, Ill.
This is a personal decision, but after researching green building all over the country, I know one thing for sure – education is important. Ask your contractor if he plans on educating his subcontractors to keep with green building standards. We talked with one homeowner who had to Dumpster-dive his own project because the subcontractors weren't recycling aluminum! If you truly don't want to be a guinea pig, then go with experience, but there can't be a lot of harm if you find a contractor who seems legitimately interested in doing it the right way. Just be sure to educate yourself as the process unfolds.
We want to include as many eco-friendly features as possible when we build our next home, but we aren't sure where to start. -Heather S.B., Hartsdale, NY
Check the U.S. Green Building Council for a listing of all LEED certifiers and accredited providers in your area. Currently, Maureen Mahle of Steven Winter Associates is responsible for LEED certification in New York. There are also builders who specialize in 'building green.' Try Greenstreet construction. Or check with the local Built Green chapter for a list of green builders.
We’ve made A TON of green improvements to our 50-year-old home in the past two years (replaced old appliances; installed energy efficient light bulbs; new windows, roof, etc). We've seen an average reduction in our gas bill of $50-$100 per month and our electric bill has not gone up, even though the kilowatt rate has doubled. Do you have any more suggestions? We need to get some masonry work done but qualified masons seem to be in short supply. Oh, and we aren't made of money. -Jane D., Raleigh
The best resource for green remodeling ideas and strategies is the new REGREEN Guidelines. You can find green certified remodelers through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the Green Advantage program and the National Association of Home Builders.
Is there a green carpet product available that's environmentally friendly and healthy? -Misty A., Southlake, Texas
Earth Weave Carpet Mills Inc. manufactures a nontoxic, all-natural carpet in North America. The biodegradable floor covering is comprised of natural wool, hemp, cotton and uses a natural adhesive from a rubber tree. They also stay away from harsh chemicals and dyes. Another option is Nature's Carpet, made of 100 percent wool with a jute backing that's held in place with natural rubber latex.
Is there a practical solution to finding a greener choice in selecting and installing nylon carpeting? -Anonymous
Not that we've come across. See above response for more about two green carpet manufacturers we like.
I’m tired of paying more for green cleaning products that don’t work… -George D., Redington Beach, Fla.
Most green cleaning products are just as good as their chemical counterparts, but require a bit more time and elbow grease to work effectively. To avoid paying more for name-brands, try making your own cleaners with ingredients like baking soda. Check out eartheasy.com for ideas and help.
How do you build a compost box? -Anonymous, Akron, Ohio
We did a story on this last fall with step-by-step directions.
DECKS & PORCHES
What should be considered in building an eco-friendly deck with a gas grill and gas firepit? -Jo B., Temple City, Calif.
One of the best ways to build an eco-friendly deck is to use composite decking instead of wood. It costs more, but it’ll last longer and it’s lower-maintenance. While wood requires sealing and staining, composite only requires cleaning. Composite is made mostly of recycled plastic and vinyl; looks like real wood and comes in a variety of colors. Many types are also more durable than wood — they won’t rot or splinter, and they can better resist mold and mildew.
Gas grills are good for the environment because they give off a lot less CO2 and other chemicals and fumes than charcoal grills do. For your fire pit, check out the Aquatic Glassel, which has specially processed glass that won’t discolor or produce any byproducts. The company also recently came out with portable propane fire pits. HBH Gas Systems has a Central Propane Gas System, which can be installed anywhere in your home. Propane is nontoxic, clean-burning and highly efficient.
Where can I find someone to do an energy audit and offer solutions to problem areas? -Jan R., Indianapolis
Ask your utility providers if they offer a free or discounted energy audit. If not, try Thermo-Scan Inspections in Noblesville, Ind. Angie's List hired them to perform an audit on an old, two-story home used as office space. Check out the List-en Up podcast to see our energy audit in action!
Do you have any companies in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area who use infrared to find water leaks in your roof? If not, could you recommend a company to inspect my roof for leaks?
We found four highly rated companies in Cincinnati – just sign in and do a keyword search for 'infrared.'
I’m looking for earth-friendly flooring – bamboo, cork and marmoleum – and most importantly, a skilled and knowledgeable company to install it. -Sally C., Boston
Green flooring is not only great for the environment but can improve indoor air quality — a huge plus for those who have asthma or suffer from allergies. Jeff Rogers, owner of NE Green Building Supplies and Services in Provincetown, Mass., offers EcoTimber FSC-certified wood flooring, Marmoleum, Natures Carpet, Plyboo bamboo products and reclaimed wood flooring. Rogers recommends contacting Floor Masters (508-833-9554) to install green carpet or Marmoleum. Dawnomah Dubois, a sales representative from Green Depot in Boston, recommends JJ Hardwood Floors Inc. (978-897-1150) in Acton, Mass., for hardwood flooring installation. Check out Angie’s List magazine, for more options in green friendly flooring.
How do you find a painter and flooring installer for someone who is chemically sensitive? -Nancy K., Glencoe, Ill.
Look for someone that’s willing to use environmentally friendly paints and floors that contain zero Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Most painters or installers are willing to use these products if asked, and the application or installation is typically the same. Get our list of green paints and flooring.
We need a new HVAC unit. Should we look into what might be out there that could be better for the environment and for our health? -Shelia K., Indianapolis
A geothermal system may be right for you. Since geothermal units don't draw air from outside like traditional HVAC units, allergens such as pollen won't be sucked into your home. Geothermal heat pumps use heat from the ground to warm or cool your house. Many geothermal heat pumps are Energy Star-rated, which means they use less energy than other units and may qualify for a tax refund.
How can we best cool our house that has radiator heat and no central AC? What are the benefits and costs? Who knows about the latest alternatives? -Carol L., Cincinnati
Panasonic makes a line of Energy Star-rated ceiling insert fans called WhisperGreen. An attic fan can also help cool your house. Attics can become extremely hot in the summer, and by circulating that air, the rest of the house can be cooled. Some attic fans, such as those manufactured by Natural Light and Suntunnel, are also solar powered. And a good insulation, such as Amvic Insulated Concrete Forms and Icynene Insulation System, can help keep your home cool in summer, warm in winter and your energy bills low.
In an attempt to reduce our air conditioning use, we would like to install a whole-house fan. Do you have any suggestions? -Anonymous, Polk City, Iowa
AirScape provides energy-efficient natural cooling, such as whole-house fans. They're based in California, but shipping is available. Kohles & Bach Heating & Cooling in Johnston also offers both sales and maintenance of whole-house fans.
Would it be practical and cost-effective to have a geo-thermal heating system installed in an existing single-family house located on a city or suburban lot? -Teela C., Blaine, Minn.
For a typical sized home, you can expect to pay anywhere from $9,000 to $14,000 for a geothermal heat pump. The practicality and cost difference would largely depend on your home's size and build date — as well as your current utility bills. For more information, try contacting a local provider such as Massmann Geothermal & Mechanical in Maple Grove or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm building a small cottage using energy and water conserving materials, but I haven't found a good, low mechanicals HVAC system. Will I have to settle for regular air conditioning plus an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator), ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) and filtration? Or is there an all-in-one system? -Rita A., Boston
We talked to Jeff Rogers, owner of NE Green Building Supplies and Services in Provincetown, Mass., who was the general contractor when building his own LEED platinum certified home, to get his advice. He says he doesn’t know of any system that includes an HRV and ERV, but he recommends installing a geothermal heat pump or an air-based heat pump, which are more efficient than a HVAC system. Another recommendation is installing structural or vegetative overhangs over your windows, which would prevent summer sun from coming in and overheating your home. He also recommends installing windows with a low Solar Heat Gain Coefficient. 'The lower the number, the more heat it will block,' he told Angie’s List.
What are the 'greenest' drywalls and insulation? -Sylvia W., Boston
Cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspaper and treated with fire retardants and insect protection. The cellulose fibers have a higher density and R-value than many other insulation types, providing exceptional blockage against air infiltration. A California company, Serious Materials, is in the process of developing the first 'green' drywall, dubbed EcoRock. They expect it to be available this summer.
What type of green insulation can you recommend? I've heard about recycled newspaper treated with fire retardant–does it have a good R-factor? Donna R., Blawnox, Pa.
When is it worth adding a radiant barrier to the attic instead of just using insulation? -Erika R., Dallas
According to Luke Rogers of Innovative Insulation Inc. in Arlington, Texas, 'About 93 percent of all the heat entering your roof is radiant heat, so in climates where the biggest issue is keeping heat out in the summer, a radiant barrier will be more effective than conventional insulation. We recommend using a radiant barrier in conjunction with conventional insulation. They can work with one another to maximize the home's efficiency. Consider the price, too. The cost of materials for a radiant barrier is about half the price of fiberglass and one-third the price of foam, and you can install it yourself.'
Can you help with the purchase of a green lawn mower? -Donna L., Chicago
Try a push or electric lawnmower, such as the ones offered at ecomowers. They're much more environmentally friendly than gas powered mowers and less moody than a goat.
Is there such a thing as a 'green' lawn or landscape service that avoids health-endangering chemicals? -Judith K., Chicago
Sure. Here's a Chicago company that does just that and has straight A's on Angie's List: Agrilawn Environmental Services Corp, (847-231-6122). Don't forget to submit a report on your experience!
I'm concerned that the mercury content (in disposal) of compact fluorescent bulbs will affect the brain development of an entire generation of infants. Who takes our spent CF bulbs? -Marion H., Indianapolis
The City of Indianapolis and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful have a ton of local recycling tips posted. The city of Indianapolis' Change a Light, Dispose it Right initiative maintains several ToxDrop locations with varying hours that accept used traditional fluorescent lighting tubes and newer CFL bulbs:
• Trader's Point, 7550 N. Lafayette Road; first and third Sat, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
• IMPD Training Facility, 9049 E. 10th St; first and third Sat, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m
• Perry Township Gov't Center, 4925 S. Shelby St; second and fourth Sat, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
• Belmont Avenue Collection Facility, 2700 S.; Belmont Ave. Tues and Thur, 9 - 11 a.m.
I’m confused on what I can recycle and what I can’t – do the numbers matter? What plastics can be used in the microwave and which give off toxins? -Mary Ann Z., Indianapolis
For a comprehensive list of recycling options for a broad range of materials, answers and frequently asked question, visit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. Although I couldn't find specific information on which kinds of plastics produce toxins when used in a microwave oven, I'd suggest erring on the side of caution and never using a plastic container in the microwave unless it's specifically labeled for microwave use.
What are some affordable ways to 'go green' when restoring an old house (100 yrs) on a budget? -Laura T., Philadelphia
The important things to focus on are energy efficiency, indoor air quality and conserving water. Replacing old windows and upgrading your insulation can definitely decrease energy consumption. High-efficiency exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom help keep your air clean. Conserve water by installing low-flow toilets and using native plants in your landscaping. Rain barrels are also an easy solution. For more ideas, check out the new REGREEN Guidelines.
Any chance of finding a reupholsterer for our old but treasured sofa in a 'green' environmentally healthy way? -Rita M., Arlington, Va.
Deciding to reupholster your old couch, in lieu of getting a new one gets you one step closer to going green. Eco-Green Living in Washington D.C. didn’t know of a green upholster, but said you should tell your upholster you want to use only environmentally friendly products for your couch, such as organic cotton or hemp.
What are some green roofing options? Are the costs similar to traditional roofing? Are there green roofing consultants in Milwaukee? -Marilyn W., Milwaukee
There are many, many green options for roofing, and some are much more traditional and practical than you might think. There are several green roofing/building consultants in Milwaukee. You can find a searchable list at Wisconsin Green Building Alliance, under the Green Directory tab. You can also read an article on this subject that explores practical options. Or, click here for even more technical information.
My husband and I struggle to find green practices, materials and suppliers for specific projects. For example, we recently replaced our roof, and the manufacturer websites all claimed that their products are environmentally friendly, but we couldn't find any objective reviews to confirm their claims. -Linda S., Pittsburgh
You’re right! It’s awfully popular these days for companies to declare themselves green. Luckily, you can double-check their claims. The GreenSpec Directory offers a long list of green products, all of which are researched by the site’s editorial staff. All the products in the directory meet environmentally friendly standards. You can also check out our list of green products, which were all recommended by the homeowners and builders we interviewed.
Although steel and aluminum are easily recycled, how can I find companies in the Chicago region that install recycled metal roofing as opposed to recyclable metal roofs? -Dan F., Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Angieslist.com is a great place to start! Do a keyword search for 'metal roofing.' Most metal roofing is already made of at least 50 percent recycled material and is 100 percent recyleable. Another good source is the Metal Roofing Alliance, which can put you in touch with a metal roofing contractor in your area.
Can you direct me to an eco-friendly roofing material that costs about or slightly more than regular asphalt? My 200+ year old home is not a candidate for a solar roof. I have looked into recycled slate, rubber, cedar, metal and ceramic, and they are all astronomically more expensive. -Roma H., Dobbs Ferry, NY
Replacing a roof in a 'green' manner consists of several things. You'll want to build for longevity (durability), minimize replacement costs and use less landfill space. Most steel roofing consists of 35% recycled content and aluminum is 95%. The more ecological choices in roofing are more lasting and durable, meaning they’re produced from more costly raw materials, driving up their final cost. For example, tile is more expensive initially, but will last for decades, while you'd have to replace asphalt many times over. Or, try Re-new Wood, Inc. They manufacture Eco-shakes which are priced competitively with other comparable specialty roofing products (such as fire-treated wood shakes, tile and metal roofing.)
I recently heard about solar panel siding, as opposed to roof panels, and I'd love to learn more about it! I also love the idea of selling power back to the city. -Chris M., Minneapolis
American Solar produces solar siding, which looks much like traditional siding. It has yet to become popular among homeowners, but industrial applications are becoming more widespread. Check with local solar panel installation companies to see if this application is available for your home, and ask them as well as your local electrical utility if it's possible to sell energy produced from photovoltaics back to your local energy company.
What solar power products are available and which make the most economic sense? Contact info for solar equipment providers would be great. -Bruce M., Elmwood Park, Ill.
Passive solar involves orienting the house in a way that it makes use of the sun for lighting and heating through windows. As for active solar heating, there are two types: solar air heating and solar liquid heating. Solar systems are the most cost-effective when they can be used year round and significantly reduce energy usage from the grid. There are several A-rated solar panel companies on Angie's List. Just sign in and check the List for 'solar panels.'
Which vendors have experience installing solar tubes? What's an approximate cost including install? -Barb D., Shaker Heights, Ohio
Solar tubes are a great way to add natural light to any space. Unlike a skylight, they capture the light through a tube on the roof and reflect that light into your home with mirrors and lenses. We recommend checking Solar Panel and Roofing companies on Angie’s List, and always check references to make sure they’ve performed solar tube installation. Prices may vary, so you should call around to get estimates.
I'd like to find a company that can install and maintenance solar panels. How much can you save with one or two solar panels? How long before you break even? -Denise G., Gambrills, Md.
There are many factors involved in determining your savings from a solar installation, such as the amount of sunlight, the position of photovoltaic panels and your household's energy consumption. As energy costs continue to rise, though, solar power becomes more affordable. There are several highly rated companies on the List in the Baltimore area, such as Thermomax and Aurora Energy, that can look at your home, estimate your savings and break-even point and install and maintain solar panels for you.
A local company said the government would not approve our house for solar heating because of a tree next door blocking the sun. Are there alternatives? I’ve heard of geothermal heat, but don't know if that is an option... -Anita P., Beaverton, Ore.
There are several different options to consider when choosing a form of clean, renewable energy for your home. A geothermal heating system is an efficient way to produce hot or cold air; in fact, it uses roughly one-fifth the electricity of a conventional system to produce the same amount of air. It’s the most common form of renewable energy in homes. While there aren’t any federal incentives, a few states offer rebate programs.
Another source is wind power. It’s better in rural areas, where there is more open space, and it needs (obviously!) a strong source of wind. You can even save money with wind power — through 'net metering,' a program where your utility company may credit you for returning power back to them, something that could happen on windy days (or sunny, in the case of solar panels).
Solar energy panels can produce energy even in the winter or on cloudy days, and they can heat water, too. Solar energy is also eligible for net metering. There are also many state and federal incentives to use solar panels in your home. Visit the Database of State Incentive for Renewables & Efficiency for more information on some of these programs.
When shopping for solar panels, you’ll need to select the panels based on the total wattage needed for your home. For example, if you need 3,000 watts and you like 200-watt solar panels, you’ll need to buy 15 (3,000 divided by 200) panels. You might choose to buy fewer, larger panels so that you have to do less wiring, or you might pick smaller panels, which are easier to carry. Other factors could include the color, manufacturer and price.
New solar panel technology includes the use of nanoparticles and organic dyes, which make the panels partially transparent and easier to blend in with your home, and more inexpensive solar cells that can be simply printed or painted on plastic sheets. Eventually, homeowners might be able to print the solar cells onto the plastic themselves.
Is there anything on the horizon that will make solar panels more affordable? How do I make sure I’m getting the best system for my house? -Anita B., Granite Bay, Calif.
See above response.
There have been so many new solar panel products introduced that I'm afraid if I do it now, I'll soon find out there's a better system for my needs… -Ellie S.B., Los Angeles
See above response.
Please tell me everything you know about solar panels! -Irene C., Indianapolis
There are many solar panel manufacturers and installers. Some include Affordable Solar (800-810-9939), Silicon Solar Inc. (888-765-2711), Solar Home (866-786-7763), Solar Wind Works (877-682-4503) and Wholesale Solar (800-472-1142). There are also four A-rated Indianapolis-area companies on Angie’s List. Just sign in and check the List for 'solar panels.' Costs depend on the type of solar panel you want and on labor costs. The durability of the panels also affects the cost – the less durable, the less expensive. And as solar panels are less effective on cloudy days, you should research different types of panels and speak with your installer to find the best option. Your installer should be able to recommend a good placement on your home for the panels to maximize the amount of sunlight they can receive. Insurance costs also depend on your individual policy – check with your provider to see if solar panels affect it. How much you can save on your electrical bill depends on how much electricity you were using to begin with, and how much sunlight the panels are able to capture.
What's the latest green tax related to Chicago, Illinois and federal? -Kathleen L., Chicago
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is the most recent federal tax act concerning green building and offers tax credits for consumers and businesses that purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, energy-efficient appliances and products. For more tax information, visit dsireusa.org, which provides a summary of incentives for each state, down to the local level.
Do you have info on rebates for energy star boilers and solar panels etc? How about info on alternative earth friendly structures such as straw bale houses (a friend has one that costs less than $200 a year to heat with a small wood stove)? -Ed S., Boston
Visit Energy Star for information on rebates and tax credits. As far as straw bale houses go, here's a blog that teaches you how to build your own. Good luck, and watch out for Big, Bad Wolf!
Are there incentives for businesses to build green-, besides utility savings? I was hoping to present an argument to my supervisor as to why building green can be a money saver. Otherwise I doubt any effort will be made. – Liz E., Columbus, Ohio
There are federal and state tax benefits available, but they vary from state to state. Check Tax Incentives Assistance Project and Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for a state-by-state list.
Is it worth changing my hot water tank to an electric heater? Currently, my hot water is heated using natural gas. Will it save me money in the end? -Kusum T., Pittsburgh
You’ll save money on your monthly heating bill by switching to a tankless unit. The real choice you need to make is whether to pick gas-powered or electric. Electric heaters are cheaper up front and they have higher energy efficiency. But because gas is cheaper per unit, the tankless gas heaters cost less each month. Most experts recommend you go with electric. Economists agree natural gas prices will continue to rise. Electric is better for the environment, too.
In your description of vinyl windows you failed to mention how PVC manufacturing is one of the biggest toxic polluters in the world. -Erwin L., Deerfield, Ill.
You’re right – PVC is made from petroleum and thus is harmful to the environment. Fiberglass is a green option and is made from the same base as glass – sand. Fiberglass and glass also expand and contract at almost the same rate so you have less seal failure than wood or vinyl.
Is it true that a good quality window film will reduce heat gain and eliminate fading rays? Is Madico a good brand? What is ceramic film? -Doug W., Boynton Beach, Fla.
Most companies claim their products block 98 percent or more of the sun’s UV rays. The reduction of heat gain depends on the film’s thickness. They work, but not without flaw. The thicker the film, the less visibility your window will have. Ceramic film boasts the highest visibility and greatest heat reduction. For normal film, you should stick with Luminar, Solar Gard or 3M.
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