Solar energy was the biggest source of new electric generating capacity for the first time ever in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Not only that, but the industry is also expected to triple over the next five years. Solar energy has been getting cheaper too. Solar photovoltaic (PV) system costs in the U.S. decreased by almost 20 percent in 2016.
But even though it’s getting cheaper, that still doesn’t mean that everyone can afford it. It is possible to go solar if you’re on a budget, though. Solar energy can help save you money in the long run, as well as help the environment. These tips will help you afford the transition.
Is solar right for you?
Since solar panels rely on the sun to generate electricity, the amount of sun where you live will affect how much solar energy you can produce. The amount of solar energy available in an area is known as "solar resource," which is a measurement of how much sunlight is available each day to a PV panel that’s facing due south. You can find the solar resource where you live on the National Renewable Energy Lab’s website.
How much solar energy you can produce with rooftop panels also varies from home to home. If there are large trees or other buildings blocking access to sunlight, you won’t be able to get as much sunlight.
Some other factors that will influence the amount of sun you can get are the orientation and size of your roof. South-facing roofs work best, and you’ll need at least about 100 square feet per kilowatt-hour your solar system produces. You’ll also have to consider how much energy you typically use and the efficiency of the panels you’ll be installing, which typically ranges from 11 to 15 percent.
The less sunlight you have available to you, the bigger your solar array will have to be to generate the same amount of energy as panels with more available sun. This can lead to higher costs.
You can use online cost calculators to help determine how much a solar system would cost you, or better yet, have a reputable solar company come by and give you an estimate.
A big factor in the affordability of solar is the incentives you have available. There are federal incentives, but other programs vary by state and utility company.
U.S. residents can take advantage of the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which provides a 30 percent federal tax credit for homeowners a purchase and install solar systems on their homes.
To find out what incentives are available in your state, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). The site features information about incentives available from government and utilities, as well as policies relating to solar power by state.
Different states have different policies for incentivizing and billing homeowners who generate solar energy. These policies can have a significant impact on the cost-effectiveness of installing a solar system.
One common policy is called net metering, which only charges or pays homeowners for their net energy use. If they produce more than they use, the excess energy goes back into the grid, and the homeowner will be compensated for it. If they consume more than they produce, they are charged only for the power they used from the grid.
Other states use a feed-in tariff program, which measures production and consumption separately. The homeowner is then paid for what they produce and charged for what they use. The payment can sometimes be used to pay off the electricity bill.
The way that net metering, feed-in tariffs and other programs work can vary from state to state, so make sure you do thorough research when figuring out how much a solar system will cost you or how much money you could earn from it.
States, utilities and other entities often offer financing options to help make solar installation more affordable. See the DSIRE website to learn what grants and financing are available where you live.
Power purchase agreements (PPA) and solar leases are two other financing options. With PPAs, a solar company installs a solar system on your property at no cost. They then sell the electricity it produces back to you, often at a cheaper price than electricity from the utility. At the end of the agreement, the homeowner can choose to extend it or possibly purchase the system.
Solar leases are similar to leases used in other industries. The homeowner has the system installed on their property and pays either nothing or part of the cost up front. They then pay for the system over a number of years and may eventually buy it outright.
Other financing options include loans, energy efficient mortgages and community solar, in which a community or third party owns a solar system and nearby homeowners can pay to receive power from it. There are even charity organizations that will install solar panels for low-income households for free or close to free.
Although solar energy can come with some high up-front costs, there are lots of ways to reduce those costs. Thoroughly research what options are available in your area and take advantage of them, so that you can take advantage of energy from the sun to power your home, lower your electricity bill and help the environment.
Four in 10 people live in places where pollution levels make it dangerous to breathe, according to the State of the Air Report recently released by the American Lung Association. By typing in your state or zip code, you can look up more information on their website about your location's "grade" for air quality and its particular challenges.
Although this report focuses on pollution levels outdoors, the organization also offers plenty of resources on indoor air quality. From a quick checklist of potential issues to descriptions of various indoor pollutants, the website has both basic and detailed tips for what you can do to ensure the air in your home remains healthy to breathe.
Further resources from Green Home Guide
- Improving indoor air quality: From basic to better and best steps
- Top 3 ways to get rid of tobacco smoke in your home
- 6 low-maintenance plants that can improve indoor air quality
- What are VOCs, and how can I avoid them?
With the warmer weather and new growth in the spring comes the urge for many homeowners to spruce up their properties. Spring is also a great time of year to consider making some eco-friendly changes to your home that can help make it healthier for you and the environment, while also lowering some of your energy bills.
Going green around the house doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Try one of these five simple projects, or do them all in one weekend! We've included the estimated cost of each for you.
1) Make a mini-greenhouse.
Plants help clean the air in your home, filtering it and making it healthier to breathe. At the same time, growing your own plants, including fruits and vegetables, helps keep your grocery costs low, while eliminating a lot of the transport and other carbon footprint-adding attributes of purchasing produce from a store.
Even if you don’t have room in your yard for a garden, you can still grow your own produce at home with a hydroponic system. Hydroponic gardens use fertilizer and water to grow your herbs and vegetables, take up very little space, and can enable you to get great results from anywhere in your home, even those areas that don’t get a lot of sun.
An initial setup kit including seeds, fertilizer and a grow light costs $150–$250 at most home improvement or big box stores.
Recommended green materials
Easy-to-use kits, like those made by AeroGarden and EcoGrower, use little electricity and produce abundant plant life.
2) Install energy-saving light bulbs.
Light bulbs are something you use every day. And if you haven’t made the switch to an energy-saving bulb yet, you could be paying a lot more each month on your electric bills than you would be with one simple switch.
LED and CFL light bulbs use about 25 to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescents. They also last years longer, so while the initial cost of the bulbs may be higher, you’ll be saving a lot of money in the years to come. Both LED and CFL bulbs come in a range of colors and wattages. Consider trying some daylight or full-spectrum bulbs, which mimic daylight to make your home appear brighter.
LED bulbs cost between $2.50 and $5.50 each, while CFL bulbs cost $6–12 each. Keep in mind that there are specific bulbs for dimmers, and for LED- or CFL-specific light fixtures. Any standard light fixture can use regular LED or CFL bulbs, however, making the switch easy. If you need to have new recessed lights installed, the cost is around $600 for six lights.
Recommended green materials
To make the most of your switch, look for the lowest wattage you can use in your fixture. This will keep your energy bills down even more by using less electricity. New bulbs only need 2 to 20 watts to put out plenty of light.
3) Fix leaks inside your home.
A dripping faucet or leaking toilet could be wasting as many as 10,000 gallons of water every year. This is a significant amount that could be easily fixed in most cases for just a few dollars. For major leaks, such as from pipes, you may want to call a plumber. But for a leaking toilet or faucet, you can usually fix the issue yourself.
Leaking faucets can be caused by one of two issues: a washer or a plastic cartridge that has stripped. Replace the washer in the spout, or remove the outer covering of the handle and replace the cartridge inside.
Leaking toilets are most commonly caused by an old wax ring. Disconnect the toilet, lift it from the floor and set a new wax ring around the waste opening. Replace the toilet, bolt it down and hook up the water. Sit on the toilet and rock in all directions before flushing again to seal the ring.
The cost of faucet washers is around $1.50 for 10, while a new cartridge runs $20 to $30. The cost of a wax ring for a toilet is $5–10.
Recommended green materials
If possible, make the switch from a plastic cartridge to a ceramic disc valve. Plastic wears out much faster than ceramic, which means your faucet may begin leaking again quickly if you use the same material again. Ceramic disc cartridges are less likely to leak, giving you longer-lasting results.
4) Put up window shades.
The warmer temperatures in the spring may feel great at first, but the sun’s rays beaming directly into your home will soon start to make it feel uncomfortably warm. Window shades help block a lot of the heat transfer from the sun, allowing your home to feel more comfortable, while keeping your cooling bills down this summer.
Window shades also have the benefit of keeping in warmth during the winter months, and allowing you to add some color and interest to the rest of your home. Even if you currently have shades or drapes in place, consider investing in a new set with lighter colors for spring to update your decor at the same time.
Honeycomb shades cost between $35 and $50 apiece, while fabric shades cost between $50 and $100 each. Most come with mounting hardware to make them extra easy to put up.
Recommended green materials
Whatever style you choose for your shades, look for products that are designed to block heat transfer. Sometimes known as thermal shades, these products will help prevent your home from adding warmth during the summer months and losing heat in the winter.
5) Make your own green cleaning agents.
While cleaning products are easily found in most stores, many of them have a high chemical content, while others give off a lot of VOCs, polluting the air around you. Green cleaning products are also available at stores, but often at a higher cost.
This spring, consider making your own inexpensive green cleaners right at home. A mixture of baking soda and vinegar will clean most surfaces; a few drops of essential oil will help disguise the scent of the vinegar. Super Washing Soda can be used in place of baking soda for tough jobs, while tea tree oil can be used to disinfect areas naturally.
Vinegar costs less than $1 for a gallon jug at most grocery stores, while both baking soda and Super Washing Soda cost less than $5 for a large box. Tea tree oil and essential oil costs will vary, with most starting at around $10.
Recommended green materials
If you choose to use essential oils in your homemade cleaner, make sure you look for those that are real oils, and not synthetic chemical scents.
So you’re looking for a new home, and you want it to be as green and environmentally responsible as possible. Perhaps it’s because you heard that you can save on utility bills if you have an energy-efficient home. Maybe you dig the look. Or maybe you want to try to be an ethical consumer in the face of environmental concerns.
But there’s a lot to navigate if you’re not very familiar with green building and sustainable architecture. Here are just a few tips to help you get started with your search, whether it be for an apartment, a home or a building lot, and whether it be a rural, suburban or urban setting.
Photo credit: Image Design LLC; original photo on Houzz.
Ask questions, then ask more questions and then even more specific questions.
If there’s any one sweeping statement that can be made about the green building industry, it’s that the truth is in the details.
To the naked, untrained eye, it can be tricky to discern the green from the “greenwash,” which is disinformation presented to fake an environmentally responsible public image. The best way to avoid getting duped is to ask about every single detail you can think of, even if you don’t know much about green building.
Do as much research as you can about each site you seriously consider. Ask the occupants for previous utility bills; ask the realtor for official environmental certifications; ask the builder about the detailing; ask the architect about environmental goals in the design; and ask the neighbors about the setting and climate.
Once the information starts flooding in, you can assemble a sustainability portfolio for each site you are considering. By the end of your search, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision based on energy ratings, environmental certifications, scientific observations and first-hand experiences.
Photo credit: Picpics; original photo on Houzz.
Stand on the site and spot the sun.
One fundamental aspect of sustainable design is solar orientation. A building that takes advantage of the sun’s heat in winter and shades it from the sun’s rays in summer is one step closer to efficiency. This is why so many building energy simulations start by asking for the ratio of window to wall on the north, south, east and west sides of the building.
What you’re looking for will depend on your local climate. Do you want the house to heat up in the winter? Then make sure there is nothing blocking the winter sun from shining through the windows.
Do you want to keep your house cool in the summer? Then check out the external shading—not just over the windows, but over the walls as well.
We use an app called Sun Surveyor whenever we are evaluating a site. It helps you understand where the sun rises, sets and peaks in all seasons, relative to your site. You can even see where the sun will hide behind a neighboring building or looming mountain.
Photo credit: Allen Construction; original photo on Houzz.
Does the site or building design make use of its setting?
A truly sustainable home will be integrated with its environment and region in ways that go beyond its orientation toward the sun. Even the architectural style can give you clues about how well the designer has responded to local building methods and materials.
Remember that green living extends beyond the property line. Does the house or building you’re looking at take advantage of existing infrastructure and services, without infringing on virgin land? Is it well connected with public transportation, giving you the option to green your commute as well? One fantastic resource for evaluating various neighborhoods in the U.S. is WalkScore, a site dedicated to grading communities on their pedestrian friendliness.
Photo credit: Exteriorscapes LLC; original photo on Houzz.
Does the home or apartment building have any sort of energy efficiency documentation?
Here’s where it may get tricky. There’s a lot going on behind walls and under slabs that you may not immediately see, such as these rainwater cisterns tied into an irrigation system for a Seattle home (above).
Certifications and other kinds of documentation about a house can be one way to get reliable information about what’s going on.
Photo credit: Image Design LLC; original photo on Houzz.
These days, there are a lot of energy efficiency certifications floating around, some of them more reliable than others. They range from entire building energy simulations to kitchen appliance ratings.
As a place to start, I would ask about any local, regional or state energy certifications to see if the home you are looking at claims any specific advantage over average homes on the market.
Then, of course, you’ll need to vet that certification scheme to make sure it actually has some substance to it.
You can do this by asking a green building professional for a mini-consultation to evaluate the information you’ve been given. Or you can get your hands dirty and investigate yourself.
There are also many third-party voluntary certification schemes such as LEED and Passive House (the two that I work with most often), which require extensive documentation in order to receive a certification. Once you ask for copies of that paperwork, you can learn a lot more about the strengths and weaknesses of the building
Photo credit: New Energy Works Timberframers; original photo on Houzz.
In the end, you are the most important factor in making a home green.
We need to start thinking about our houses the way we think about our electronics. We can’t just expect it to do everything for us; we have to know how to use our houses correctly to get the best results.
The more we understand why our home functions the way it does, the more we can start to optimize its performance. And that’s what green building is really all about: optimizing efficiency and sustainability.
Kitchens are a place where you spend a lot of time at home, preparing food, making coffee, washing dishes—and those activities use a lot of water and electricity. Also, having a place for food prep that's clean and nontoxic makes choosing the right countertops important. Your kitchen can even contribute to your home's overall health by incorporating homegrown herbs or a composting station.
Here's how to have a kitchen so green that you're the envy of all your neighbors:
One of the best ways to save energy in your kitchen is through Energy Star-certified appliances. Refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers that meet these standards can save you money as well as cut down on energy use. For instance, an Energy Star refrigerator is about 9 percent more efficient than a regular model, and can save you about $270 over five years.
You can further save energy by using your appliances more strategically. Make sure you only run the dishwasher when it's full, and turn the dial to the "air-dry" rather than "heat-dry" setting. You can even cut down on smaller energy drains, such as coffee makers, by programming them to turn on and off at certain times.
Choosing countertops for your kitchen means making decisions about safe materials, life cycle and durability, and eco-friendly sourcing. Diverse materials, such as concrete, glass tile, recycled paper or plastic, wood, stone or stainless steel may be used, depending on your needs and aesthetic. Green Home Guide's buyer's guide to countertop materials breaks down the pros and cons of these substances, as well as their typical cost.
With some surfaces, you'll also need to consider sealants. For instance, if you're sealing a butcher block countertop, make sure that you use safe, low-VOC finishes to take care of your wood.
Saving water is a priority for everyone hoping to reduce both their environmental footprint and their bills. Several simple steps can be taken to reduce your water use in the kitchen. Fixing leaky faucets or installing aerators, washing produce in a bowl of water and running only a full dishwasher go a long way.
Also, avoid defrosting food or melting ice under running water. Instead, you can use the microwave, or just plan further ahead by defrosting items in the refrigerator.
Food and herbs
Another aspect of keeping a green kitchen is minimizing food waste, which you can do through smart shopping, cooking and food storage strategies, such as chopping up several days' worth of veggies at one time and having them ready to go throughout the week.
You can make your own home composting station with only a little effort. See our handy how-to article on setting up composting to reduce food waste. Remember to avoid composting meat and dairy scraps and to situate it in a cool location away from direct sunlight.
Looking to add more fresh herbs to your diet? Having your own small, countertop herb garden not only provides seasoning for your cooking, it also contributes to the air-quality benefits of having live plants in your home.
Here in the Northeast, we've been warming up into spring following the unexpected March storm, Stella. Summer will be here before we know it—and with the rising temperatures, we’ll see rising energy bills.
Solar panels are a great way to offset energy costs, reduce the environmental impact of your home and provide a host of other benefits, such as supporting local businesses and contributing to energy independence.
Looking to install panels on your home? I have solar panels, and wanted to share the top four benefits as I see them:
1. Reduce or eliminate energy bills.
This one is pretty amazing. We live in Washington, D.C., which has an average amount of sun, but it’s enough to power our house of three kids and two adults at net zero energy consumption. On warm spring days, we generate a lot more than we consume, and then we trade that with the utility. On hot summer days, when we run the air conditioning, or on cloudy days, we draw from the grid.
Even if you live somewhere cloudy, such locations typically receive more than two hours of sunlight per day, while sunny locations receive an average of 5.5 hours of sunlight per day.
Although sunny days will produce more solar energy, solar panels will continue to draw energy even when the weather is cloudy. Indirect, or diffused, sunlight will still help to power your home. Cloudy days usually produce around 10 to 20 percent of the power generated on sunny days.
2. Earn tax credits and rebates.
I didn’t realize how big of a benefit this one would be, but our solar panels are actually paying us. To start, you will get 30 percent of total system costs back from equipment and installation as a federal income tax credit when you file your taxes. This means you would save $7,500 on a solar system worth $25,000.
Combine this with state and local rebates and Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), and total costs can be cut in half. The SRECs are generated throughout the year, and you can sell them to utility companies, which generates a very impressive return on the initial investment.
Our D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Act of 2016 in summer 2016. This Act, B21-0560, raises the renewable portfolio and solar requirements to 50 percent and 5 percent, respectively, by the year 2032. In addition, the bill establishes a program within the Department of Energy and the Environment to assist low-income homeowners with installing solar systems on their homes.
The idea behind the act is to incentivize the continued growth of D.C.’s solar industry, which has grown by 170 percent over the last year.
The investment has a payback period of only 3.5 years, while the solar panels have a warranty of 10 years and useful life of 25 years—which means you generate free electricity and extra credits for 20+ years. It's hard to beat. It's both socially responsible and economically profitable.
Many installers also offer a no-cost installation, where they front all of the money for the panels and installation and charge for electricity at a reduced rate. They are basically “leasing” your roof space and giving you a discount on the electricity in return. This is a good option for homeowners who do not want to make the initial investment or would prefer a no-money-down option. The installer collects all the proceeds from the SRECs in this case.
No matter where you live, you most likely have some amazing tax credits for solar. Take advantage of them while you still can.
3. Start saving from day one.
Annual energy costs can be in the thousands. In fact, the average annual energy expenditure per person is $3,052, including transportation and residential energy. Solar power can reduce or eliminate these costs as soon as they are installed. They also offer long-term savings, because it’s basically free to capture the power of the sun.
Solar panels significantly improve your resale value. Most home buyers understand what a home with solar panels means—especially because the system is already in place and they didn’t have to make the initial investment and installation. According to research, most homeowners see a $5,911 resale value increase per installed kilowatt. That means if you install a 3.1 kilowatt system, you could improve your home’s resale value by nearly $18,000.
Solar panels also extend the life of a roof, because they protect from the elements, such as rain, snow and debris. They make the house more energy-efficient in the summer because the hot sun is not beating down on the roof directly—it is instead being absorbed by the panels, keeping the house temperature lower.
4. Help the environment and help us all.
Solar power systems derive clean, pure energy from the sun. Installing solar panels on your home helps combat greenhouse gas emissions and reduces our collective dependence on fossil fuel. Traditional electricity is sourced from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. When fossil fuels are burned to produce electricity, they emit harmful gases that are the primary cause of air pollution and global climate change. Not only are fossil fuels bad for the environment, but they are also a finite resource. Because of this, the price is constantly fluctuating and can increase in a short period of time.
Renewable energy also improves public health. Coal and natural gas plants produce air and water pollution that is harmful to human health. But replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, such as solar power, can reduce premature mortality as well as overall health care costs.
Although fossil fuel production requires significant water resources and causes water pollution, solar energy requires little to no water to operate. So, not only does solar power not pollute water resources, it also doesn’t put a strain on the world’s water supply.
Solar power also works during a drought or heat wave. Coal, natural gas and nuclear power use large amounts of water for cooling. During heat waves or severe droughts, as we’ve experienced in recent years, electricity generation is at risk. But solar power systems do not require water to generate electricity.
In addition, solar power creates jobs in clean energy. The U.S. has been leading the world in clean energy. Hopefully this trend will continue, in the face of government budget cuts to EPA and DOE, as innovative and forward-thinking companies continue to embrace the changing landscape of energy production and move to renewables.
On Fridays, Green Home Guide shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.
Good indoor air quality (IAQ) is important for any home, so that its occupants stay healthy and comfortable. We've collected a handful of recent articles that show you how to make sure the air in your home is beneficial to health:
- Greenability offers six ways to improve indoor air quality. These tips include how to test for radon, adjust humidity levels and make smart flooring choices.
Learn about duct cleaning from the Do It Yourself blog. In this article, you'll find an overview of how duct cleaning contributes to IAQ, plus the steps and expense involved and what alternatives you can consider.
- The U.S. EPA's page on protecting IAQ in your home provides several helpful resources, including guides on air cleaners and ducts, as well as tabs to bring up more information on IAQ issues specific to remodels or multifamily housing.
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If you like getting your hands dirty, demolition can be one of the most fun and satisfying parts of a kitchen remodel. But whether you’re going the DIY route or hiring a pro, you’re likely to end up with at least one dumpster full of trash. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 170 million tons of construction and demolition waste were generated in 2003 (the last year for which figures are available), with most of it ending up in landfills.
The sad part is that much of what ends up as waste could have been reused or recycled. While recycling building materials can take longer than simply whacking them with a sledgehammer, construction company SOD Builders says some things—such as large appliances and granite countertops—can be easily recycled with the right charity or facility.
Here you’ll learn more about what you can recycle and who might want it.
Photo: Nancy Cartwright, original photo on Houzz.
Who to hire: Green demolition is mandatory in some cities, and contractors may not get their permit deposit back if they don’t recycle a certain percentage of their construction and demolition waste.
Your general contractor (GC) may already be skilled in green demolition, or may hire a green demolition company that already has ties to local charities and can remove building materials and finishes according to their specifications. If your remodel is a DIY project, check with your municipality to find out whether any local recycling regulations apply.
Whether it’s your city or your conscience that motivates you to recycle, you may decide to hire a green demolition company yourself to keep things easy and ensure that all recyclable materials are removed properly. If you do decide to go this route, choose a reputable firm for which no complaints have been registered with the Better Business Bureau, and get references.
If you’re looking to recycle a handful of items—your appliances, countertops and cabinets, for example—you can likely handle the process yourself.
Photo: Sod Builders, Inc., original photo on Houzz.
Cost range: Because it takes more time to carefully remove building materials than to smash them with a sledgehammer, hiring a green demolition company can be more costly—up to $10,000 more per job than a regular demolition company, depending on scale and size. Fortunately, some of the extra cost can be offset by avoiding landfill charges and with tax credits earned by donating materials.
Many GCs, however, now recycle materials automatically. Oren Dagan of SOD Builders recycles many materials during a typical project. For an average kitchen, he says he usually incurs a cost of only $150 at the county recycling plant; he donates many materials for a tax write-off or reuses them in the same home.
Typical project length: About a week.
Photo: Sod Builders, Inc., original photo on Houzz.
Project considerations: If you’re working with professionals, they’re already equipped to deal with the proper removal of building materials, but if you’re doing it yourself, it’s smart to take an inventory of what you’d like to recycle and talk to local charities to determine what condition they need items to be in.
Some groups will accept only still-assembled cabinetry and countertops, while recycling plants will take scraps, remnants and small pieces. You might also consider doing a second sweep after you’re finished the remodel to donate any large remnants or unused materials instead of throwing them away.
Here are are some materials you can likely recycle or donate:
- Kitchen appliances of all sizes
- Granite countertops
- Steel, copper and brass elements—and don’t forget about plumbing
- Lumber and plywood
- Fixtures (Including lighting, electrical and the sink)
- Unused ceramic or vinyl tile
- New carpet and linoleum
Photo: Charmean Neithart Interiors, original photo on Houzz.
Getting started: Reach out to local charities about two weeks before you start the actual demo, to find out which items they’ll accept and in what condition.
Dagan donates almost all large appliances to the Salvation Army, as it accepts nonworking appliances as long as they are fixable. “I’ve never had an appliance they couldn’t fix,” says Dagan. He offers smaller appliances to Goodwill, although he doesn’t have any specific reason for splitting things up that way, other than a wish to share the wealth among multiple charities.
Habitat for Humanity also accepts a wide variety of kitchen items, from fixtures to appliances to cabinetry, although it relies on specific donation guidelines to ensure that the families who move into the homes it builds won’t get stuck with substandard materials.
Dagan also likes to recycle kitchen cabinets within the same home, and points out that old cabinetry can create great, practical storage space for a garage or workshop. If you’re getting rid of an old or damaged granite countertop, or end up with leftover pieces, Dagan says, fabricators are often happy to take them off your hands.
As for the rest, call your municipal recycling plant to find out what it accepts, whether there are fees and how those charges are calculated.
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I’ll always be a California girl, and even though I’ve lived in Maryland for years now, the place that I call home has to appeal to the granola-eating, eco-conscious hippie in me. Fenwick Station, a LEED Gold, six-story multifamily residential building in downtown Silver Spring, definitely fits that bill.
Certified under LEED BD+C: New Construction, the Fenwick connects the Woodside neighborhood, Silver Spring Central Business District and public transportation hubs. Sustainable features are integrated into the property, creating a unique and inviting place to live. Silver Spring, like its neighbor Washington, D.C., is a hotbed of green buildings and infrastructure, including LEED- and Parksmart-certified buildings; Montgomery County alone has 190 LEED-certified projects.
In this area, you can find competitively priced green apartments within walking distance of shops, restaurants, entertainment and parks. After facing rent increases at my last building, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could pay less per month and live in a beautiful building in the same neighborhood. Score.
Photo and feature image credit Max Zhang Photography.
Look good, feel good
Making the decision to live at the Fenwick was easy because it looks good. Beyond the fine finishes of the interior décor, the building also features colorful murals, sculptures and art installations from local artists. The amenities spaces—club room, gym, courtyard and pool, roof terrace, library and meeting areas—all flow into one another, so it feels like it’s one big communal space. The intention was to design artful, inviting and engaging social places, and to select materials—such as wood, steel, decorative concrete and resin graphic panels—that evoke a sense of authenticity and craftsmanship in the way they age.
Inside the units, big windows let in lots of daylight. Modern design and Energy Star stainless steel appliances set a clean tone for the living spaces, and eco-friendly carpet runs through the bedrooms. When I moved in, I felt an urgent need to declutter my life and donate or repurpose the literal baggage that I’d schlepped from apartment to apartment.
Go anywhere, anytime
The Fenwick is accessible by multiple walking and bike paths and is a five-minute walk to the Silver Spring Metro station, MARC train station and bus transit hub. I don’t own a car, so it was important for me to access multiple modes of transportation from my doorstep. At USGBC, we emphasize transit-oriented design for green buildings—and as someone who grew up in the suburbs driving everywhere, I do feel it improves quality of life to have freedom to move, without being tethered to the cost of a car.
Track and manage consumption
Each residence is decked out with pretty, energy-efficient appliances, and water fixtures in the bathroom are minimal flush and flow (yes, the water pressure is slightly less, but that’s a reasonable compromise.) This not only helps me conserve water, but also energy, which is individually metered by the local utility.
I manage the temperature of my apartment using the utility panel in my home, as well as online through the utility’s website, which helps reduce cost. My average electric bill is about $60 cheaper than average for a comparable unit, and my biggest electric expense goes to heating water (can’t live without those hot showers.) While I was always pretty conscious about conserving resources, having easy access to the information has motivated me to find more opportunities to scale back usage.
Grow amidst green
The landscaping around the building is also full of life. This project was one of the first in the area to implement the county’s stringent stormwater management regulations on a tight urban site, driving creative solutions that integrate those needed facilities and ultimately gave the building its distinct, green look. Native greenery has been woven into the architecture, streetscape, amenity courtyard and roof terrace using the same materials and detailing as the rest of the building. The plant palette also supports native insect and bird habitat, and the green roof was designed for a variety of sun exposures and seed dispersal methods for continuous regeneration and climatic adaptation. I’ll take this surrounding over a concrete jungle any day.
The bottom line: my building fits my life. I don’t have to travel far on foot or bike to see friends, shop at the local farmer’s market, see a concert at the Fillmore or hit up a 7-Eleven for a taquito. Like many who work in sustainability, I know that my ability to contribute doesn’t end when I leave the office. I am fortunate to be able to choose where I live, and as more renters decide to put their dollars toward residential buildings like the Fenwick, sustainable housing will not just be preferred in the marketplace, it will become the norm.