Home Energy Savings Program Launches in Maryland

Guest post by Brooks Lape of Home Turned Green

A home energy assessment is a great way to identify hundreds of dollars of potential savings in yearly utility costs. The trouble is, it will cost you several hundreds of dollars upfront, not to mention the cost of actually fixing sources of energy loss.

The Home Energy Savings Program, a recent initiative by Pepco for Maryland homeowners, is making energy efficiency investments more affordable for local homeowners.

The Pepco program, which was announced on Earth Day 2010 and began at the end of April, will be subsidizing home energy assessments that are offered by local companies. All Maryland Pepco homeowners can receive a comprehensive energy audit for just $100. Purchased before the Energy Savers Program, this same audit would run anywhere from $300 to $500 dollars.

A home energy assessment, or audit, identifies sources of potential energy savings. All Pepco subsidized audits consist of a blower door test, infrared camera scan, and a discussion with the homeowners about behavioral patterns affecting energy use. This information is then synthesized into a report that prioritizes energy efficiency upgrades by their expected payback period.

ecobeco and greenNEWit are two local companies offering $100 energy audits through Pepco. greenNEWit provides a 350 point inspection and includes many do-it-yourself options with instructions in their audit report. ecobeco offers customers a free second visit after air sealing work is performed to check for safety and performance.

“Pepco’s Home Performance with Energy Star program is designed to empower Maryland consumers to make the right choices to improve the energy efficiency, comfort, and safety of their homes,” says Brian Toll, founder of ecobeco. “The Home Energy Audit is the first step every home owner should take the ensure that the most cost-effective solutions get done first. It’s the best $100 you’ll spend this year.”

According to The National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO), before contracting with any energy auditing company, you should:

  • Get at least five references, and contact all five. Ask if they were satisfied with the work.
  • Call the Better Business Bureau and ask about any complaints against the company.
  • Make sure the auditor uses a calibrated blower door.
  • Make sure they do thermographic inspections or contract another company to conduct one.

In addition to subsidizing the cost of the initial energy audit, Pepco is providing up to $1,200 in rebates for making energy efficiency upgrades. These incentives apply to most energy efficiency improvements, including HVAC equipment and servicing, compact fluorescent bulbs, and insulation.

The Home Energy Savings Program represents a great opportunity for Maryland homeowners to save big when making energy efficiency improvements to their homes.

Although the Pepco program is only available to Maryland homeowners, DC residents may qualify for a free energy audit from the DDOE.

Green Real Estate Heats Up

The mainstream real estate market is still iffy, but the green real estate market is gaining momentum. We talked with Adam Gallagos of Arbour Realty — Northern Virginia’s first green real estate company — to find out about the local green real estate market, how homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint, and the coolest eco-friendly home he’s ever seen.

Have you seen a change in demand for green homes over the past few years?

Yes–we are seeing a steady increase.  The problem is that there is more demand than supply.  We have had to find innovative ways to satisfy this demand.  There are a couple mortgage programs that allow home buyers to borrow more than the home is being sold for so that they can make energy-efficient improvements on their own.  We are also creating relationships with builders that are building new green homes or are able to make quality green renovations

Can you tell us a little about Arbour Realty and your mission?

We are an Arlington-based full service residential real estate brokerage serving all of Northern Virginia, DC and parts of Maryland.  Arbour Realty lives and breathes a mission to create consistently high levels of customer service with minimal impact on the environment.

What makes your company green?

From a high-level, it’s our low environmental impact and our team of green certified Realtors. Our office is located close to the Ballston Metro, we use clean power from Clean Currents for daily operations, and we have completely eliminated paper from the real estate contract. We also  provide every home buyer with an eco-home assessment or home energy audit and through our relationship with The Arbor Day Foundation, we plant trees in honor of every client we work with in an effort to offset the driving we do.

Has there been an increase in the number of green-built homes lately?

Yes. We are slowly seeing more EnergyStar, EarthCraft, and LEED certified homes built around the DC area.  No longer do granite, stainless steel, and hardwood floors make a home stand out from the pack.  Builders that want to make their homes stand out in a positive way are looking to green and high performance building practices as a way of accomplishing this.  As we are able to collect more data about how green homes are performing on the market, I expect that the numbers will encourage more builders to go green.

What’s the coolest/most unique green home feature you’ve ever seen?

I had the opportunity to tour a home being built in Falls Church that is constructed of earth bricks.  They were able to compress soil taken from the construction site to create bricks.  These bricks were then used to for the walls of the home. The cost is relatively inexpensive. Transportation of of these bricks was obviously eliminated. The bricks do such a good job of retaining indoor air temperatures that the home did not even require an air-conditioning system.

What are the three simple ways that homeowners can be more green/reduce their carbon footprint?

1. Buy or build a rain barrel to collect water as it comes down the drain spout.

2. Use green cleaning products that are free from toxins.

3. Consider higher efficiency options and the long-term payback when replacing heating and air conditioning systems, hot water heater, insulation, windows, and doors.

What eco-friendly upgrades have the biggest bang for the buck in terms of increasing property value?

My recommendation is to start with a home energy audit.  A good auditor is going to be able to identify the items in your house that will provide the biggest bang for the buck.  Knowledgeable, green-savvy home buyers want to see a history of utility bills, they want to know what you have done to create a healthy indoor living environment and see that you have used finishes that are light on natural resources and toxins.

Do you live in a green home? And if so, what are the features?

My home is very efficient, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is green.  It was built in 2006 so by default it utilizes materials and techniques that are more efficient than what would have been used 15+ years ago.  Here’s a few of the things we’ve done:

  • Installed soy-based spray foam insulation to seal the attic walls. This keep the attic temperature within about 10 degrees of what it is in the rest of the home.
  • Replaced carpet in the bedrooms with locally harvested wood flooring. With hard surfaces on the main and upper-level we don’t have to worry about the dust and germs that carpet tends to harbor.
  • Created a compost bin — we get free fertilizer for our garden and reduce what we are sending to the landfills.
  • Use a rain barrel to collect water for our garden and lawn.  Both prefer the non-chemically treated water to what we would get out of the spigot.
  • Put plants in every room of the house – this helps naturally clean the air that we breathe when inside the home.
  • Installed a recycled glass backsplash made out of recycled glass bottles.

The Solar Decathlon Shines on the Mall

This post was written by GoingGreenDC contributing writer Alison Drucker.

photo_gallery_austinFor a couple weeks in October, your regular jog around the Mall will look a little different. That’s when the Solar Decathlon comes to town, and 20 cutting-edge solar-powered homes descend on the Mall.

An educational project from the Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Solar Decathlon is a competition among university teams from around the world to create the most efficient, attractive, and entirely solar-powered home. The teams spend almost two years designing and building their homes elsewhere, and transport them to the Mall to be rebuilt; the public is then invited to come tour, observe, and learn.

The challenge for participants is to create an efficient solar home that could actually serve the needs of a typical family, with all the modern conveniences, while being aesthetically striking. There are certain restrictions in place, such as a specified temperature range the homes have to maintain and types of equipment they have to power. Experts from DOE and NREL judge entrants in 10 categories, from architecture to market viability to home entertainment.

The homes generate energy with building-integrated (incorporated during construction) photovoltaic systems to produce electricity, and with solar thermal systems for space heating/cooling and water heating. The goal is a net-zero energy home that produces as much energy from renewable sources as it consumes. Teams come from as far as Germany and Spain, and as near as Virginia Tech and Penn State, to compete.

photo_gallery_montrealThe competition equips the student participants – future engineers, architects, builders, business owners, policy-makers – with the skills to make renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green building technologies part of their careers. It also teaches the rest of us about one of the world’s greatest challenges – our constantly increasing demand for energy and the need for sustainable solutions.

It’s well worth fighting the crowds to take a peek at the houses, with participating teams on hand to give insightful tours and explanations. The homes are open to visitors October 9-13 and October 15-18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. You can also attend presentations in the temporary educational village (whose technology is powered by solar electric systems, naturally).

So Others May Eat (SOME) Builds Greener

SOME helps the poor and homeless of DC with food, clothing, and healthcare. And since 2005, when SOME opened Independence Place, a permanent affordable housing program for families, they have been committed to basic green building standards. Here’s how SOME is building greener:

  • Increasing energy efficiency by choosing optimal insulation and quality windows, Energy Star appliances and light fixtures, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and daylight sensors.
  • Reducing water consumption with low-flow fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms.

When possible, SOME includes custom green building features in a project. For instance, at their Chesapeake Street and 50th Street properties, they are installing green roofs that will help manage storm water and reduce the “heat island effect.” At South Capitol Street, they will have a solar hot water heating system, and at Zagami House, they use point-of-use tankless hot water heaters.


Open Green House

Yes, the market is lousy but that doesn’t mean you should forgo your comittment to leaving a smaller footprint if you’re in the market for a new home. Enter Capitol Solar Condos on Harvard Street in Columbia Heights. There are three units starting at $499,000 for a 2 bedroom.

Claiming to be the first solar powered condos in DC, each unit also features Energy Star stainless steel appliances, bamboo floors, tankless water heaters, elongated soft flow dual flush toilets, motion sensor lighting and compact fluorescent lighting. And did we also mention they’re pretty stylin’ too? Btw–if you do end up buying one of these little beauties, tell Jen we sent ya.