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ECO hopes tour will inspire homeowners

August 16, 2010
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Whether you’re thinking about building an energy-efficient home or wanting to turn your “brown” home “green,” there will be ideas for every budget at ECO’s third annual Green Home Tour on Saturday.

Check out how a handful of area homeowners and developers have made efficiency and conservation their guiding forces on the self-guided tour, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21.

“Having an energy efficient home is not just about protecting the environment and saving some cash,” says David Weintraub, executive director of Hendersonville-based ECO, the Environmental and Conservation Organization.

“As energy sources increasingly dry up and their costs go through the roof, it’s extremely important that we are resilient enough to withstand future shocks,” he says. “One of the best insurance policies one can have is a green home.”

Founded over two decades ago, ECO has been working ever since to educate and advocate for the protection of this area’s precious land, air and water resources.

The tour, Weintraub says, “offers some great examples of how anyone concerned about energy costs and protecting the environment can take some positive steps forward.”

This year’s tour includes five residential homes of all ages and styles, in both urban and rural locations. Many of the homes also feature edible gardens, green decks, and other eco-friendly outdoor features.

Tour goers will see a new construction home on the cutting edge of water conservation, an apartment complex restored to its original splendor with numerous green additions, and homes that have incorporated simple solutions to save energy or improve indoor air quality. Homeowners, and in some cases, builders and contractors, will be on site at each location to answer questions.

The Green Home Tour is presented in conjunction with the S.E.E. Expo (Southern Energy and Environment Expo), scheduled at the WNC Agricultural Center Aug. 20 to 22.

With the numerous tax incentives offered by the state and federal governments, homeowners are increasingly looking at greening their homes, Weintraub says.

Solar 101

The tour also offers an opportunity to learn about solar home energy systems at Advanced Thermal Solutions (ATS), located two miles southeast of downtown Hendersonville.

ECO is recommending ATS as a first stop on the tour which features residences in both Henderson and Buncombe counties. Professionals at ATS will be on hand to answer questions about solar equipment displays and explain the benefits each system offers.

Michele Skeele, ATS’ general manager, says the company advocates daylighting with solar light tubes as way to reduce electricity use in homes and businesses. The tubes run from $500 to about $725 installed.

Solar attic fans can reduce air-conditioning costs by decreasing trapped heat in attics — totally powered by the sun — to be activated only on the hottest, sunny days. A solar attic fan can cost $500 or more installed, she says.

“In years past, turning one’s brown home green was a luxury,” says Weintraub. “However, in this economy, when energy costs are expected to continue to skyrocket, adding green features to a home is an absolute necessity.”

ATS representatives can also answer questions about the federal and state tax credits that can help drastically reduce new green costs. “The tax credits are good for another five to seven years,” says Skeele.

Beauty and efficiency

Just north of downtown Hendersonville, the renovated Landmark Apartments boasts a long list of green improvements while remaining faithful to the building’s historic integrity.

“They have done just an amazing job,” says Weintraub. “This crème de la crème apartment building has been turned completely green.”

The building has a newly installed reflective white roof that houses a solar electric array as well a collection of solar thermal panels to heat water. Power from the array is sold back to the utility company.

Each unit saves energy with Energy Star appliances, LED, and CFL lighting.

Water conservation is achieved with low flow fixtures, dual flush toilets, and front loading washing machines.

Throughout the building, no-VOC paints and low-VOC finishes and adhesives were used to improve indoor air quality. Daylighting from the hallway’s skylight saves electricity on the elegant central staircase.

“Rather than building a new building they’re taking an old building and making it new again,” Weintraub says. “It’s always better to use an existing structure.”

Located just a short walk from downtown Hendersonville also adds to the building’s “green appeal.”

“You can have a green home 50 miles out. It may be green technically, but if you’re in the heart of downtown, you can walk to shopping and dining,” says Weintraub.

Water Sense

In a new development near North Henderson High School, Nappier and Turner Construction are participating in a pilot program to reduce water use in residential homes.

A model home meets the EPA’s new Water Sense certification, saving each home an average of 10,000 gallons of water per year. That adds up to about $100 in utility cost savings per year, says Jeff Huntley, president of Nappier and Turner Construction.

Outside the homes, native plants and drought resistant landscaping negate the need for regular watering. Inside, modified plumbing and low flow fixtures have been installed to conserve water.

A Rinnai tankless water heater contributes to a 40 percent savings when compared to a conventional water heater.

“We focused heavily on the design of the plumbing system to get hot water as fast as possible,” says Huntley. “It saves energy and water.”

High efficiency HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) and a well-sealed and insulated home contribute to efficiency, capping what Huntley calls a “holistic” approach to conservation.

Rick Bayless, an ECO volunteer who helped select the homes featured in the Green Home Tour, says most of the energy savings happen behind the scenes.

“There’s a lot of flashy technology out there, but the real changes that make a difference are less glamorous,” says Bayless, a home energy expert with Asheville-based Conservation Pros. Looking in the attic for “things not easily seen” like proper insulation are essential to the work he does.

But no home is completely green — even on the Green Home Tour — says Bayless. Fortunately, there are little steps every homeowner can make to make a big difference.

“HVAC is an important piece of the puzzle,” Bayless says. “It’s a critical energy portion of the house.”

The Great Outdoors

ECO’s green tour will include a visit to a Fairview home where all the wood for post and beam construction, framing, cabinets, and trim was harvested on site. The home of William and Molly Hamilton features plenty of porch space to enjoy beautiful mountain views — and of their goats.

Radiant floor slabs fed by the four roof-mounted solar thermal panels heat the home’s two stories. During the winter, the passive solar design and insulated windows allow the slabs to heat up naturally and slowly let off warmth at night. A wood stove on the main floor provides supplemental heat.

Another home on the tour owned by the Woodruff family in East Asheville was built in 1949 and has been newly renovated with sustainability in mind.

“I’ve always envisioned the house getting a remodel,” says homeowner Logan Woodruff. “It simply turned into a green project.”

Like the Hamilton home, solar hot water panels supply most of the owner’s hot water needs. The system, which cost $7,500 to install, is saving an estimated $800 a year in utility costs, he says. With tax credits, Woodruff figures the solar hot water system will pay for itself in six to seven years.

The home’s back deck is composed of recycled plastic floorboards. A 200-gallon rainwater cistern — fed from the gutters — helps water the landscape.

In the kitchen, green materials such as cork floor tiles, no-VOC cabinets, and a recycled concrete counter have been added.


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