Good for the Earth, good for you

From inexpensive and simple to a little more difficult, experts offer methods for saving energy in homes
Low-flow shower heads are just one of many affordable, simple ways to save water and energy in your home.

Architects, builders and homeowners, not to mention lenders and governments, are tuning into the fact that "green" features — environmentally friendly or energy-saving systems — increase the value of a home, make it easier and cheaper to live with and help it sell.

Some of these are expensive investments, with long payoff times; others are fairly simple and low-cost to install. Among the most popular are:

Insulate, insulate, insulate. Especially if your house is older, it might easily have scanty insulation or spots where it was blown in and missed some areas. This includes sealing door and window cracks, so energy isn't leaking out. Insulation is the cheapest, quickest and easiest way to green up your home, cut energy costs and, if you're selling it, brag about it.

Put in a solar light tube. These 10-or 14-inch wide tubes go from your roof into rooms with no windows, shedding lots of light through a lens into all the dark corners.

They cost $300 to $400 installed and pay themselves off quickly in lowered light bills. They also allow you to use that magic word "solar" in selling your house.

Get rid of that energy-gobbling water heater and put in a tankless model, which heats the water up as you use it, by channeling it through a coil. Classy. Easy. Smart. Also called "on-demand" water heaters, they run only $700 to $1,000. You can't run the dishwasher and take a shower at the same time, but it's worth it, because they pay themselves off in about four years.

Instead of trying to shampoo that old oatmeal-colored carpet for the umpteenth time, pull it out and drop in a real wood floor (from a kit), using bamboo, a "green" wood. It's called that because it isn't wood. It's a grass and it grows very fast, renewing what's cut down. Doing an average sized room might run you $1,200, doing it yourself.

If you're fixing up your house to sell, or just for your own pleasure and esthetics, do it with low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, which off-gases little or no toxic junk. This allows you to say you have cleaner indoor air and, well, you will just rest easier knowing that. They have low-VOC carpet, too.

Reduce air conditioning with simple steps, such as external bamboo shades on rafter tailings, so sun doesn't get a chance to invade your house. Plant leafy trees on the southerly portions to shade in summer and let sun through in winter. Turn the fan on, not the a/c, to exhaust heat.

Save water with low-flow shower heads.They're the ones that put out less than 1.6 gallons a minute. Check out low-flush toilets and energy-stingy dish and clothes washing machines. Get drought-tolerant plants and set up irrigation to give them only enough and not too much water.

On the high end, think about a rain catchment system on your roof, that will allow you to capture rain water and use it on your garden, dramatically driving down that water bill.

Another one on the high end, but very smart in the long run, is photo-voltaic panels on your roof, generating electricity for your home and shunting any extra juice into the grid, allowing your meter to run backwards. Panels last up to 40 years and will pay off their $24,000 with time to spare.

Most of these green ideas come with rebates and tax credits, whose details are all available on the Internet. Research and learn the system, clueing your accountant into all the breaks you have coming, usually over many years' time. Governments and banking institutions are all getting on board with green advances — and most can't be called "improvements" and get tacked onto your assessed valuation for property taxes.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at">

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