This post is written for anyone who doesn’t live in a hermetically sealed, LEED Platinum, net-zero, passive solar house built with fair trade materials. Basically, it’s for all of us. Our company has greened tons of homes and wanted to pass along the biggest things you can do to green your house. I am defining a green house as one that is:
- Healthier/Safer/Less toxic to live in for you, your family, your kids and your pets.
- Less expensive to run, costs less in utility bills every month.
There are some added things in here for people who live in California (where I do) but the info can be used by anyone.
1. Painting: Always use zero-VOC paint. Almost all brands pitch their paint as low or no-VOC paint however that’s usually before you add the color tint to it. The tint is where most VOC’s are located. I always recommend Olympic Zero-Voc paint because it’s zero-VOC even after the color tint has been added. It’s what I used in our house, they have it at Lowes and it’s inexpensive. Here’s a link:http://www.olympic.com/products/paints/23/olympic-premium-interior-paint
2. If you live in California: To get a majority of basic energy efficiency work done, check out the Energy Upgrade California program. You can get up to $4000 back from SDGE and $500 from the county. Here’s the link:https://energyupgradeca.org/overview
3. If you DON’T live in California: Check out DSIREUSA.ORG for a list of rebates and incentives to make your home more energy efficient.
4. HVAC: If possible get your HVAC duct work checked out and cleaned. In California Energy Upgrade California covers this I believe. If you’re in San Diego, call Guthrie and Sons (they are a local green HVAC company-speak to Matt-619-571-3563 and tell him I referred you). I’ve used them before and they are cool, affordable and very good at what they do. Their link:http://guthrieandsons.com/
5. Carpet: If you are replacing any carpet, consider using Mohawk Smart Strand. It’s looks/feels like regular carpet but is made from corn sugar and off-gasses less. You can get it at Lowes/Home Depot and it’s priced the same as regular carpet. Link: http://www.mohawkflooring.com/flooring-products/carpet/smartstrand.aspx
6. Kids health: Make sure their rooms are Zero-VOC painted if possible, keep all electronics 6 ft away from their heads/heart when they are sleeping (to reduce impact from electromagnetic rays), try not to position their beds directly under a vent (HVAC register) and add a plant or two to their rooms to filter the air. Here’s a list of best plants to filter air, compiled by NASA.
7. Install a water heater blanket: Available at Lowes or Home Depot, inexpensive and can cut down water heating bills. Here’s a link.
8. Add foam outlet gaskets to all exterior wall outlets. Reduces air infiltration, lost heating and AC costs.
9. Add foam pipe insulation to your hot water pipes. This will reduce heat loss and conserve water.
10. Add faucet aerators to conserve water. Simple to do, inexpensive and can save up to 50% of water use. Check out this video- the guy’s accent is awesome.
That’s it, hope this is helpful.
If you run or are about to run a green business, check out the Green Business Launch Manifesto. This guide will help you launch your business effectively, avoid some major mistakes and set you up for long term success. This is a free report and my way of giving back for the successes our company has enjoyed over the past 6 years.
These are some of observations we made on the Casa Bonita Apartments as part of our energy efficient rehab along with our recommendations. By upgrading to green features, we not only make this property more sustainable, but also considerably lower the operational costs for the complex.
The conditions and types of the appliances varied from unit to unit, with dishwasher and refrigerators present in some units, but not others.
1. Install Energy Star rated appliances when replacing current models.
A Hotpoint 16.6 cu. ft. Energy Star rated refrigerator that uses 300 kWh per year was specified to replace the current models in the units.
Casa Bonita is a case study in energy efficient rehabs. We assessed the complex and designed a plan for a healthier living environment, reduced energy costs and green features creating an overall sustainable property.
Casa Bonita Apartments are located at 6615 & 6625 N. 17th Ave in Phoenix, Arizona and consists of 64 units comprised of nine two-story, garden style buildings situated on a 1.74 acre site. Constructed in 1969, Casa Bonita contains approximately
47,422 SF of rentable apartment space in a unit mix of 27 – 1bedroom/1bath and 37- 2bedroom/2 bath floor plans. The complex offers two swimming pools, on site laundry facilities, BBQ areas, and full covered parking.
All aspects of the complex were assessed to determine the strategy for an energy efficient rehab and plan for the future.
Rebates and Incentives:
We were able to find prescriptive rebates for the following items:
Launching a green business venture is incredibly daunting. If you’re a new green start-up you’re probably facing the following challenges:
- Finding your niche in the world of green business.
- Getting funded and/or finding investors.
- Competing with the information overload your prospects experience every day.
I have coached green start-up entrepreneurs all over North America over the past several years. My clients have launched green businesses in green real estate investing, eco-consulting, green retail stores, online eco-products, sustainable non-profit pre-schools, etc. They come from all walks of life, from the northern parts of Canada to south Florida.
Many have experienced incredible successes through hard work, perseverance and a keen business mind. Although they are all very different people they do share some common traits.
These traits are the traits I believe you MUST have/show/exhibit if you want to launch a successful green start-up. They are:
I’ve gotten that question occasionally over the past three months so thought I’d address it here. The question always comes from a well-meaning individual looking for a sustainable investing opportunity of some sort. The last few times have come during either a holiday party or some other festive occasion where I’m holding a glass of eggnog.
For the sake of philosophical discussion, let’s assume you:
Virgil was right.
The single greatest opportunity for entrepreneurs right now is sustainability. Contrary to popular belief, sustainability is not a fad or trend. It’s not something that is going to dissipate with time.
In the same way the Internet forever changed business, sustainability will forever change how we look at and run our lives.
That is fundamental reason green business, if run correctly, will thrive. Unlike ANY other industry, sustainability offers unheralded advantages to the burgeoning Green CEO.
Below is a green real estate investing plan we recently put together. The highlights of the plan are:
- We buy properties below market, green them and receive rebates, grants and incentives to offset rehab expenses.
- Investors earn increased profits and increased cash flow.
- We target a non-profit and they receive a quarterly payment based on our quarterly profits. This is one way we’re able to give back to the community.
- We follow the mantra, “Do Good, Make Money”
Socially responsible investments cover the gamut of everything from real estate to recycled handbags made by disenfranchised women in Africa. In the realm of real estate, ‘green’ is usually seen in flashy, uber-expensive, high-tech properties. However there are other real estate investments that are socially responsible if not flashy. Existing multi-family properties offer some of the greatest opportunity for both profit and planet benefit.
Below is a case we recently completed on a project I did a few years ago. This multi-family project is a 256 unit apartment complex in Santee, Ca. The results were based on the clients actual bills/usage and are projected out 10 years to see the true benefit to both the investor/owner and the residents of the complex. By pursing a socially responsible investment strategy on this property, the owner was able to improve profits while saving water/energy AND improves the lives of 256 families. Not bad…
In 2009 our firm, Simcoe Consulting was commissioned to do a comprehensive energy and water consumption assessment of a 256 unit apartment complex (Santee Villas) in Santee, California. Costs for both energy use and water consumption on the property were continuing to increase year over year.
In addition, the County of San Diego had just raised the drought warning to a Level Two for San Diego. The local water provider, Padre Dam Water District, had steadily raised water and sewer rates over the past several years. The owners of Santee Villas (R&V)were concerned that increasing rates coupled potential fines and levies for excess water use would threaten their already slim profit margins.
We were tasked with answering the following :
1. How could we maximize the energy-efficiency of the property? 2. What would a green retrofit cost and what was the ROI for the retrofit? 3. What rebate funds were available to offset the cost of the project?
Once the assessment was completed and the strategy finalized, we handled the project management of Phase I of the retrofit. The entire project, from audit to strategy, to final completion took approximately 75 days.
Santee Villas is a 256 unit multifamily development in San Diego County, California. Santee Villas is owned by a private real estate company (R&V) based in San Diego. The company owns 35+ large multi-family properties in Southern California. Santee Villas is comprised of 16 buildings built in 1984 and sits on approximately 18 acres.
The city of Santee is northeast of the city of San Diego. Santee has a temperate climate although summer day temperatures often exceed 100 degrees. Santee Villas is spread out over [how many] buildings. As with typical apartment complexes there are areas that get a great deal of sun and some areas that get very little. All of the buildings are two story wood and stucco construction. All of the Santee Villas systems (plumbing, irrigation, electrical, HVAC) were installed during the original construction. No major retrofits or upgrades had been completed since that time.
In Phase I we audited all of the exterior water systems (irrigation, pool, etc.). Our goal was to find areas of the property that could be retrofitted without needing a complete redesign. We recognized that a complete redesign would both be expensive and negate any potential cost savings. We performed the audit in three steps.
Our first step was to map out the location of every building, water pipe, control valve, and sprinkler-head, breakers, etc. We mapped out each irrigation zone and noted the make and model of every item (sprinkler-heads, valves, etc) for future reference. We also mapped out the type of vegetation (trees, bushes, grass, flowers, etc.) and their locations. All told there were over 3000 sprinkler-heads located on the property.
The second step consisted of observing the irrigation system in action. We took several hundred photos and filmed each zone as it was being irrigated. We noted the following:
• Areas of overspray on buildings.
• Areas of overspray on tenants cars.
• Areas of overspray on sidewalks.
• Areas being irrigated where there was no need for irrigation.
• Areas of vegetation that were not getting irrigated.
• Areas of vegetation that were being irrigated but did not need it.
Of particular importance for us were areas where overspray was doing damage to the foundation of a building. These could be huge problems in the future so we made this a top priority.
Phase I Strategy
After the initial audit, we developed a strategy to maximize the effectiveness of the green retrofit plan. The core components of our strategy were:
1. Eliminate all problem areas.
2. Optimize all systems for maximum efficiency
3. Automize operations as much as possible.
4. Train all staff, vendors, suppliers.
Eliminate problem areas
We defined a potential problem area as one currently causing significant damage to a building or major area of the site. Left untethered these could potentially cause thousands of dollars in damage. For example, any area where irrigation was either spraying directly on a building foundation or unit decking. In these areas we either re-directed the sprinkler-head or capped them off so they would cease to do damage. All told, there were roughly 100 problem areas on site that we mitigated through sprinkler-head capping or re-directing irrigation.
Sprinkler-head causing structural damage to the foundation of a building.
The current systems on site were old and not suited for the layout of the property. We worked within the confines of the current irrigation map as replacing the entire irrigation system wasn’t feasible from a cost standpoint. We choose Hunter MP Rotators as the main sprinkler-head for the site. Hunter was our manufacturer of choice for several reasons. After touring their facility in San Marcos, Ca we were impressed by their patented technology, durability and water efficiency of their product. Unlike most sprinkler-heads that shoot water out in an undefined splash pattern, MP Rotators shoot water in a defined arc that can be adjusted. The result is that you have less overspray, and can use less water to irrigate the same area. Once we determined our irrigation equipment we thensought to re-map the property to minimize the total number of valves and sprinkler-heads needed. Wecapped off sprinkler-heads that were either watering mature (tress and bushes) vegetation or nothing at all. When completed we capped off approximately 20% of the sprinkler-heads onsite.
Whenever possible we choose to minimize potential human error in the operations of a client’s project through automation. The less interaction a staff member has with the system the better.
With that in mind we choose to add eight weather sensors throughout the property. These sensors were connected to new automatic timers that were pre- programmed for optimal irrigation. Weather sensors measure the moisture levels in the air and in the ground. When the moisture level exceeds the recommended levels, the sensor overrides the system and the irrigation stays off. This eliminates situations where the irrigation goes off even while it is raining.
Both the weather sensors and timers were strategically placed in locations where they could not be tampered with or adjusted without the landscape manager’s assistance. Usually this meant mounting them on top of the buildings themselves. We’ve observed many other projects where weather sensors and timers are adjusted freely by anyone on site. This is almost always a mistake. For example, when using MP Rotators the irrigation time is cut 50%. Many landscapers (used to a 7-9 minute watering times) will increase sprinkler times on MP systems because they are not familiar with the MP system. That leads to higher water expenses and flooding.
We were also able to get rebate funds covering 85% of the total cost of the materials for the sprinkler-heads, valves, weather sensors and automatic timers.
To realize the full benefit of the entire project we realized we had to gain buy in from everyone involved. Without that the project would fail because the day-to-day operational strategies we enacted would not be carried out.
We met with the corporate staff, onsite leasing managers, maintenance crew and the contracted landscaping company. In each meeting/training session we explained the following:
1. The overall goals of our strategy (Save water/power; reduce expenses and improve performance) 2. How their specific area would be affected. 3. The procedures we recommended they follow.
4. The direct benefits to them for implementing our recommendations.
The training largely produced the anticipated results. The team was interested and excited about becoming a ‘green’ property. They took ownership of the work and did what we asked. We explained to each group exactly what they needed to know and no more. Tying the results of the property to their direct benefit was instrumental in gaining their buy in.
We did encounter challenges with one group. That group was the contracted landscape company. A lot of the work (and problem areas) we recommended were in the landscapers direct scope of work. They alternately seemed defensive and threatened by our presence and our recommendations. They were not easy to work with and In retrospect we should have dealt with this group differently.
All in all, the training was successful because we approached the different groups through a consultative, questioning method, rather than an authoritative, domineering approach. In short, they were able to see the value of the project and the value to them personally for doing what we recommended.
Phase II Strategy
The second phase of the project is to reduce the water use and utility use within the 256 living units and further the conservation of the exterior water use and utility use. We project that we’ll reduce each units water use by a minimum of 35% and the electricity use by 30%. The recommendations are as follows:
1. Install low-flow toilets in every unit. With materials and labor per toilet under $200 there is a tremendous savings to be had be completing this retrofit.
2. Replace and install low-flow shower-heads in all units and installing Energy Star dishwashers (approx. $300 each) in all units as well. Materials and labor under $40 per unit.
3. Install sink aerators in all faucets in all units. Materials and labor under $20 per unit.
4. Install building-by-building grey water system when building plumbing system needs complete retrofit.
5. Install rainwater harvesting system to offset the water needs of the irrigation system. With roughly 144,000 square feet of roof space, approximately 90,000 gallons of water could be captured and used for the irrigation system.
1. Install wall insulation in all exterior walls of each building. Closed cell foam insulation can be injected though the exterior of the building thus not disturbing the tenants. This can cut gas bills 50% for each resident.
2. When replacing appliances, install Energy Star rate appliances whenever possible. Apply for all applicable rebates and incentives to offset material cost.
3. Replace all T-12 fluorescent tube kitchen and bath lighting with T-5 fluorescent tube lighting. T-5’s fit into existing T-12 ballasts so the cost is minimal while the long term savings is great.
I always love it when I hear from clients who’ve just gotten their rebate checks back for adding some method/material of energy efficiency to their projects. The check above for $500 is from an actual client who does energy efficient remodels in Michigan. This rebate check covered a few expenses that the investor who have had to cover anyway (adding insulation, adding a water heater, etc.). By applying for the rebate, the investor:
- Got paid to do repairs he would have had to do to sell the property.
- Got paid to make his house more energy efficient and thus more valuable.
- Got paid to make his house more marketable resulting in it selling faster and for more money.
There are literally billions of dollars available to real estate investors in the US. Are you getting your fair share?
In this four part series I review the most effective green strategies to use to analyze any potential multifamily investment. These strategies go outside of the typical cap rate, NOI calculations to give you a more accurate method for predicting success. This is the methodology we use with our clients to help them make intelligent investment decisions through our decision making engine and Top 20 Thinking process. Enjoy..
This is a wonderful project happening in Sonoma County, California. Click here for more info.
[This post is not for everyone...]
I spend much of my writing time explaining the benefits of what I provide to clients and the value in hiring me. Increased profits, cost savings, better brand, rebates and incentives are the focal points of client discussions.
One thing that I have not addressed enough is why I do what I do and what I believe. So here goes:
I believe it’s crucial that we provide low income/middle class families with green homes. Whether they live in apartment buildings, single-family homes, town-homes, etc, this is a key component of creating a healthier, more prosperous, inspired nation. This is the backbone of our society and they’ve been largely left out of the green conversation.
Based on projects I’ve worked on across the country, most utility bills are $150-$300/month for a family of 3-4. This is a general statement, I know, but that’s what it seems to average. These bills COULD be $50-$60 with a few simple changes.
How much more money could these consumers pour into our economy if their utility bills were $50-60/month vs. $150-$300/month? Most people spend 3-to-5 times what they could (I’d argue SHOULD) be spending on utility bills. In addition many of the changes I advocate are not complicated or extensive (re: expensive) to the actual building owner.
The reason this is near and dear to my heart is that I was raised by a single Mom until I was 10 who put herself through college while working full time. I can guarantee she spent more money monthly in utility bills than she needed to. We were poor (though I never knew/realized it) and what we could have used was a green environment that:
a. Saved us money- Take stress off of her, not have to live paycheck-to-paycheck.
b. Was healthier- better sleep for both of us, easier to study, more comfortable.
We’re lucky, we both made it. My Mom has a wonderful career as a social worker in Phoenix and has 2 Masters degrees now. I graduated college and have enjoyed the success of my own career.
There are kids in America being raised under the same conditions (and worse) than I was. Being raised by parent(s) living paycheck-to-paycheck in an older apartment/home. They spend 3×5 times more than they should on utilities. No one is helping them.
There are gov’t programs available to them to but they are confusing, the process is archaic and the programs haven’t done a good job reaching these families.
[Ironic to think a utility company would largely be the sole source of the marketing plan to reach these end users. “Please, come spend LESS money with me. Let me show you how to reduce OUR profits right away.” Do we really expect the utility companies to do this?]
These families are focused on staying together and having money for rent, food, bills. These kids deserve a better place to live in with less stressed parent(s). They deserve to sleep in a toxic-free bedroom. They deserve an environment that inspires them to thrive. I think of these kids when I look at my own daughters.
I had a lot of help when I was young. A strong Mom and a great adopted Dad (at age 10). We struggled and other people helped me throughout my childhood. Probably much more than I will ever know. People came into my life and helped me without seeking credit or accolades. I can’t repay them or thank them.
A big reason of doing what I do is to repay the favor to a kid that’s never going to meet me and has no clue who I am. (I’m talking about you, kid with the soccer cleats outside apartment #20 of the Mt Lebanon Blvd apartment building.) But after we finish his building, his parents will have a little more cash each month and maybe they’ll be a little less stressed.
And that is why I do what I do…