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Ask the Ecologist:

by Belle Bergner

Q: I want to update my home with some eco-friendly, green design additions. The house is older (1895) but has been updated over the years with newer windows and overall is in fairly good condition. I have $2,000 that I’m willing to invest in the house right now to make it more environmentally sustainable. What are some easy and less costly suggestions to start out with that won’t break my bank but will add value to my home and improve its environmental friendliness?”

A: Without knowing what improvements have already been done to your house, I’ve asked the folks at Pragmatic Construction to give us some general ideas that you can implement. You can feel good already that just by reusing an older house rather than buying a new one is eco-friendly because you are recycling or reusing existing materials.

Remember that although all of the actions suggested below incur an initial cost, you will likely make that money back within a few years or less with lower utility bills. Then, when you have recovered the initial investment cost in a few years, compare your annual utility costs to what they were before you made the updates. You’ll start making money when you compare what you used to pay for water, electricity, and gas… then you can take those savings and invest in even more green updates.

Most of the products listed here can be found at your local home repair or hardware store or Future Green, a sustainable living store on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View.

For other items, such as a dual flush toilet, you might have to go online.

– Change all incandescent light bulbs (the oval-type) to Compact Fluorescents (the squiggly type) $100 ($3 each)

– Disconnect a downspout and add a rainbarrel $100/ea.

– Add a solar attic fan to improve energy performance and eliminate ice damming $450

– Check for attic insulation and add a foot of cellulose $1500 (space depending)

– Add a programmable thermostat $40

– Wrap your hot water heater $30

– Wrap your hot water pipes $100

– Seal ductwork with mastic $50

– Wrap your ductwork $200

– Change your furnace filter $5

– For touch up painting use low or no-VOC (volatile organic carbon) paints $20/ gallon

– Caulk around windows and other air infiltration points $50 – Install low flow water fixtures $20.

– Replace a toilet with a dual-flush toilet $300

– Investigate reclaimed or recycled materials for your home renovation projects (check and advertise on Craigslist) FREE! Or try Lisbon Storm Screen & Door or Pieter Godfrey

– Consider getting an EnergyStar Home Performance Audit for recommendations specific to your home $200 (visit the Focus on Energy website at www. focusonenergy.com)

Nikolai Usack from Pragmatic Construction suggests “going back in time to reorient your house to the south for passive solar heating.” I would modify that to say that you could investigate whether putting in larger windows on your southern exposure would allow you to create a bit of passive solar heating capacity.

Send your ecological inquiries to our resident ecologist at

Riverwest Currents online edition – April, 2007