Secrets of High-End Green Homes

  • It’s easier than you think!

    Why settle for century-old technology like incandescent bulbs, when more energy-efficient alternatives abound? Why are you still using an ancient water heater, when there’s a tempting tax credit available for certain high-efficiency “tankless” heaters? Making your home sip less energy doesn't need to be a complex game of chess. Many of these smart strategies can be put into play in a single afternoon. MainStreet spoke with Doug Mcdonald, whose $5.95 million Brooklyn Heights townhouse is listed by prominent Corcoran agents Lisa Detwiler and Ellen Newman. But more on the property itself later—we were interested in the innovative energy-efficient upgrades in which Mcdonald has invested. For the right buyer, it could just be the icing on the cake. You need not own a five-story townhouse, though, to put many of the same tricks to use in your own home. Photo Credit: NASA
    “Put a coat on it”
  • “Put a coat on it”

    Not all upgrades need to be complex or expensive. In fact, “some things are really simple” and effective, according to Mcdonald. Take, for example, his suggestion that you buy a Bonded Logic Radiant Barrier, which is essentially a jacket for your water heater’s tank. The insulation keeps the water hot, but with less energy. It's very simple and the high-tech "jacket" reflects up to 97% of radiant energy. Cost: $59.98 (4 ft. x 24 ft. roll) at Photo Credit:
    High-efficiency bulbs
  • High-efficiency bulbs

    “I've put around the house high-speed fluorescent bulbs,” Mcdonald told us. In addition, he uses GeoBulbs inside the home — they are LED bulbs that give off more light than a standard LED, while consuming far less energy than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs (4 to 8 watts per bulb versus 75 watts or even 100 watts for a regular incandescent bulb). In addition, LED bulbs have a much longer operational life than regular bulbs, with some GeoBulbs rated to last up to 50,000 hours. According to Mcdonald, the bulbs are “not even comparable” to traditional lights. Cost: $54.95 per bulb (warm white) at Photo Credit:
  • Automation

    All of the high-efficiency light bulbs in the building’s stairwell are linked to one photo cell sensor situated on the inside of a skylight. When the sensor detects it is dark outside, it automatically turns on the high-efficiency bulbs. When it senses sufficient sunlight again in the morning, it cuts off the lights. This way, you never forget to turn off the lights. And you never come home to a stairwell that is dangerously unlit. Cost: Varies, some basic sensors cost only $10, while a more advanced set-up could cost hundreds Photo Credit: Doug Mcdonald
    Go tankless
  • Go tankless

    A traditional water heater works by storing 75 gallons (or more) in its tank and keeping that water at around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When you need hot water for a shower, that tank is tapped. The problem is that even when you're not using the water, your boiler is still keeping that tank of water hot 24/7, using up plenty of energy in the process. The tankless or “on-demand” water heater, on the other hand, rapidly heats water only when you actually need it. There is no storage tank. Originally $3,000 or so, these high-tech heaters can now be had for less than $2,000 — plus you get a $1,500 tax credit, lowering the effective price to $500 or less … not to mention the long-term energy cost savings. But is the technology sound? Mcdonald considers it to be “a very established technology now coming into America” — it’s been used in Japan and throughout Europe for the past 15 years. Cost: Although some cost thousands, entry-level Ariston tankless point-of-use water heater models can be had starting at $199 from Photo Credit: Doug Mcdonald
    High-tech insulators
  • High-tech insulators

    Mcdonald had Icynene, a soy-based foam product, pumped into the spaces in the walls, acting as a very effective insulator. With Icynene, your home’s “thermal envelope is completely, totally sealed,” according to Mcdonald, which also means no gaps in between the walls through which cold air (or other annoyances, like bugs, moisture, etc.) can pass. Plus, Icynene is light-years ahead of older insulation products, some of which contain things like formaldehyde. Another high-tech green insulator is natural denim, made from clothing factory scraps of denim cotton fiber (pictured at left). Aside from its heat insulation properties, denim exhibits a "great sound-absorbing quality" with a tested 115% noise reduction coefficient. In other words, all noise was absorbed. Installation is also relatively hassle-free, since cotton fibers are natural and do not require protective work clothing to be worn. Cost: sells 106 sq. ft. of "post-consumer waste" denim insulation material for $72.39. Photo Credit: Doug Mcdonald
    Window insulation?
  • Window insulation?

    Air conditioning can rack up quite an electric bill in the blistering New York summer months, even if you don’t have to worry about keeping an entire townhouse cool. It makes sense to look into installing a window film to filter out ultraviolet light and heat from the sun. You can have an expert apply it for you if your handyman skills leave something to be desired. Try 3M Prestige Residential window film. You buy it, clean your window, cut the 3M film to fit, and then use a hair dryer or heat gun to carefully apply it. Once affixed to your window, you will gain some pretty huge benefits: 99% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays are blocked and 79% of “solar heat gain” is kept out. The result? A “much more comfortable room, and air conditioning load goes down dramatically," according to Mcdonald. Cost: quoted us $13 to $15 per square foot for a home in the New York area; this price includes the film and professional installation. They said that amateur installation is not recommended. Plus, they told us that if professionally installed, there is a 3M lifetime warranty. (WindowFilmDepot is the nation's largest 3M window film dealer.) Photo Credit: Getty Images
    The ultimate fusion property
  • The ultimate fusion property

    Just in case you have $6 million in the bank collecting anemic interest … and you want to move to trendy Brooklyn Heights so you can be closer to the MainStreet team or to many of New York’s other attractions, here is part of the Corcoran listing for Mcdonald’s eco-friendly wonder home. “A remarkable fusion of history and eco-friendly living in a 5 story townhouse on a Brooklyn Heights cul-de-sac. The house has been fully restored and designed using sustainable building materials and energy efficient systems. The water, sewer, electrical, plumbing, and natural gas systems have all been replaced. The structural integrity of the building was reinforced with steel and LVLs bolted to every supporting beam and floor joist. Every wall, floor, roof and heating/cooling duct has been insulated with either Icynene or Bonded Logic Ultratouch to make for a quiet, energy efficent house. The new brownstone facade with grand stoop and restored French crackle glass windows (believed to be made by La Farge - a contemporary of Tiffany) add to the beauty of this fabulous street. The expansive parlor floor has a chef worthy kitchen with Cook and Cook cabinetry hand made in Maine with walnut countertops, Viking stove and ovens, SubZero refrigerator, Bosch dishwasher, and magnificent south facing windows overlooking the large garden and patio.” The full listing is here. Photo Credit: Doug Mcdonald
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