Archive for June, 2009

How To Save on Cooling (and Heating) Costs with Landscaping

Overview

Perhaps the most pleasant economic savings can be derived from judicious and mindful planting of trees and shrubs. The value of traditional plantings serving as windbreaks is well known. Additionally, well-placed deciduous trees can shade a building during hot summer months yet allow warming sunshine to enter a building when warmth is needed in the winter. The summer shading feature of trees is particularly important for the following reason. Most homes are cooled with traditional window- or central- air conditioners using fractional horsepower single-phase electric motors and modern refrigerants (chlorofluorocarbons that are less potent greenhouse gases than their predecessors). The electro-mechanical efficiency of air conditioner components ranges from 35-50% based upon the electrical energy available at the plug. But that electricity is arriving at your building with an overall efficiency of about 30% based upon the energy content of the fuel going into the central electrical power plant. So, when the overall fuel cycle is considered, building air conditioning is about 10-20% efficient, on the basis of energy flow. Fortunately, humans feel a cooling effect from simple air movement that increases evaporation from the skin. Most air conditioning rating systems incorporate this cooling effect, so their efficiency numbers do not appear quite so grim. However, when shade trees cool a house such that one unit of air conditioning energy is avoided, 5 to 10 units of primary energy are avoided at the power plant. This is not only an important economic savings to you, but also a very important environmental savings to the community.

Estimated Cost Savings

Air conditioning in buildings represents 13-15% of your annual electricity budget, and a larger fraction during summer months. By reducing the amount of air conditioning required, shade trees directly affect your bottom line. The cost of quality shade trees ranges from a few dollars for a seedling to several hundred for a much larger tree. Its a good idea to get at least an 8-10 foot high tree if possible. The sooner the tree grows shading capacity, the sooner you can enjoy savings. The amount of savings can vary widely due to local circumstances but typical savings are on the order of 10-20% of a summer electric bill. Similar savings from a windbreak will be realized in winter during the heating season.

Issues

Consider planting several varieties of trees: some fast-growing species (such as ash or aspen) for quick shade and more durable, slower-growing and longer-lasting trees (such as maple or oak) that will eventually dominate. Shop around for the best warranty on trees. Many nurseries provide planting and care instructions and will offer a oneyear replacement guarantee.

Regional Issues

Plant varieties appropriate to your climate. Some species of trees grow more slowly than others so you need to get started as soon as planting season arrives.

Installation (Getting It Done)

Spring and fall are the best times to plant. Be sure to follow planting instructions and err on the side of digging too large a hole. Be sure to incorporate organic material in the planting soil and to stake trees to provide mechanical support. Mulch heavily and water thoroughly during summer dry spells.

Be sure to get bids from two or three (or more) nurseries and/or landscaping contractors if you choose not to plant the trees yourself. Multiple bids will allow you to gain immediate perspective on the true costs and value of trees in your area.

References:

    Cooling Our Communities, A Guidebook on Tree Planting and Light-Colored Surfacing

, US EPA 22P-2001, January, 1992.

More Information On This Topic:

U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: Landscaping

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service: Windbreak

Or my web site at: CyberGreenRealty.com


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A Comparison of a Standard Mortgage to an Energy Efficient Mortgage

Banks are increasingly recognizing the fact that a homeowner who spends money to improve the energy efficiency of their home ends up having extra money in their pocket at the end of the month – and this can help tip the balance in your favor of getting a higher mortgage amount with an Energy Efficient Mortgage.

Fannie Mae has published the following comparison of a standard home mortgage to an energy efficient home mortgage. Keep in mind this was published a while ago and mortgage rates are even LOWER right now, so your savings could be higher.

 

Non Energy Efficient Home

Energy Efficient Home

Purchaser Price

$200,000

$203,000

Borrower Contribution

$6,000

$6,090

Loan Amount

$160,000

$162,400

Interest

5.85%

5.85%

Monthly PITI

$1673

$1698

Average electric Bill

$186

$93

Total Expenses

$1859

$1791

Qualifying Income

$49,000

$48,584

Monthly Savings

 

$68


Note this example also assumes a builder will charge more for an energy efficient home, but as competition increases and technology improves this is becoming less of a factor. Again, this means your savings could be even higher!

To reiterate from a previous post, some of the benefits of using an Energy Efficient Mortgage include the following:

  • More first-time buyers can qualify for a mortgage
  • Overall reduction in the cost of home ownership
  • Helps reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil
  • Helps protect the environment

For more information, check out the Fannie Mae web site about Energy Efficient mortgages and don’t forget to browse my CyberGreenRealty.Com web site for energy efficient homes currently for sale in Massachusetts.

-TMC

MA Residents – Could You Use a 0% $15,000 Loan for Energy Improvements?

Yes. you read that correctly!

If you live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you may be eligible for a MassSAVE HEAT Loan, providing you with the opportunity to get a 0% loan for the installation of qualified energy efficient improvements in your home. The loan amount can not exceed $15,000 and the term of the loan can not exceed 7 years. To apply for the loan, you must OWN and OCCUPY a one-to-four family residence and obtain a Home Energy Assessment through the MassSAVE program.

To begin, the first step is to obtain a Home Energy Assessment. Call 1-866-527-7283 to schedule your assessment. Then visit the MassSAVE web site to review the list of qualified lenders in your area. And you’re off!

For a more detailed explanation of the process, see the MassSAVE’s Steps to the Heat Loan Program, also available on the MassSave web site.

For more information and links to some of my preferred Eco-Conscious vendors, visit my web site at CyberGreenRealty.Com. If you’ve already taken advantage of one of these programs and made some improvements to your home, why not share your experiences here! I look forward to your comments.

-TMC

Arlington, MA Drinking Water Report

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and the Arlington Department of Public Works have released their annual Water Quality report for 2008, as mandated by the EPA. The results are excellent – we’ve got some of the best drinking water in the nation! For the 120 contaminants that are tested for, utilizing thousands of samples every week, every EPA standard was met and the lead test results show that MWRA has exceeded the federal Lead Action Level standards.

There are a couple of highlights I’d like to share with you from the report, pertinent to being “green” and all…

TAP WATER – THE GREEN CHOICE! (Page 2)
“As water travels eastward through tunnels from the Quabbin and Wachusett Revervoirs, clean hydro-electric energy is produced. The electricity generated is used to reduce MWRA’s energy demands. Also, the clean, fresh water is delivered straight to your home without the fuel consumption of trucking or the waste left behind by plastic bottles.”

And speaking of bottled water –

BOTTLE VS. TAP – THE SMART CHOICE (Page 3)
“Even though tap and bottled water must meet the same standards, bottled water costs hundreds of times more – a penny for tap compared to $1 to $8 a gallon for bottled. Tap water must meet more intensive Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing requirements than bottled water, which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

So before heading to the gym next time, consider filling up your reusable drinking container with some fresh tap water – you’ll be going green and saving money at the same time!

If you didn’t receive a copy of “Your Drinking Water Report 2008,” or live out of the area and are thinking of moving to Arlington and you’d like a copy of the report, contact the MWRA at 617-242-5323 or visit their web site at www.mwra.com.

-TMC

Arlington, MA Governor’s Forum – June 22, 2009

Notice – due to weather, the forum has been moved to the Town Hall Auditorium, 730 Mass. Ave. Event begins at 7:00pm.

Come hear directly from the Governor, ask questions, and discuss issues that matter to you. This event is free, open to the public, and all are invited!

For more info, visit Gov. Deval Patrick’s web site.

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Arlington, MA Median Listing Prices Up Over Quarter

Despite the perception the market is still languid, the median listing price for single-family and condo properties in Arlington, MA is up 10% over the last quarter (3/19/09 – 6/19/09), to a healthy $439,450. The average listing price is currently $476,684, a 5% increase over the same time period.

Today’s biggest news, however, is the data for average days on market. On March 19, the average days on market for a property in the $400,000 – $449,000 range (our current median price band) was 122 days – over 4 months. Today, the average days on market is down to 33, a 73% drop and just over a month in total. This means things are really starting to pick up, folks!

Check out the data for yourself:

Arlington, MA SF and Condo Market Snapshot

So get out there and get shopping for your next home!

-TMC