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Green House

by Janet Spavlik

Environmentally friendly measures can boost your home’s efficiency, not to mention your bank account.

You recycle. You switched out your electricity-gobbling light bulbs for the high-efficiency ones. You even broke down and got the kids a Prius.

But while every little step toward environmental sustainability counts, it’s the big steps that can really help protect the planet—and save you money as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the home, where improvements like solar paneling, improved insulation or rainwater harvesting can drastically slash your utility bills all while improving your quality of life.

“There’s a lot more demand for environmentally friendly products … recycled glass for countertops, PVC decking, low-VOC paints, vinyl siding,” notes Jay Stack, general manager at Under Construction Builders in Cherry Hill. “For flooring, bamboo is really popular, and it’s a fast-growing product that is self-regenerating, so we are not killing the rainforests.”

But, while making these changes to your home may sound like a no-brainer, it’s not always the case. Often home improvements—like investments in tankless water heaters—come with greater out-of-pocket costs that can force consumers to weigh going green against saving some green. “It’s budgetary driven and it’s environmentally driven,” Stack says.

It’s 45-and-under consumers who tend to be driving the green trend, notes Steve Matteo of Matteo Family Kitchens in Woodstown. He estimates about 20 percent of his customers walk in the door interested in sustainable products. Matteo expects that as the demand grows, prices should decline.

For now, environmentally conscious customers are starting from the ground up, where Matteo says in addition to the stranded bamboo flooring, manufacturers are producing small-strand carpeting that’s 30 percent corn-based. “It’s a renewable fiber that is durable, and we get asked for it [specifically],” he says. And while it’s not cheap, it tends to be a better product than the standard offerings. “If [they] are going to put it out there at [a high] price point, the manufacturers are going to make sure the quality is going to be superior.”

Still, going green doesn’t have to be a cost tradeoff. After all, improving energy efficiency can offer very real payoffs. South Jersey Gas, for example, offers rebates for upgrading or replacing home heating equipment. The program was designed in collaboration with New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program, which is a statewide initiative that includes financial incentives, programs and services designed to help businesses and individuals conserve.

For those considering a home efficiency overhaul, South Jersey Gas offers $125 assessments that evaluate heating and cooling equipment, insulation, air sealing opportunities, windows and doors, appliances and lighting. The results show where your home is wasting energy, and what steps you can take to increase efficiency and lower your utility bills. The certified contractor who performs the assessment also will help identify a heating system that is right for your home and that qualifies for a rebate. Once the qualified heating system is installed, the homeowner can apply for a $400 rebate from New Jersey Clean Energy and a $900 rebate from South Jersey Gas. Additionally, by making other energy-efficient home upgrades, customers could save up to 30 percent on monthly energy costs.

But more than just a one-time rebate, some improvements can yield lasting fiscal benefits. John Abruzzo of Washington Township has seen his utility bills decrease by about 50 percent since he installed solar panels on his roof.

“When we bought our house in 2006, it was about 20 years old, and we knew it was time for a new roof,” says Abruzzo, whose panels were installed by Turnersville-based SolarWorks NJ. An initial site survey of Abruzzo’s house determined that it was a good candidate for solar paneling. Not all homes are, explains SolarWorks chief executive Steve Masapollo. The orientation of the house—the roof must face south—the amount of shading from trees, the structural integrity of the roof and the homeowner’s electricity usage are all factors.

“Solar energy is one of the most sustainable ways we have of generating energy and electricity today,” says Masapollo. “Solar panels produce electricity without emissions of any kind. The majority of electricity we use in the United States today is generated from burning coal. Converting to solar energy also contributes to the fight against global warming.”

In July, New Jersey reached 10,000 solar installations, making it the second-largest user of solar power in the nation, second only to California. In addition to reduced utility bills, home-owners can look forward to a 30-percent federal tax credit on the installation of a paneling system. Furthermore, home-owners can collect Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) for the power they produce. While credit amounts vary, Abruzzo said he now receives about eight checks a year for approximately $300 each through his SREC credits.

Increasing your home’s sustainability doesn’t have to be confined to indoor measures, according to Stephen Katz, a landscape architect with Young’s Landscape Management in Moorestown and Lumberton. Reducing the use of chemicals in pools, and harvesting and reusing rainwater to hydrate plantings, are two popular examples.

Planting trees can have a profound environmental effect, but a large canopy tree set near a house can be even more beneficial, blocking out direct sun and helping curb energy costs. As well, using native plants to dot your landscape comes with its own benefits.

“Native planting uses materials that are naturalized in this area,” says Katz. “Since they are well adapted to the region and climate, native plants tend to require less maintenance. This saves homeowners money in terms of irrigation, fertilization and other lawn care efforts, plus reduces the introduction of chemicals into the landscape and overall environment.”

Homeowners with pools in the backyard are finding eco-friendly alternatives to using and handling chemicals. One popular alternative is the use of a saltwater pool system. “This replaces the traditional use of chlorine and other chemicals,” says Mike McCool, general manager of Swim-Mor Pools. “New technologies have been developed so you can use salt as a sanitizer and limit exposure to chemicals. It’s a much better way of sanitizing a pool. These salt chlorine generators are relatively inexpensive and can fit most existing pool filtering systems. The savings make a big splash because salt is much cheaper than chlorine.”

In these environmentally conscious times, it seems nothing is going to waste. Even old kitchen countertops are being cut down to form pavers that tend to be more pervious than concrete, allowing water to pass into the ground. “When it comes to hard-scaping for patios, walkways and the like, recycled materials are being used more frequently,” Katz says. “Specifically, old granite countertops are cut into pavers, bricks are being refurbished and reused, and concrete is broken down and used in base materials.”

The same goes for the construction industry, where old car tires and other one-time refuse are now finding their way into building supplies.

“Things are being reused that 30 or 40 years ago were not—they were just discarded,” Stack says. “It lowers waste significantly, and it’s smart environmentally and economically.”

Better Homes
A Special Advertising Section from the pages of South Jersey Magazine

These local experts make transforming your house easy.

Matteo Family Kitchens & Flooring
Matteo’s Kitchens & Flooring specializes in expert kitchen construction and redecoration. They are a one-stop shop, offering in-house custom countertops, cabinets and professional flooring. Matteo’s expert designers work closely with customers to ensure they get exactly what they want, at a price they can afford.
Woodstown |(856) 769-2490
MatteoKitchens.com

Swim-Mor Pools & Spas
Swim-Mor is Southern and Central New Jersey’s premier custom in-ground swimming pool builder since 1967. Their focus is to make the whole process as carefree and painless as possible!
Serving South Jersey |(800) SWIM-MOR
SwimMor.com

Under Construction Builders LLC
By asking their customers what is important to them, Under Construction Builders brings innovation, affordability, quality and sustainability to each project. With 20-plus years’ experience, they pride themselves on being sensitive to the environment when possible, regarding their products and applications to make your dream project come true.
Cherry Hill |(856) 354-0831
UCBuildersNJ.com

Young’s Landscape Management
Fall is primetime for planning and planting. Whether it’s enhancing an existing landscape or creating a new, full-scale outdoor living environment, the time is now. For nearly 20 years, Young’s high quality craftsmen and professional design team have been blending lush, colorful plantings with hardscapes, synthetic turf lawns and sporting areas, accent lighting and water features. By planning and planting now, the result is a blooming landscape and comfortable living space just in time for next summer.
Serving South Jersey |(856) 303-2828
YoungsLandscape.com

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6 (September, 2011).
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