Archive for June, 2012
With the increasing and often unpredictable price of oil, natural gas and electricity, many homeowners are now considering using wood to heat their homes and workshops. Along with the potential cost savings* that an outdoor wood furnace or other type of wood burning stove can provide on home heating bills, using wood as your home heating fuel of choice is great for the environment – here’s why:
Wood Is a Renewable Source of Energy
Any type of untreated or unprocessed wood can be used for heating including trees that are storm damaged, diseased and unsuitable for other uses like furniture production. Trees grow quickly, require minimal care and new trees can be
planted immediately after existing trees are harvested. While growing, trees are an important part of the natural habitat for wildlife such as birds and animals that rely on woodlots and forests for food and shelter.
Trees that are used for heating fuel are often grown in areas that would otherwise be unusable for any other purpose including traditional agriculture, housing or commercial development. Trees can be planted in minimal soil, so areas that are rocky, sandy and have otherwise poor soil conditions are often used for tree farms.
Burning Wood Is Carbon-Neutral
As a tree grows it acts as a natural air filter, absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment and in turn releasing pure oxygen back into the air. When wood is burned in an outdoor wood furnace or other appliance, the carbon dioxide the fire creates is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide that the tree absorbed during it’s life, a process that is commonly referred to as the “carbon cycle”. The same thing happens when a tree dies and decays naturally: the carbon dioxide it absorbed while growing is slowly released back into the environment as the tree breaks down and rots.
Wood Is Locally Sourced
Unlike other heating fuels like oil, natural gas and coal which are often shipped thousands of miles across international borders before reaching the consumer, wood that is burned for heating is usually sourced close to where it will be purchased and used.
Traditional fossil fuels are nonrenewable, costly to extract and transport, and require a complex system of distribution to get the fuels to the end user, the customer. By contrast, wood is 100 percent renewable and getting the fuel to the end user is usually a very simple, straightforward process that can be as easy as cutting down a tree in your own back yard or buying the wood from your local firewood dealer.
Outdoor Wood Furnaces Can Heat Your Home and Household Water
In addition to providing an eco-friendly and affordable source of home heating, an outdoor furnace can serve double-duty as a water heater. Many models of outdoor wood furnaces are boilers which use hot water to transfer heat to a home. That same hot water can be captured and used for your household hot water needs with the installation of a simple heat exchanger, eliminating the need for a gas or electric water heater.
This article was written by Kyle Brent, president of OutdoorFurnaceSupply.com. The company specializes in home heating and alternative energy needs. Check out their website and the Outdoor Furnace blog.
*The potential cost savings of wood burning equipment is dependent on your cost of wood. People with ready sources of low or no cost wood, such as landowners, those that live in rural or semi rural areas, or in areas where suitable low cost wood is available can have tremendous savings.
There’s a big difference in how you feel coming home to a well-kept older home vs. driving up to a home where aging siding, weather-beaten trim, and a cracked cement walkway all cry out for attention. That’s why exterior remodeling can make such a difference not only to the look of your home, but how you feel about it. Plus, with an eye toward new materials and construction options, exterior renovation can also reward you with lower maintenance.
Instead of just replacing a cracked cement walkway, for instance, you could consider exterior remodeling that changes the look of your home and eliminates worries that your new walkway will crack again. Brick or flagstone, for instance, not only give a richer look to your home’s exterior, they are set in sand or bluestone so they can “move” rather than crack like cement often can over time.
If your trim needs attention, replacing the wood and painting it is not your only option the exterior. Renovation could instead be done with products like Azec. From exterior fascias to trim for windows and doors, these products are easy to install, come in a variety of colors so you can get the right look for your home, and they never need painting.
If you have wooden siding – or siding that has been damaged or has just started to look old, you can replace it with new materials and even a whole new look. Today’s suite of low-maintenance exterior remodeling products includes everything from brick and stone to never-needs-painting siding. Cement board siding, for example, is not only a virtually maintenance-free exterior option; it also helps insulate your home to increase energy efficiency.
So, if you need to focus some attention on your home’s exterior, renovation contractors can help you enjoy a home that’s more attractive and easier to maintain for years to come.
When you’re planning your bathroom renovation, take some time to explore new products being offered. Some may surprise you and some could be just the thing to create that spa-like feeling you’re after. For those of you who don’t have a chance to attend home shows and see what types of products are being offered, here are just a few products that bathroom remodelers feel really make a difference in the way a bathroom looks, feels and functions. Maybe they’re not all for you, but there may be some ideas you love!
- Heated floors. Imagine never stepping onto an icy-cold floor in the bathroom! Remodeling that includes electric or radiant heating keeps even those tiles nice and warm.
- Mirror defoggers. Installing a new mirror as part of your bathroom remodel? Include a defogger that automatically warms the mirror so it stays clear, even through hot, steamy showers.
- Mirrors that tilt. Tilting mirrors make a bathroom work for all the members of the family — kids may not even need stools to see themselves. And no more stooping or standing on tiptoe for tall or short adults.
- New shower systems. From rainfall showerheads to multi-jet shower systems, make sure your bathroom remodel takes full advantage of the great products on the market. Those rainfall showerheads, for example, offer a soothing, gentle downpour while multi-jet systems can also offer high-pressure flow to massage achy muscles.
- Hands-free faucets. Motion-activated faucets are a great way to save water and save elbow grease when it comes to cleaning the bathroom. Renovation that includes these fixtures rewards you for years – kids won’t accidentally leave the water running, teeth brushing won’t waste water, and you can rinse your hands without getting shaving cream, soap or hair dye on the faucet. Delta also has a nice line of faucets you can touch anywhere on the spout or handle with your wrist or forearm to start and stop the flow of water.
- High-arc spouts. For a pedestal tub or a sink in the bathroom, remodeling with high-arc faucets can create real visual impact. The high arc also makes it easier to wash your face without bending so far down over the bathroom sink. They’re an especially good choice for above-counter sinks.
- Towel warmers. As part of bathroom remodeling, warmer bars or drawers are great for warming bathrobes and slippers, too.
Kitchen remodeling contractors know that while homeowners all want a kitchen that looks and feels bigger, not everyone has the freedom to create more floor space. That’s true if you have a condo or when your lot, zoning restrictions, or budget just won’t let you add on.
Even when you’ve got to work within an existing footprint, there are ways to do a kitchen remodel that adds so much functionality and flow that you’ll feel you actually do have a bigger kitchen. Here are just a few ideas for kitchen renovations that “live large.”
Grab space from another room. This is a great approach for adding space to the kitchen remodel when the area is next to an underused space such as a sun porch or a living room that never gets lived in. No space is too small to make a difference. Experienced kitchen remodelers can turn even an adjacent closet into extra space for a wonderful new kitchen.
Create a more open floor plan incorporating the kitchen. Renovation can remove walls that section the kitchen off from the surrounding rooms. Even a small kitchen feels more spacious – and works more efficiently – when it’s open to a breakfast room, dining room or family room. Separate the space with an island and you not only create a pleasant extra seating area, you also create a second work station so several chefs can work together to get dinner on the table.
Fill the kitchen with space-saving secrets. Instead of a divided sink, consider one large sink – visually it opens the space and is also more versatile. As part of the design for your kitchen remodel, maximize storage space with cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling in your kitchen. Renovation can also include making the most of space savers and organizers – like pull-out shelving – that makes your kitchen function more easily and efficiently.
Add light. Including a new or bigger window in your kitchen remodel may reduce the space for wall cabinets, but it will make the space feel much bigger and brighter. If your kitchen is an interior space – as with many condos –anything from French doors to glass blocks can be used to bring light from other rooms into your newly remodeled kitchen.
Today, many remodeling companies have started offering home energy audits as a service. What’s driving this trend?
For starters, today’s concerns about high energy bills mean that homeowners want remodelers to take a new approach– not just changing the look of the home, but changing how well it operates. By being both home energy auditors and remodeling contractors, firms can offer recommendations for making homes healthier and highly energy efficient and they can turn the recommendations from the home energy audit into real-world solutions.
Second, home energy audits serve as a “second blueprint” for the home. Just as the design and elevations help you see how remodeling can change the look of your home, a home energy audit helps you see how energy fixes like insulation, duct sealing, and tighter windows and doors can change the way your house feels.
Third, remodelers who are also home energy auditors can help you build energy efficiency into the remodeling you’re already doing. For example, if your remodeling involves replacing or constructing new exterior walls, using green building materials and construction techniques can make those new walls far more energy efficient. By the same token, if a remodeler’s home energy audit prompts you to replace your existing windows, they can also use their remodeling expertise to show you ways to change the look of those windows – using a new style, lengthening or widening existing window openings, or adding new window openings. In both of these examples, since you’re already doing one project – either remodeling or replacing windows – they show you how to get double-duty from that project for just an incremental cost.
Bottom line, by working with a home energy auditor who is also an experienced remodeler, you get the best of both worlds – a beautiful “new” home and a home that takes an all new approach to energy savings.
While the term “green building” is familiar, many homeowners wonder exactly how custom green building differs from traditional home building – and how green custom homes themselves are different. Let’s take a look at some very basic distinctions.
- Energy and water conservation: This is often a homeowner’s primary motivation for choosing a green custom home builder. So, in planning the home, a green builder looks for every possible avenue for saving energy and water — from designing in Energy Star appliances and highly efficient low-flow fixtures, to insulation, efficient lighting and use of renewal energy such as solar power or geothermal heating and cooling.
- Location: A prospective site for a green custom home is always evaluated in terms of sustainability. For example, will the house be near existing infrastructure (roads, sewer, etc.)? The closer it is to existing infrastructure, the lower its impact on the environment – and that’s an important aspect of green building.
- Green building materials: The emphasis is on materials that are recycled, renewable, and local. In terms of recycled materials, there are a variety of options, including recycled glass or architectural elements salvaged from other projects. For flooring, a green custom home may incorporate renewable resources such as bamboo or cork – but not if the cost and carbon footprint of transporting these materials is greater than using more locally produced options. Note that the increasing popularity and availability of green products is expanding design options while giving homeowners price points comparable to non-green products.
- Indoor health and comfort: Experienced custom green builders are always conscious of avoiding building materials and products that are unhealthy for homeowners. Paint, carpet, and even some wallboard and cabinets can give off toxic gases. In addition, they pay careful attention to ventilation and a right-sized – properly sealed — heating and cooling system. This ensures good indoor air quality and the right balance of moisture, and it eliminates hot and cold spots that can make homes uncomfortable. Finally, green custom homes include plenty of natural light – a feature that not only saves energy, but creates a brighter “mood” in the home.
Again, this is just a very simplified way to talk about the differences between a green custom home and a traditional custom home. The point, however, is that there is a difference – one that is important for the homeowner’s enjoyment of the home, energy bill, and role in living more gently on the planet.
Remodelers who use a design-build method are able to help clients explore home remodeling opportunities in terms of what’s possible design-wise and what’s practical construction- and cost-wise.
When it comes to getting better use from currently under-utilized spaces – like attics — homeowners often value having home design services coupled with the design-build approach.
For example, in a townhome there may not be any opportunity to build an addition, but there may be an attic. With design-build home remodeling, design and cost simultaneously can be developed simultaneously as options are explored. For example: Perhaps there is access to the attic off the master bedroom closet and the space could be turned into a large closet/dressing room. With square footage in townhomes always at a premium, the design-build method can be a particularly efficient way to come up with specific recommendations for how to turn the attic into a highly organized storage area with shelves and features designed specifically for what the family needs to store and how easily they need to access particular items.
The value of design-build is that the two aspects of remodeling – home design services and construction – are planned at the same time. This avoids the delays and disappointment that can come from working up a beautiful design only to find that it doesn’t fit the budget or that quirks in the construction of the existing home will prevent the design from being built the way it was planned.
Look for contractors who have done many design-build projects in your area. They can give you good ideas and good ballparks very quickly.