Making home green takes time

Green living is an attitude more than anything else. At its core, there is deep caring and a sense of value for things that often do not carry an obvious price tag. Sure, anyone with ample cash can go out and buy a bunch of green stuff: a hybrid car, an efficient house or a rooftop solar array for example, but that’s not really the essence of it. The best formula for success includes the persistence, patience and vision to actually live an environmentally responsible life in the best possible way.

No one better exemplifies that spirit than Las Vegas resident Jane Feldman. She is a recognized leader in local environmental issues and has spent countless hours volunteering her time, energy and expertise to improve the quality of life in Nevada. She has played a key role in the Sierra Club, currently serving as conservation chair and energy chair. For many, that would be enough, but Feldman also walks her talk.

As a retired Air Force officer on a fixed income, her financial resources are limited, but her resourcefulness knows no bounds. She describes herself as very thrifty, having grown up in the Midwest where many were influenced by the effects of the depression years. This quality, combined with a series of conscious decisions over many years, has produced remarkable results.

Feldman’s home was built in 1960. A modest 1,300 square feet, it is typical of many houses in the Las Vegas Valley — or at least it used to be. Shortly after moving in 17 years ago, Feldman took her first step in greening her home. The original single-pane windows were replaced with high-quality, double-pane, low-e, argon-filled windows by Anderson. The drafts went down and the comfort level went up. Awnings were also installed on key windows to reduce solar heat gain.

Thus began a transformation that is still under way to this day. A large mulberry tree was removed because it required excessive amounts of water. Energy Star appliances, including a water heater, television and refrigerator, replaced older energy-hogs as they were retired. Compact fluorescent lights were installed throughout.

At one point, environmentally friendly insulation was installed in the attic. On another occasion a new, energy-efficient heat pump replaced a more wasteful system. Each step was calculated to move in the right direction and to complement previous ones. Her vision kept her on track as energy bills incrementally declined.

In 2010, Feldman took advantage of an energy audit rebate program offered by the city of Las Vegas. The blower door test revealed air leakage equivalent to a hole nearly 2 feet square, an all-too-common aspect of many homes. Leaks also were found in the duct work. Sealing the leaks and adding a radiant barrier in the attic further improved the home’s performance.

Notice that every step so far addressed efficiency. That’s where you’ll find the best bang for the buck. Once the home’s energy usage was minimized, and when funds allowed, Feldman decided it was time to produce some of her own clean energy by installing photovoltaic panels atop her home. With the help of Matt Van Note at Bombard Renewable Energy, her home now produces just about all the electricity it needs over the course of a year. Her investment will provide an ample return, saving many thousands of dollars after recouping costs. Green living makes good financial sense.

Feldman’s story is compelling because it shows that focus and determination are the most important elements when it comes to living lighter on the planet. And there’s another benefit. According to Feldman, “Clean energy feels really good!”

If you are interested in learning more, there’s an opportunity tonight. NV Energy and Southwest Gas will provide a free customer workshop to learn about their new solar hot water incentive programs. It takes place tonight between 6-8 p.m. at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Student Union, second floor. Call them or visit my website for details, or just show up. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Steve, please visit www.greendream.biz.

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