SCRANTON — The celebration of Earth Day on Monday had many thinking about ways they could live greener.
Sustainable design — a practice of using recycled materials and creating spaces that use fewer resources than older buildings might — is part of the business model that governs DxDempsey Architecture, an architecture and design firm in Scranton. A home the firm designed in Jefferson Township, for example, was LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in January 2012.
“Building, by its nature, takes away green space, but at the same time, it’s necessary,” said DxDempsey Architecture President Michele Dempsey, of Jefferson Township. “How can we do that with the least negative impact to the environment as possible? That’s always been a part of the DNA of the firm since it started.”
Green architecture “wasn’t just some little trend that went away,” but it doesn’t take a new-home construction project to make a difference in your energy bills, she said.
Many cost- and energy-saving techniques begin with building better personal habits.
Washing laundry in cold water conserves nearly 90 percent of the energy to run the machine. A lot of power is used to heat water for certain wash cycles.
Dempsey said homeowners should regularly clean vents and diffusers and change air filters in their home’s mechanical systems to increase efficiency.
And while it sounds elementary, Dempsey said, other habits, such as keeping lights off in unused rooms or turning off the water when brushing your teeth, can translate into savings at home.
“It’s truly the little things that are going to add up in the long run.”
Less is more
High-efficiency results don’t have to come with high price tags. A number of resources are easily accessible to many homeowners.
“They’re not going to break anybody’s bank,” Dempsey said.
Homes with a programmable thermostat, she said, can heat and cool homes and reduce the amount of energy used when residents aren’t home.
“In the summer it shouldn’t be any lower than 68 degrees, and in the winter it shouldn’t be any higher than 76,” she added. “The more you can give on that and acclimate yourself to being a little cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer, the more it leads to significant savings.”
Homeowners can easily seal gaps in windows and doors with caulking to shrink their energy loss from as much as 25 percent down to 4 percent, Dempsey said.
LED (light-emitting diode) and CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs are regularly increasing in efficiency and light quality, Dempsey said.
“They last, easily, 10 times longer than a regular incandescent bulb,” she added. “There are a lot of options out there now.”
Dempsey also recommended investing in a rain barrel to place at the end of the downspout on your gutters. Using a hose attached to the bottom of the barrel, the rainwater can be used to water gardens or fulfill other outdoor needs.
Go green with gusto
New appliances should be ENERGY STAR rated, she added. “It doesn’t cost any more, and it’s just a smart thing to do,” Dempsey said.
For those building new homes, green design begins with finding the right site. Choosing plants that require the least amount of irrigation, planting slow-growing grass to cut down on resources used to mow the lawn, and using gravel or pervious pavers for a driveway are starting points for going green outdoors.
Those ready to dig deep can literally do so literally and invest in a geothermal heating system. Dempsey said temperatures starting at six feet below the Earth’s crust hold steady at 55 degrees. Geothermal systems use that temperature to naturally cool or heat the home, depending on the season.
New homes also can be built to capitalize on sunlight and wind, trees can be planted to create natural shade, and low-flow faucets and showerheads can be installed to add to savings.
Starting small, Dempsey stressed, can pave the way for larger projects and more long-term impact on your budget and your environment.
“The point, to me, is that these little things add up fast. If everyone is doing it, they’re not insignificant. They truly make a difference,” she said.