Energy Efficiency: Modern Dream, Green Machine - Page 2

15 eco-conscious ways to make your home the best that it can be

3. Orchestrating Mother Nature

Adding shade and windbreak. Ward off the hot summer sun and chilly winter wind with some help from Mother Nature. Well-placed landscape design can offer effective and energy-conscious protection. In fact, trees, a trellis with vines, and shrubs set at key spots around your home can shade the nearby walls and roof area enough to reduce heating and cooling needs up to 30 percent over the year.

It is estimated that one average full-size leaf-shedding deciduous tree positioned on the south side of your home can screen sunlight and create a cooling effect to the structure equivalent to five average-size room air conditioners.

In winter, the same tree's bare branches will allow the winter sun to raise the temperature inside the home, perhaps just enough to keep the heat controls off in daytime hours. Meanwhile, a row of two or more evergreen trees (ones that maintain their leaves) standing on the northwest side of your home can serve as an effective windbreak, preventing cold drafts from lowering the temperature inside. The Leyland cypress, strawberry, and the flowering gum are all ideal wind-breaking trees for most California climates and will provide energy savings for years to come.

4. Windows of opportunity

window insulation

Double-pane windows & sliders. Mid-century modern homes are known for their large expanses of glass, and paying attention to the quality of those windows is of utmost importance. While floor-to-ceiling glass looks great, single-pane windows of yesteryear were—and still are—a major source of heat and air-conditioning loss. The average home can lose up to 30 percent of its heat or cooling through its windows.

The original single-pane windows in most mid-century modern homes have an insulation level of 0.9. It's a far cry from today's better-insulated roofs and walls, which run R-14 or higher; the greater the number, the better insulated your home is.

Dave Stellman of Palo Alto Glass believes that updating an Eichler with new energy-saving windows and sliding-glass doors will help save money on energy costs and increase a home's resale value. "Higher insulating values and associated energy savings on heating and cooling, reduced condensation, exterior noise reduction, and increased safety are all things an Eichler owner can expect as a return on their investment in insulated glass," he points out.

Doors and windows today can be glazed with clear or tinted insulated glass and low-e insulated glass—both factors for improved energy efficiency.

5. Reducing glare and heat

window film

Window film. For homeowners who want to reduce the amount of glaring sun that streams through the expansive windows, window film can make a significant improvement. Today's versions aren't dark-tinted or shiny versions of funky car window films; they are clear, or somewhat tinted, and don't change the interior or exterior appearance of the home.

"Most of the film that we put on the Eichlers is for safety, to keep the original glass from shattering," says Dave Rathjen of Sun-Chek Glass Tinting in Mountain View. "But others put on film to keep ultraviolet rays from fading fabrics and to reduce heat coming into the house."

In fact, some window films can reduce the amount of heat coming through the glass by 50 to 70 percent, affecting the need for HVAC. The best and most expensive films run between $8 and $10 per square foot. Applied films are relatively easy to maintain; most can be cleaned with a non-abrasive glass cleaner.

6. Window treatments get results

window coverings

Window coverings. Window treatments not only look great, they also help conserve energy, reducing heat loss in the winter and keeping rooms cooler in the summer. Awnings, blinds, insulated panel drapes, shades, and shutters all provide practical protection. For mid-century modern homes, many homeowners choose inconspicuous custom shades that don't interfere with the home's architecture.

Outdoor patio areas can benefit from solar screens, see-through shades which are installed on the exterior of the home to help reduce glare.

No matter which window treatments you choose, however, they won't reduce air leakage or infiltration. Installing new energy-efficient windows, or applying caulking or weather stripping to old ones, will help you save the most money in the long run.