Go Green With a Small Home and Save Money
Should you move into a small home? Are small homes becoming more or less popular? Popular wisdom says to purchase the largest home you can afford. Shop for a home in neighborhoods with big yards, attached garages, and finely manicured lawns. However, doing that tends to lock you into a lifelong struggle to pay the mortgage. You are operating under the assumption that your house will always increase in value and your income will continue to rise. A small home affords a modicum of freedom from monthly worries when it comes time to mail in that check.
Your first home should almost certainly be a small home. As a first time homeowner, you will have a much easier time securing a mortgage on a home that is within your income range, rather than nudging just above the maximum amount you can afford. You can immediately "go green" by saving dollars on your monthly payment and also your down payment. Mortgage companies and real estate agents tend to encourage a larger purchase because they profit more from the transaction. The real estate agent earns a larger commission. The amount of time and expense for her to assemble a deal is virtually the same regardless of the selling price of the home; therefore she prefers to coax you into a larger home as opposed to a smaller home. Earning a 7% commission on a $200,000 dollar house is just as easy as earning a 7% commission on a $150,000 dollar house. The average agent has your best interest in mind, but she also needs to earn a living. Don't let yourself be talked out of a small home by someone who you won't remember in six months anyway.
What makes a small house 'green' as opposed to a large house? Energy efficiency and sustainable construction are the two main factors. By definition, a smaller house built with the same materials as a large house will be more energy efficient because there's less square footage to heat and cool. The same windows, insulating materials, and HVAC technology will have a more dramatic impact on the monthly heating and cooling bills in a smaller home. On the other hand, a larger house may appear more efficient on paper if it's built with more energy efficient materials that a smaller house. Don't be fooled.
Building green is wonderful, but you have plenty of opportunities to go green in an existing house. Look for double or triple pane windows in the house. A single pane window loses much more heat in the Winter and cool air in the Summer. Builders windows are notoriously energy inefficient. A Builders primary concern is an attractive structure at an affordable price. They aren't out to cheat their customers, but they don't plan to live in the house, either. After-market windows typically have a higher energy efficiency rating since they are chosen by the home owner, who has a vested interest in keeping the living space comfortable while saving as much on heating and cooling as possible. Don't hesitate to look at replacement windows for your house; the sooner you purchase them, the sooner they will begin to pay for themselves.
Light bulbs do more than illuminate. A typical incandescent bulb gives off a shocking amount of heat. Don't try this as home; carefully put your finger an inch ot two away from a 100 watt incandescent bulb, then turn it on. Feel the heat. Imagine that heat source competing with your air conditioner all Summer long. The air conditioner always wins, but at what cost? As the home owner, you pay the electric company to light your house, then you pay again to remove the heat generated by the light bulb. Fluorescent bulbs illuminate at a much lower temperature, therefore costing much less to operate when you are cooling your house at the same time.
Paddle fans do a fantastic job of moving large volumes of air throughout a room. The soothing down draft generated by even a slow moving paddle fan is very comfortable in the Summer. In the winter, the fan transfers warm air from the ceiling to the living area below. Run the fan at a very slow speed during Winter and a little faster in Spring and Summer. Almost any house can be retrofitted with paddle fans for a nominal cost. The savings in electricity more than justifies the installation expenses.
Attic insulation is critical to saving money on energy costs. During the Summer months, your attic heats up tremendously; that heat radiates downward into the living space even after the sun goes down. An effective layer of insulation blocks the radiation. In Winter months the insulation prevents heat from escaping into the attic. Properly installed insulation usually includes a vapor barrier that prevents moisture from escaping from the living space as well. Moisture in the attic can cause mold and also severely limit the effectiveness of the insulation.
Small home or large home, interior air seems warmer when it contains moisture. Winter air is typically dry; your thermostat can be turned down a degree or two if your interior air contains sufficient moisture. Summer air is usually soggy. During Winter months, add moisture to the air in order to make your house more comfortable. An average humidifier is simply a pad soaked with water that is installed in the duct-work of the house. The water evaporates from the pad and is carried through the house when the heater is running. A water supply is required, but running a small diameter plastic hose from the water supply line to the humidifier is a simple job for a plumber. Obviously a small house requires a less powerful humidifier, but every house with some type of furnace should have some type of humidifier. Keep your humidifier very clean; check the filter regularly and don't allow the water supply line to become moldy. You may end up circulating mold and allergens throughout your house. If your water tends to contain dissolved lime, replace the filter more often. The lime will stay on the pad and drastically decrease its' capacity to deliver moisture to the house.
The outside of your home is also an opportunity to go green. Each time you water your yard, you consume water that only adds to your monthly bill. Consider installing a cistern to collect rainwater. Modern cisterns need not be complicated concrete tanks buried in the front yard; a rain barrel under a downspout provides the same functionality. Be sure to keep the water circulating in the barrel by emptying it frequently. Mold, algae, and mosquitoes also take advantage of standing water. A few drops of chlorine also defeat nasties from germinating in your cistern.