Home Improvements for Summer 2013

The following guest post is written by Michael Joseph.  He believes home improvements should not only be aesthetic but sensible and energy-efficient as well.  Michael is a freelance writer who has had 12 years of experience as an interior designer. He currently writes for Atlanta Champion Window and many other home improvement companies. 


The need for all of us to start making smart, environmental design decisions has never been quite as urgent as now, in the face of rapidly dwindling, conventional energy resources. This summer when you carry out home improvements, make sure that your renovations help reduce the environmental footprint of your home.

For most homeowners, making energy-efficient upgrades constitutes the bulk of our efforts to hit the green button. But the situation is more complex. Here are a few ideas to help you make the greenest choices. It’s hard work, but the more you learn and the more questions you ask will certainly help you to green your home as well as your lifestyle.

While most folks concentrate on improvements within the home, here are a few ideas for home improvement relating to the exterior of your home which can make a telling impact on its energy-efficiency and on the environment.

Make your roofing count

If your roof is dark-colored, as are nearly 90% of roofs in the US, you will be paying higher utility bills, as dark-colored surfaces are low-reflectance and reach temperatures of 150 to 190°F (66 to 88°C) during the  hot weather contributing to increased cooling energy use. By replacing it with a lighter-colored cool roof which has high reflectance you can save money on air-conditioning during peak summer weather.

You can also replace your roof with roofing materials containing recycled content that is appropriate for your roof, climate and home type.

A great idea is to have a green roof, vegetative layer grown on a rooftop. People notice green roofs as they are visually striking. Besides adding more green space to your property, they offer a variety of functional benefits. They provide shade and remove heat from the air through evapotranspiration, reducing temperatures of the roof surface and the surrounding air. They absorb heat and act as an additional insulating layer for the home, reducing the costs of energy needed to provide cooling and heating. In addition, green roofs can slowdown storm water runoff in an urban environment; they also filter pollutants from rainfall. Lastly they provide a habitat for beneficial insects and birds.

A well-designed green roof is a highly engineered system. Its maintenance requirements are usually minimal, including inspection of its waterproof membrane, weeding (twice a year), and maintenance of the drainage layer flow paths. If you intend to install one make sure you get the right professional advice.

Mapawatt Note: Check out our post on the Advantages of Metal Roofs and our recent post on Green Roofs.

Replace and paint gutters

Even if you are not thinking of replacing your roof, one vital adjunct is your gutters. If these are not in good shape or are clogged up, the consequences can be disastrous. Water infiltration can rot the underlayment of your roof and cause the roof deck below to decay. Water pooling on the roof can cause it to deteriorate. It can also spill over the eaves and soak into your basement, which will become a perfect place for mold, bacteria, and other microorganisms to thrive.

The primary function of gutters is to direct water away from your home but if they don’t work because they have rusted through on the bottom or become clogged up with leaves, the soil layer beneath your house can swell with rain runoff, and when it dries out again your foundation can shift and crack and suffer significant damage.

The plain truth is that without your gutters, your home would soon start to deteriorate. So remember, if you live in a rain-prone area don’t forget to routinely check your gutters for leaks and remove accumulated leaves and debris, especially if you have overhanging trees. Replace them if they are damaged and install mesh leaf guards to help keep them clear. Remember the vital role they play in keeping your home’s exterior looking great.

Mapawatt Note: this wont save energy, but will prevent you from having to spend a ton on maintenance when your clogged up gutters fall off your house!  Get some gutter guards so leaves dont collect in the gutters!

Harvest rainwater

Many of us do not realize that energy is required for pumping and treating water.  Harvesting rainwater then is an excellent way to partly reduce your dependence on the public water supply system. Capturing rainwater is a simple but effective way of keeping your lawn and garden well-watered and green while keeping your rooftop runoff out of the public drainage system. You can install rain barrels or cisterns near downspouts in your yard to collect and store rainwater for non-potable uses like your landscape. Since rainwater does not contain chlorine, plants flourish when irrigated with rainwater. If you live in an urban area with plenty of rain, installation of cisterns and rain barrels can help reduce stormwater peak flows.

In order to protect the quality of rainwater harvested, avoid using roofing materials that contain asphalt, copper or zinc, to prevent release of contaminants into the collecting system.

Mapawatt Note: Rain Barrel's are easy to make!

Make your landscaping too energy-efficient

Very often landscaping techniques are geared to making the home more attractive or enhancing property values. What is often glossed over is that strategically placing various landscaping elements like trees, plants, shrubs, vines pavers, and groundcovers can go a long way in making a home comfortable and energy-efficient. Most often the cost of planting trees is quickly off set by significant savings in energy costs, particularly in summer.

Planting large deciduous trees on the southward side of the home where they reduce solar exposure especially during mid to late afternoon will help to cool your home in summer and provide passive solar heating in winter. Ensure that trees are planted no closer than 20 feet from the home. Planting trees near your home you can reduce home cooling costs by nearly 30-50%. One tree can absorb more than a ton of CO2 over its lifetime.

Even more beneficial are bamboo trees. Bamboo stores more CO2 and generates 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. So when landscaping your garden, seriously consider including bamboo trees in the equation. Growing trees and plants is an easy and effective way to manage rainwater as plants catch the rainwater on their foliage, detaining it and returning much of it to the atmosphere. Tree roots and leaf litter feed soil microbes that prevent erosion and permit more rainwater to soak in.

In general, trees can improve the quality of air and moderate the microclimate around your home. They are known to greatly enhance property value because of their beauty and functional value.

Mapawatt Note: What else can I say?  Who doesn't love trees.  I know at my next house, I'm planting a fig tree!

Go solar with your outdoor lighting and heating

Going solar is expensive, but not as expensive as it was some decades back.Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that generate electricity can supplement a home with a renewable source of electricity.

A rapidly growing market for solar PV, boosted by federal and state support, has greatly reduced the up-front costs of solar PV systems.  In addition, in many states utility companies charge you only for the energy you consume over and above their solar production. And if your system produces more electricity than you need, you are allowed to sell energy back to the utility company. However, get a solar site analysis performed to ensure that your home site has sufficient solar energy to meet your electricity needs economically.

If you find solar PV system too costly, you can install solar-powered pathway lighting or LED lighting, both of which are energy-efficient. Lighting with a combination of motion sensors which turn on the lights when motion is detected, photosensors which prevent outdoor lights from being on during daylight hours and timers for lights to be turned on and off at specific times, can be installed where appropriate.

Mapawatt Note: We've written a pretty extensive primer on residential solar that includes incentives and financing options.  Seriously, look into it!


These are a few of the ways you can make energy efficient home improvements outside the home. In a subsequent article, similar home improvements for the home’s interior will be dealt with.

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