Building a Green Building: Key Principles

These days, a lot of people are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of having an energy efficient home and this is why they employ the services of a reputable energy consulting firm to help them design a home that is sustainable and eco-friendly.

What is an Energy Efficient Home?

An energy efficient home often has features such as wind power, geothermal heating and solar panels. But green living is not solely based on the use of renewable energy. It’s also about designing the house in such a way that energy becomes more efficiently utilized; a home that is well insulated and properly positioned to rely mostly on passive cooling and heating

With this kind of home, you will use minimal energy to light, heat and your household appliances. A house with majority of its windows are facing south (passive solar) can lessen their heating requirements by up to 25% without spending anything.

But it’s also important to design the home properly so that during summer, you can avoid overheating. Your building should be well insulated and properly sealed so that cool air won’t escape due to leak or moisture.

Go for a Reasonably Sized Home

Naturally, the smaller the house, the more efficient it is. It also means you’ll need lesser materials to build it, less space to cool and less space to heat. If you’re a small family then you don’t need to build a big house. We recommend an average of 700 square feet per person.

Make Your Home Flexible

Design your home in such a way that it accommodates any future changes with little disruption. Your household size will change over time so you should also make your home flexible. You can lower environmental and financial costs brought about by a major renovation if you anticipate possible changes while you’re still at the design stage.

Use Reclaimed Materials

You can re-use existing building materials and doing so makes you part of the green building movement. Green building begins at the design phase so by incorporating used materials, you are doing your part to help the environment and at the same time, save money on construction costs.

Design Your Green Home

Regardless of whether you design your dream home yourself or you are going to hire a professional to do it for you, the important thing is that you keep in mind the principles of green living. If you have a designer for your home, make sure you pick one who shares your vision or at the very least, understands what you want.

There’s also the option of buying a pre-drawn plan which may be cheaper however, it can be difficult to find a plan for a green home. If you have the time and the inclination, you can draw up your own plan. It’s fun and rewarding, and you’ll learn a lot from this project too. Just make sure you understand the building regulations in your locality so you don’t end up breaking any rules.

What is More Sustainable than Living Off your Dividends

When I question whether something is sustainable I think of whether “it” can be responsibly maintained.  The goal of creating a dividend income stream should be to eventually use just the dividends letting the principal continue to grow.  It is analogous to living off the fruits of a tree rather than cutting down the tree itself, dividend payments can eventually provide an income stream that is sustainable since you don’t have to erode the principal.

This post was inspired by an interesting post the other day from a great dividend sites Sure Dividend that explored the idea of dividends paying stocks like a tree,

You start with something small – an actual seed, or a bit of hard-earned money.

Before you plant your seed or invest your money, you have to find the right place to put your tree seed or your money. Throwing a seed onto a rock will not do, nor will investing in a business on its last legs.

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Over time, your sapling becomes a tree. It now is producing seeds of its own. Your dividend stock’s payments have grown over time. In both cases, the cycle begins anew.

The tree’s seeds beget more trees. The dividend stock’s dividend payments are reinvested into other high quality dividend growth stocks.

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Once your first tree produces other trees, eventually you will have a forest of trees – let’s say they are fruit bearing trees.

You can now happily live off the sustenance your fruit trees provide.

Dividend stocks are the same way. Over time, your dividend income will grow. You will be able to live on the dividend payments of your dividend stocks.

Your Goal Should be to Live off the Dividends and Leave the Principal

Every time you eat into principal you are affecting your future income.  If you have a $500,000 portfolio yielding 4% ($20,000), but you sell another $20,000 of principal you are looking at $480,000 if that were to yield that same 4% (ignoring the growth of the underlying assets) you are looking $19,200 the following year.  Again, this is compounded when you still need that same $40,000 (now it is $19,200 of dividends and $20,800 of principal0.  In addition to the natural erosion of principal the problem compounds itself if it is a down year.

I am not sure if I’ll ever be able to a large enough portfolio where I can solely live off the dividends, but it’ll be a nice part of the income investments I’d like to create over the next few decades.

Green Washer Fluid

Today I was at wal-mart searching for, among other things, some new wiper fluid for my vehicle.  I typically dont give much thought to purchasing washer fluid, but something struck me when I was looking at the 5 or so different choices.

There was an eco-friendly alternative for wiper fluids.

Of course there was, why wouldn’t there be.  It seems that going eco-friendly or “green” is in vogue, and consumers will gladly pay a premium for eco-friendly products.  Such consumers typically buy and give  little thought going into whether or not the product was actually produced as they claim. (I do this on occasion)  At first thought, I figured this was just a well disguised attempt to separate me from my scarce financial resources.

Does the Earth Really Look like this from Space?

Upon further investigation, wiper fluid is typically hefty stuff, as the majority of the wiper fluids have some sort of anti-freezing agent in them.  It used to be methanol, but due to its known harmful effects (blindness, among other things) now they typically use ethanol and ethylene glycol (more commonly known as antifreeze).  So, did getting the green product really matter in this case?  The antifreeze is a key ingredient in the fluid in the winter (quick tip: if there’s frost on the windshield in the morning and you don’t have time to wait for the defroster to heat up, spray some wiper fluid on it.  It will melt the frost), and removing the things that make the wiper fluid not freeze would drastically decrease performance, and ultimately, my satisfaction with the product.

So, what’s a green conscious consumer to do?

Well, as mentioned before, the eco-friendly wiper fluid only went down to 32 degrees.  I bought two gallons to use for the summer time, and when the winter time comes back (in 3 months) I’ll use the eco-unfriendly stuff unless I can find an alternative.  Not only did I get the eco-friendly product, it was also 50 cents or so cheaper than the regular washer fluid.

Questions:

  1. Have things gotten too “green”?  You can find green things everywhere these days, but who really cares if your wiper fluid is eco-friendly or your superman underwear contain 100% organic cotton
  2. Would you sacrifice performance to stay green?

Sustainability and the New Saucepan

Recently, I purchased a new saucepan for my kitchen collection.  I was given a windfall, and decided to save the majority of it, but decided to take a bit and treat myself with a new saucepan.  Cooking is something I enjoy, and I had been eyeing a new sauce pan for some time.  The one that I have currently works just fine, however I am in the process of updating my cooking gear and looking to store the current set (given to my by an old roommate) for use in a possible vacation dwelling down the road.

So, you ask, Why does this concern me?

Well, the one that I purchased can be found here, and yes, I did pay 110.00 for a single pan.  I am well aware that it sounds like a but-load of cash (and it is).  When you think of the lifetime cost of the pan, however, it becomes cheaper than most pans.  A typical cooking set comes with 10 pans, and the one sold here costs $89.98.  It comes with two frying pans, 2 sauce pans, four lids and a dutch oven.

While growing up, I can remember my parents going through at least three of these sets, but I am sure that in their many years of marriage it could easily be double that.  I always wondered why they would get new cookware, and why the ones they bought did not last longer.  “They dont make stuff like they used to” my dad would say.  I always wondered why, but just  went along with it.

When the moment came (I regretted being an adult and having to spend my hard earned dollars on cookware), but I did the proper research and settled on a brand and began to purchase items piece by piece.  I’ve grown my collection up to four pieces at this point, and use each one frequently, and have never had any problems cooking (or cleaning!) any of them.  I have included a handy estimation chart to calculate the lifetime cost of purchasing lower quality cookware.

YearCostLifetime Cost
089.9889.98
589.98179.96
1089.98269.94
1589.98359.92
2089.98449.90
2589.98539.88
3089.98629.86
3589.98719.84
4089.98809.82
4589.98899.80
5089.98989.78

(I assumed a 5 year life span over 50 years.  If you have to buy your first set in your mid 20’s, I am assuming you wont need anymore cooking gear in your 70s.)

This does not count the shipping of the pots, nor does it take into account the ‘whole’ (or life cycle) cost of the product.  The whole cost is the cost of fuel for transport, the cost of materials disposal or any related costs of making, purchasing and disposing of the product 10 times!  As opposed to doing this, you could purchase one high quality set (here, total cost of $850) and use it for the lifetime.  While the set requires a large capital outlay, you can obtain your cookware piece by piece.  Will you ever really get “tired” of using the same pans for 50+ years? Well, maybe, but you can get over that.  These higher quality items will also be available for your children when you’re done on the planet.

Purchasing the cookware just once will also allow for a healthier planet in the longer term, as well as a positive return for your cooking new pan dollar.  So next time you need a new pan readers, what will you choose?

For further reading on life cycle analysis, check the following

  1. EPA Life cycle Analysis – EPA’s information about what a life cycle analysis is, and how it can help you.
  2. Life Cycle Assessment tool from Carnegie Mellon

Questions to the readers:

  1. Are there any products which you would pay top dollar for? If so, which ones?
  2. Do you consider the lifetime cost of a product when purchasing the item?