Thursday, March 25, 2010

Plant Trees To Save Energy and Grow Value

Article From

By: Brad Broberg
Published: September 12, 2009

Plant a tree to add value to your home and have a positive impact on the environment.
Trees don't ask for much-dirt, water, sunlight. Yet they provide a wealth of benefits: They improve the air you breathe, cut your energy bills with their shade, provide a home to wildlife, and add beauty and value to your home.

But every year, 3.2 million acres of forest are cut down, according to the Nature Conservancy ( Several million more acres are lost to fire, storm, and disease. That's why planting new trees and protecting the ones we have is so important. You can do your part by:
  • Caring for the trees in your yard

  • Supporting tree-planting activities in your community

  • Donating to organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, which works to preserve the world's trees and forests, and American Forests (, which offers a unique way to take action. First, use its online Climate Change Calculator ( to determine your carbon footprint.
    Then, make up for your emissions by donating to a forest restoration project.

Why should you care about trees? Bankable benefits

The most tangible bang from your bark comes from energy savings. Three properly placed trees could save you between $100 and $250 a year in energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy ( Trees save energy two main ways. Their shade cuts cooling costs in the summer. In winter, they serve as windbreak and help hold down heating costs.

The National Tree Calculator ( estimates that a 12-inch elm in an Omaha yard can save $32.43 a year on your energy bills; the same tree in Atlanta would save you $11.89 annually. The calculator also breaks down other dollars and cents benefits of your tree, like decreasing storm water runoff, removing carbon dioxide from the air, and increasing property values.

In our elm example, the 12-inch tree adds $40.23 to the Omaha home's value and a $57.33 to the one in Atlanta. And as trees grow larger, they can add even more value.
A 2002 study by the USDA Forest Service pegs the value a single tree adds to a property of about $630. Of course, tree value depends on size, species, location, and condition.

Adds Frank Lucco, a real estate appraiser with IRR-Residential in Houston, "On a $100,000 home [in my market], as much as $10,000 of its value could be associated with mature trees."

That's peanuts compared with the role trees play as the lungs of the planet. A report by the Trust for Public Land ( estimated that one mature tree takes 48 pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year and returns enough oxygen for two human beings.

Plant your tree in the right spot
To get the full benefits from your trees, choose the right one and put it in the right location. Planting a deciduous tree on the west side of a house provides cooling shade in the summer. In winter, after it loses its leaves, the same tree lets in sunlight that cuts heating and lighting bills. On the other hand, an evergreen on the west side blocks sun all year long, making a home colder and darker in winter. Rather plant evergreens, a great choice for blocking icy winter winds, on the north side of your home.

If you're planting a new tree, think about its fully grown size and shape before you dig. Branches from a tree located below power lines can cause outages as it grows. Roots from a tree located too close to a home can damage the foundation or block sewer lines. The wrong tree in the wrong place could actually lower your home's appraised value if it's deemed hazardous, says Frank Lucco, a real estate appraiser with IRR-Residential in Houston.

Tree costs

Expect to pay $50 to $100 for a 6- to 7-foot decidious tree, such as a katsura or evergreen. The same tree at 15 feet will cost $100 to $200, according to Brad Swank of Molbak's Nursery in Woodinville, Wash. The Arbor Day Foundation sells saplings for as little as $8-$15, or less if you're a member.

Since trees cost money, be cautious about any home construction work. "Tree failure can happen seven to 10 years after construction, primarily because the root system fails when the soil is compacted," says Thomas Hanson, a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists ( from Kirkland, Wash. Also watch for diseases or pests ( that can threaten trees in your yard and community.

Become a tree advocate
Ensuring that your community has lots of healthy trees doesn't have to be more complicated than a trip to the nursery and a hole in your backyard. Dig it twice as wide as deep. Let kids push in the dirt and help water weekly until the tree is two years old. The Arbor Day Foundation ( will tell you how to select the right tree for your needs and climate, where to plant it, and how to maintain it.

The foundation also is a great place to look for community and educational programs.
  • Its Tree City USA ( initiative provides expert advice and national recognition to cities and towns that want to establish tree-management plans.

  • Its Arbor Day Poster Contest ( for fifth-graders gives teachers a fun way to help students learn the importance of trees.

  • Its nationwide list of volunteer organizations ( lets you search for tree care opportunities in your state.

  • Considering everything trees do for you, it's the least you can do for them.

Brad Broberg is a freelance writer from Federal Way, Wash. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he writes about business, health care, and real estate for REALTOR Magazine, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and Seattle Children's Hospital, among others. He's lived in the same home for 22 years-a home he shares with seven towering Douglas firs.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Green Cleaning Products for the Kitchen

Article From

By: Alyson McNutt English
Published: August 28, 2009

Going green in the kitchen doesn't mean going broke as long as you choose the right green cleaning products for your counter tops and appliances.

From meat juices to milk spills, the kitchen can be a messy place. But don't reach for caustic cleaners or synthetic air sprays to give your counter tops and appliances a fresher feeling. Many green cleaning products are just as effective at sanitizing your kitchen as conventional cleaners, and they get the job done without relying on harmful chemicals.

Not too long ago you had to scour the back roads of the Internet to find non-toxic alternatives, but no more: Many green cleaning products are now available at mainstream retailers. Looks for brands such as Method, Seventh Generation, and Holy Cow. What's more, some of the greenest of green kitchen cleaners can probably already be found in your pantry-and cost a fraction of what you'd pay for commercial cleaners, whether conventional or eco-friendly.

Counter tops

Toss out those anti-microbial wipes and sprays when you're cleaning your counter tops. Most contain chemicals like sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or ammonium chlorides, which are listed as hazardous to the health of humans and pets by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says Gary Pien, an allergist and immunologist with Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, N.J. "These chemicals can cause eye and skin irritation on contact, and if mixed with other cleaning products, can release toxic gases," Pien says.

Combine equal parts vinegar and tap water to make your own non-toxic mix. Warm it in a glass bowl in the microwave to boost cleaning power. A 64-ounce bottle of food-grade vinegar costs about $4, so it'll set you back a buck to stir up a 32-ounce batch of homemade counter top cleaner. You won't have to dip too far into your pocketbook to buy a greener all-purpose cleaner. A 32-ounce bottle of Seventh Generation's kitchen cleaner ( costs about $5, while the same size conventional cleaner costs about $4.50.


If you have a stainless steel fridge, add a few drops of a natural dishwashing liquid such as Mrs. Meyer's ( ($4.49 for 16 ounces) or Method ( ($4 for 25 ounces) to warm water to wipe off greasy fingerprints instead of shelling out the $7-$10 a store-bought stainless cleaner will cost. And when you're wiping, remember stainless steel has a grain, just like wood, and you need to clean in the same direction it runs, says Mary Findley, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning." ( On the inside, use the tried-and-true remedy for foul fridge smells: a box of baking soda. It costs about $1. Save even more by buying baking soda in bulk: a 12-pound bag costs about $7. For sticky spills, a vinegar and water mix should clean it right up, Findley says.

Sinks & drains

Liquid dish washing soaps with bio-based ingredients like aloe and essential oils are a good bet here as well. You'll pay a bit more than the $2-$3 the cheapest conventional soaps will cost, but when you consider this is what's going onto the surfaces you eat off of, the potential health value outweighs the extra dollar or two. If nothing else at least skip synthetically scented cleaners, which can irritate the skin and respiratory tract, says Martin Wolf, director of research and development for Seventh Generation.

If your sink stinks, try cleaning your drain with a paste made of vinegar and baking soda. Give it time to work overnight. Drain cleaners are some of the nastiest chemicals around, and at $7 for a 32-ounce bottle, they're not cheap. Enzyme-based cleaners like Nature's Miracle ( are another option: Findley says they'll eat away at odor-causing bacteria and any bits of food clogging the drain or disposal. Nature's Miracle costs more at $12 for a 32-ounce bottle, but it has multiple uses beyond the kitchen. If neither approach works, sprinkle some baking soda on a halved lemon or orange and scrub out your sink basin, then toss the citrus in the disposal for a fresh scent.


Many dishwasher detergents contain chemicals called phosphates that suck oxygen out of waterways, killing aquatic fish and plant life. Bio- and natural enzyme-based dishwasher detergents like Ecover get the job done without affecting water systems, and are comparable in cost: 25 Ecover tablets cost about $7, while 20 tablets of conventional cleaner cost about $6.50.

Stove tops & ovens

Baked-on stove stains can be a real pain. "Grease-cutting" cleaners may make your stove shine, but they have decidedly less attractive health effects. Most contain glycol ethers, which Wolf says have been implicated in health problems ranging from reproductive damage to eye and respiratory-tract irritation. Instead, start by cleaning your stovetop after every meal before food bits and sauces are baked on. If you don't, you may have to combine some elbow grease with a homemade mix of vinegar and baking soda. Prefer a green grease fighter in a bottle? Go for Holy Cow ( It's comparable to conventional cleaners at about $3 for 32 ounces.

A baking soda-vinegar paste should do the job in the oven, as well. If you can, find a natural orange-based cleaner that contains no petroleum distillates like Earth Friendly Products Orange Plus ( ($6 for 32 ounces). According to Findley, mixing that with baking soda can give your green oven cleaner extra oomph. Just spread the baking soda mixture in the oven, and let it sit overnight. Re-wet it in the morning. A few hours later wipe it out. It beats shelling out the $6.50 for a fume-filled chemical cleaner.


To scrub stubborn microwave stains, just grab a super-absorbent sponge, wet it, and heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds. The steam from the sponge will soften the food bits, and the hot water inside it will make it easier to wipe off and disinfect your microwave's interior, all for the cost of a single sponge.

Alyson McNutt English has written about the joy of green cleaning for publications like Pregnancy, Conceive, and She buys her baking soda and vinegar in bulk and uses them liberally for everything from disinfecting laundry to soaking up her kids' food stains.

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Low-Flow Shower heads: How to Choose

Article From
By: Laura Fisher Kaiser
Published: 28, 2009

Thanks to innovative new technology, today's super-efficient low-flow shower heads save water, reduce your energy bills, and still feel good to use.

You've heard it for years: Save water by replacing your old shower head with a low-flow model. But if you're like a lot of people, you may have ignored the message. That's because you're likely thinking of the early low-flow versions, which worked by simply restricting output or pumping the stream full of air. While that saved water, it didn't make for a very satisfying shower experience.

These days, thank goodness, it's different. With one of the new generation of ultra-efficient shower heads, you can reduce shower water use-and energy consumption, since we're talking about water you pay to heat-by up to 50% while still enjoying a luxurious, powerful spray.

Before 1992, shower heads pumped out five or more gallons per minute (gpm), accounting for nearly 20% of indoor water use. Federal law cut that to 2.5 gallons, but the latest water-saving models do better still. Borrowing windshield-sprayer technology from the automotive industry, Delta's H2Okinetic Technology ( manipulates droplet size and direction to make only 1.6 gpm feel drenching. That's a 36% reduction over a standard low-flow shower head. Bricor ( uses a patented vacuum chamber that aerates and compacts water under pressure to deliver an intense blast with 1.25 gpm or less.

Other manufacturers use laminar flow, which puts out dozens of parallel streams instead of an aerated spray, creating the sensation of more water. The type you choose depends on personal preference, but at $50 to $200, any of these can quickly pay for themselves in reduced water-heating costs. You may even be able to score one for free with a rebate through your local utility.
To measure your shower's flow, put a bucket marked in gallon increments under the spray. If the water reaches the one-gallon mark in less than 20 seconds, you could benefit from a low-flow shower head.

While replacing your existing shower head with one of these super-high-efficiency models can be as easy as screwing in a light bulb, it's a good idea to first assess your plumbing. The big concern is the potential for scalding or getting hit with an icy blast. Because less water is flowing through the shower head, sudden fluctuations in temperature can be more extreme.
Homes built after the mid-1990s usually have an automatic temperature compensating (ATC) valve installed as part of the shower plumbing inside the wall. These protect against rapid changes in temperature-say when the dishwasher cycles or a maniacal sibling keeps flushing the toilet.

Quick check: If your shower has an old two-handle faucet, chances are it does not have an ATC valve. (Neither do most new two-handle systems.) In that case, simply sticking on a low-flow shower head to save water is a bad idea. "The only appropriate way to retrofit a shower with a two-handle faucet is to eliminate the outdated faucet and install a new valve and shower head," says Shawn Martin, technical director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute.

Even then, you can't be absolutely certain that the valve will work properly with an ultra-low-flow shower head. That's because most ATC valves are certified for the current standard flow rate of 2.5 gpm. While it's expected that soon all new valves will be certified to 2.0 gpm, your best bet, if you're installing a new valve and shower head now, is to buy them from the same manufacturer so you'll know they're designed to work together.

By early 2010, the EPA plans to start putting Water Sense ( labels on shower heads the way they have for toilets ( Then it will be easier to identify the models that offer the biggest water savings and the best performance.

In addition to offering low-flow nozzles, manufacturers have come up with other ways to make showering more efficient. Neco (, an Australian company that specializes in sustainable products, has a thumb-adjusted volume control on its Rainmaker ( pID=99) head. A few high-end models feature "pause" buttons that let you to stop and restart the water at the same temperature-perfect for taking a Navy shower. That's when you wet yourself down, turn off the water while you lather up, and then turn it back on to rinse.

Common practice on naval ships, where fresh water supplies are limited, this technique uses as little as 3 gallons, compared with the typical "Hollywood shower" that uses 60 gallons every 10 minutes. That amounts to a savings of 15,000 gallons a year per person. Of course, the danger of all these new low-flow shower heads is that you'll be tempted to linger too long in your own private Niagara. Several companies have come out with shower timers to nudge habitual drenchers.

The Shower Manager( cuts the taps when time's up, and Eco Drop Shower, a stall unit by Italian designer Tommaso Colia, purports to save water not from the top down but from the bottom up. As you shower, a pattern of concentric circles embedded in the floor rises up to the point of discomfort, forcing you to exit. Just make sure to turn off the water first.

Laura Fisher Kaiser is a contributing editor to Interior Design magazine and a former editor at This Old House Magazine. A Navy brat, she feels guilty for not taking Navy showers. Video provided by Today's Homeowner host, Danny Lipford (

Reprinted from HouseLogic ( with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS (R).
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Save Money With an Insulation Upgrade

Article From
By: Jeanne Huber
Published: 10, 2009

Beefing up inadequate insulation is one of the quickest energy-payback projects you can do, resulting in lower heating and cooling bills and increased comfort.

Even if you live in an older home, there's no reason you need to shiver through the winter or roast in the summer. If your house doesn't have enough insulation-common in homes built before 1980, when energy awareness began to take hold-bringing it up to current standards will make it more comfortable all year long. Plus, you'll save anywhere from 10% to 50% on heating and cooling bills. The amount of savings for upgrading insulation depends on many factors, including where you live, what type of heating system you have, and how much insulation you add.

On each type of insulation, a label states the R-value per inch, a measure of resistance to heat transfer. The bigger the number, the more effective the insulation. Where space is tight, such as within wall cavities, you need a high R-value per inch. In an attic or under a floor, where there is more room, you can boost the insulation value of a lower-rated material simply by using a thicker layer. As a rule, the more insulation you add, the more money you'll save. But there is a point beyond which you can spend more on materials than you'll recoup in lower energy bills. The tipping point varies depending on where you live. Consult the Department of Energy's zip-code specific recommendations ( for the right amount of insulation for your climate.

The attic is a great place to start, because adding insulation there is quick, easy, and cost-effective. (To make any insulation upgrade more cost-effective, it's a good idea to seal air leaks ( /articles/8-easy-ways-seal-air-leaks-around-house/) first.)
In the Northeast, for example, upgrading attic insulation from R-11 to R-49 would cost around $1,500 if you hire a pro-half as much if you do it yourself-and, depending on the type of heat you have, save about $600.

To determine how much to add, look up the recommended amount for your area (, then subtract the value of your existing insulation. If you don't know, you can figure it out using the Home Energy Saver online energy audit tool (

There are two ways to improve attic insulation. In unfinished space, you can simply add layers to what is already on the floor. Or, if you're thinking about finishing the attic, you can put the insulation against the roof. Insulating the roof is the better method if heating and cooling ducts pass through the space, or if you live in a humid climate and want to cut down on musty smells coming from the attic.

If you're doing the job yourself ( /articles/when-it-pays-to-do-it-yourself/), blanket-type material is easiest to work with. Just be careful not to compress it or it won't be as effective. If you're hiring a contractor, go with loose-fill cellulose or fiberglass, which fills crevices better. You'll pay a pro around $1 a square foot to blow in material; DIY batts cost about half that.

If you're insulating the roof, sprayed foam polyurethane ( works best because it molds to rafters, blocks water vapor, and has a high R-rating per inch. Expect to pay about double the cost of loose-fill insulation.

No matter which method you choose, federal tax credits( of up to $1,500 are available to defray the cost of materials.

It's fairly easy to add insulation in stud bays where none exists. (To check, cut the power to a few outlets on exterior walls, then unscrew and look behind the cover plates.) A contractor drills small holes through the inside or outside wall and blows in material. Costs range from around $1.25 per square foot for loose-fill fiberglass, cellulose, or rock wool to $4.40 for polyurethane foam, which insulates about twice as well.

If your walls already have some insulation, you probably can't add more without tearing into the drywall or plaster. That's not cost effective unless you're remodeling, so the best strategy may be to wait until you need to replace siding( Then you can add insulating sheathing underneath it.

Even though hot air rises, homes lose heat in all directions. So besides insulating the top and sides of your house, you also need to insulate the bottom, where as much as 30% of energy loss can occur. As with the attic, you have two choices: Insulate under the bottom floor and treat the crawl space or basement as outdoor space, or insulate the walls and treat the area as indoor space. In that case, you would close off all exterior vents except those needed for combustion air or exhaust.

Though floor insulation is more common, wall insulation has many advantages, including cost-it takes about a third less material to insulate the walls of a 36-by-48-foot basement as to insulate the sub-floor above. A key detail, not understood by all builders, is to place a layer of rigid foam insulation against the foundation to keep moisture from condensing against the cold walls. If you want to finish the basement, you can cover the foam with a stud wall, fill it with unfaced fiberglass insulation, and cover with drywall.

Jeanne Huber is the author of 10 books about home improvement and writes a weekly column about home care for the Washington Post. Video provided by Today's Homeowner host, Danny Lipford (

Reprinted from HouseLogic ( with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS (R).
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Rock Creek Country Club Condo-Lower Unit

5190 NW Neakahnie Ave.
Portland, OR

Rock Creek Country Club Condo-Lower unit, 2bd/1ba, 1-car detached car garage. Pergo-style flooring, fireplace, covered patio. View from Patio is greenbelt w/trees & walking paths next to Bethany Pond.
For more information or to see more listings, go to