Marc Brahaney, Architect


by Architect Marc Brahaney

A past client called to ask what she could do to her not so old house to make it green. She said she felt confused about how to make a difference in her drafty, inefficient house. She wanted to make it more energy efficient and create a lower carbon footprint. A big concern was avoiding a large investment.

Here are a few possibilities that got our client started:

  • Walk around the house with a smoke stick (this can actually be a cigarette or incense stick - you don’t need a professional tester) and watch how the air currents move the smoke. Hold the stick around windows, doors, any wall penetrations such as switches and outlets, wires and pipes in the basement and attic. Plug the air leaks with caulk, expandable foam or rubber gaskets. Do not use fiberglass insulation or any type of insulation that allows air permeability. You’ll be surprised at how many holes and cracks you’ll find in the basement, especially where the wall meets the floor, the perimeter band joist and in both the attic or basement at pipe and wire penetrations.
  • Buy compact fluorescent light bulbs and replace those incandescent bulbs. Do it the very next time you go near one of the big box stores or the Light Gallery at the Princeton Shopping Center. (TJ gives great advice about different types of CFL’s). According to a fact sheet I recently read, if every American replaced one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, the energy saved could light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gasses equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars. Each CFL will save at least 30 dollars over the life of the bulb.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. They cost under 100 dollars and allow your house to be heated and cooled each day according to your schedule. You can pick them up in any big box store. Lower the settings and wear a sweater. Heating is one of the largest home energy uses.
  • Add rubber EPDM D-Profile weather stripping to all the doors, windows and storm panels that show evidence of leaking air.
  • Install an inflatable donut in your fireplace chimney flue when not in use. A chimney flue acts as a giant exhaust pipe, sucking the heat out of your house.
  • When your domestic hot water heater goes, consider having a solar hot water heater installed. Solar hot water systems are fairly simple and have a reasonable pay back time frame.
  • Plant some trees. Trees positioned to reduce summer sun and winter wind can reduce a household’s energy use by 25%.This is a long term investment, especially if you start with small trees - but will pay off in the end.
  • Don’t get talked into installing a heat pump as a more efficient way to heat your existing home. They only work well with an air-tight and highly insulated house. And that is a story for a future column.