Consider Solar Energy—It’s Perfect for Southern California

Solar energy is becoming an increasingly popular source of energy for residents around California. Factors such as high insolation, community support, declining solar cost, and the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that 33% of California’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, have made this a popular choice among commercial property owners. However, private and residential property are also strong candidates for solar installation.

Switching to solar energy allows your home to become more sustainable while putting a few extra dollars back in your wallet. When you go solar, monthly costs are immediately lower. As soon as you switch over, your carbon footprint shrinks. This is great news for southern California homeowners who feel that sustainability is important but don’t have the funds to make massive renovations.

In the past decade, residential electricity costs have increased steadily. In fact, the average U.S. residential electricity price is expected to rise more than two percent annually in the next few years. To that end, buildings contribute 39% of all carbon emissions in the United States; going solar, especially in large numbers (such as in the state of California), can have a huge impact on that number. An average residential solar panel system eliminates three to four tons of carbon emissions each year.

Southern California residents can expect to see additional pay-off from solar energy. The demand for properties equipped with solar panel systems will only continue to grow. In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Laboratory found that solar panels added an average of $17,000 to sales prices. In an oversaturated market such as Southern California’s, this is a big draw.

California has always been at the forefront of the solar energy movement, and sunny southern California is a great place to install solar panels. If you are thinking seriously about making the switch, we recommend browsing the Southern CA Solar Energy website for additional information and consultation directions.

Switching to LED: The Easiest Way to Increase Sustainability

If you live in southern California, you are likely searching for ways to increase your home’s sustainability. Unfortunately, most of us cannot afford the switch to sustainable appliances–let alone a comprehensive sustainability renovation. Luckily, a simple solution exists for those looking to cut costs and their carbon footprint. It’s not new, and it’s not particularly innovative, but making the switch to LED bulbs is the easiest way to accomplish sustainability goals.

Switching to LED light bulbs offers significant energy savings over incandescent, halogen, and compact fluorescent bulbs. On average, LED lights consume 80% less energy when compared with standard incandescent bulbs–that huge percentage difference quickly translates to dollars in your pocket. To that end, though LED lights require a larger up-front cost, they last up to 50,000 hours–around 20-25 times longer than a typical halogen bulb. If used 12 hours every day, an LED bulb will last more than 11 years. Over time, your energy savings will make up for the initial expense.

LED light bulbs are also more sustainable. With fewer necessary replacements and a reduced energy requirement, they utilize fewer resources than their halogen and incandescent counterparts. The carbon footprint of a person or household is directly related to the amount of electricity consumed. Estimates suggest that nearly half of our carbon footprint is due to electricity, while around a quarter is due to lighting alone. In decreasing the energy necessary to light your home, you significantly minimize your carbon footprint.

If you want an easy, low-cost, and fast way to make your southern California home more sustainable, switching to LED lighting is an excellent option. Bulbs are available for almost any purpose and in any shape, and new models offer dimming ability and softer, warmer light.

Sustainable Design for Wildfire Survival

Wildfires are changing the California real estate landscape. In late 2017, a single wildfire torched nearly 141,000 acres of land, forcing 212,000 to evacuate a massive section of southern California. More than 86,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties are at risk of severe damage by wildfire, and future blazes can extend farther north. Every southern California real estate decision should be informed by the potential for wildfire damage. To that end, basic architectural design decisions can greatly improve the chances of your home surviving one of these disasters.

 

Before we discuss architectural decisions, we should talk about location. The chaparral biome is most susceptible to wildfires; characterized by hot, dry summers and very mild winters, this climate encompasses southern California and northern Mexico, heightening the risk for fires. If you can help it, try your best to avoid this type of climate and ecosystem. Another way to address the risk? Build a sustainable mobile home or invest in a trendy “tiny house.” When the winds pick up, you can bring your house along to safety.

 

Protecting your home against wildfires starts with understanding the ways in which your home may be at risk. This starts with the exterior. When designing your southern California home, invest in ignition-resistant roofs. Some of the most insidious problems drip down through cracks and openings in the traditional Spanish tile roofs. These materials, with help from the wind, may only seek to exacerbate any wildfire coming in your direction. Builders may offer the option to fire-stop individual tiles in an existing roof, but you should choose tiles made of fire-rated roofing materials, picking a design that interlocks tightly.

 

Window protection is imperative in the southern California heat. The weakest link in defending against fires, you should focus on fire-proofing these features with a roll-down metal fire protector. Easily hidden by drapes and curtains, this is one of the only ways to protect yourself from shattering glass in the case of a wildfire. Moreover, builders should extensively research ember resistant exterior availability. Stucco, fake brick, tile, and concrete block—all climatologically appropriate and widely available—are perfect for resisting wildfire. Be sure to devote attention to the underside of overhangs, as flames may be trapped, resulting in very high temperatures.

 

Designing a new home (or redesigning your existing home) should be exciting, not scary. In implementing a few of these suggestions, you can increase the likelihood that your home will survive a potential wildfire; the decisions you make during the building process will determine the impact your home makes on the environment.

 

 

 

Energy Efficient Air Conditioning—It’s Real, and It Makes All the Difference

More than 75% of American households have an air conditioner, yet home AC accounts for more than 8% of all electricity produced in the United States. At a cost of $15 billion, this amount of electricity puts roughly 196 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. However, for such a harmful product and industry, few southern California homes have incorporated sustainability practices into their air conditioning use.

 

Switching to a high-efficiency air conditioner can reduce your home’s energy use by 20%-50%. When shopping for a new appliance, actively seek out Energy Star products or those that advertise their electricity usage. Though new technologies are changing the way we cool our homes, investing in an energy-efficient unit is, currently, the best way to combat the heat while conserving resources.

 

However, switching to a sustainable AC unit may not solve your cooling issues. If you still find yourself breaking a sweat, you may need to update or tighten the insulation on your house; if the outdoor temperature is higher than the indoor temperature (as is often the case in southern California), warm air will blow through all available cracks and crevices. Additionally, replacing or upgrading your winds is a great way to increase insulation, and making “cool” painting choices (i.e. choosing lighter colors over darker colors) are great ways to reduce your home’s overall temperature.

Conserving Water: It’s Easier than you Think

When most Americans think about southern California, the ongoing drought is one of the first characteristics to spring to mind. However, through droughts, warnings, and extreme shortages, most of us continue to treat this resource as a given—as something that will always be available regardless of the changing climate. Water conservation technologies, though often overlooked, are imperative to sustainable home design—especially in southern California. Per capita water consumption increases annually, and new water supply options are often unavailable or only accessed at an exorbitant cost. Streamlining your at-home water system is a perfect way to conserve water, limiting your daily use with just a few pieces of technology.

 

Conservation through Indoor Water Use

Indoor water use is one of the easiest ways to conserve water. Select low-flow sink and bathtub faucets, showerheads, and toilets—this decision alone can reduce indoor water use by 30%-40%. Toilet flushing alone will typically account for a third of a build’s total water consumption. Additionally, actively search for Energy Star appliances, which guarantee a degree of water efficiency and energy conservation. If you have the resources, build a green roof to utilize potential rainwater, or build rain catchment systems to utilize every drop of water that falls from the sky.

 

Students at UC Davis designed Our H2ouse for the Department of Energy’s 2017 Solar Decathlon.

Though these changes are small, they will significantly reduce the amount of water you use inside your home without necessitating any major lifestyle changes. The major changes may be coming in the way we build and design our homes to conserve water, not just energy. Arguably, we’re even further behind the curve when it comes to water conservation and home design, but we may be catching up fast. In the past and in recent years, innovation has been driven by environmentally-motivated funding and design competitions. Yet, the need and the economic incentives for superior water-conserving home construction is ramping up fast, as population growth and high per capita water consumption shows no signs of slowing down in SoCal and the western U.S. in general.