Obama's Clean Energy Goal: What Homeowners Can Do

obama clean energyPresident Barack Obama challenged the nation during his 2011 State of the Union Address to cut energy costs so that by the year 2035 we will have 80 percent of America's electricity coming from clean energy sources. Although that's 24 years from now, there are things homeowners can do now to help cut energy usage as we wait for home builders and local, state and federal governments to clear the way for better built affordable eco-friendly homes that can truly utilize clean energy, say experts contacted by AOL Real Estate.

"Sustainability only works when there is a direct benefit to the homeowner. Saving the planet is not enough. Saving on energy bills is enough," says architectural designer Marianne Cusato, who collaborated on the 2010 "Builder Concept Home" for last year's International Builder Show. "Energy codes are shifting that will force builders of all sizes to build more sustainable homes."

Although codes may be shifting in some cities that could help Obama's plan move along, it's local governments and the Department of Energy that is keeping solar energy from rolling out quicker, according to a spokesperson at SunRun, a San Francisco-based home solar company, which released a report on the topic last week.

"Inconsistencies in local permitting are making solar energy unaffordable for many Americans," says SunRun's Susan Wise. Standardizing local permitting and giving local governments an
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incentive is what will transform residential solar usage and reduce implementation costs for 50 percent of Americans by 2013.

If that can be done by 2013, she says that makes Obama's plan of 80 percent usage of clean energy by 2035 seem even more attainable, at least as it relates to solar energy.

The greener homes of tomorrow will produce their own electricity, redirect rainwater to flush toilets, and have a geothermal pump in the home's basement to capture the earth's temperature to provide indoor heating and air conditioning, according to "The Eco-Smart House," an article in the February issue of Holmes: The Magazine to Make it Right, a publication recently launched by contractor Mike Holmes, star of Holmes on Homes and Holmes Inspection airing on HGTV.

The magazine featured several homes throughout the United States and Canada that were built with top of the line eco-materials that have caused a drastic drop in the homeowners' utility bills and carbon footprint. For example, one Connecticut mansion has a lower monthly energy bill than a construction trailer.

As AOL Real Estate discussed in "Martha Stewart Homes: Eco-Friendly or Eco-Fraud?," green upgrades can cost $70,000 or so to add on to a new construction.

"As technologies, materials and construction practices continue to improve, homeowners will start to see savings in their monthly bills," says Cusato. And as a result, this is a direct benefit that homeowners will start to request and require from any new home, she says.

So as it stands, true savings begin with the education of the homeowner, says Bill Worthen, LEED accredited professional and sustainability resource architect for The American Institute of Architects. Apart from recycling, Worthen believes the average homeowner does not truly think or know about what can be done to incorporate green features in the home. Traditionally, he says, people have focused on purchasing homes with features that look good but aren't necessarily built to last. Over the past 20 to 30 years, this mindset has started to change and will further change the more people hear about their neighbors who are saving 30 percent on their electric bills.

Take for example the Legacy Pointe neighborhood in Atlanta (pictured) where sustainable housing builder, New World Home, is building 14 residences that are expected to reduce overall energy consumption by more than 50 percent, save thousands of gallons of water per year and provide a healthier indoor air environment when compared to a typical code-built house.

"People want greener homes because of the energy and cost savings and because they feel that they are healthier for their families," says Tim Kenyon, director of the GfK Roper Green Gauge Report, which surveys Americans about their thoughts on going green.

Kenyon says the Green Gauge survey reveals that "Americans look toward the federal government to guide them and set the way, [but also] Americans are telling us that they themselves want to take on some of the responsibility for environmental protection." For example, he says, you have more and more people thinking about putting solar panels on their home, even if it's just a small one on an awning.

Although Obama's plan envisions more than three-quarters of America's electricity coming from clean energy sources such as wind and solar, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas so that Americans are less reliant on foreign oil, there are things homeowners can do now to help cut energy usage without waiting to see where we will be in 2035.

So instead of seeing if the grass is greener in your neighbor's backyard, why not start with your own? Here are four tips that won't cost you any money, as adapted from the article "25 Ways to Green Your Home" in the February issue of Holmes: The Magazine to Make It Right.

Skip the Big Lawn

Replace or reduce lawns with native plants or decorative rock gardens that don't require much water. Indigenous plants tend to need less supplemental watering.

Irrigate Sensibly

Harvest rainwater in a plastic drum by connectingthem to gutter down spouts. Use the water from these barrels to water plants, just keep the drums covered to keep out breeding insects. And as much as possible, water in the early morning or late evening to minimize evaporation.

Cooling, Think Simple

To save on heating and cooling costs, open windows at night when the outdoor temperature is comfortable. Close the house in the morning, draw the drapes in sunny rooms, to contain the cool air during the day.

Eliminate Phantom Loads

Unplug appliances and electronics, like coffee makers, toasters, TVs and computers when they are not in use to cut down on energy usage. Or even just plug them into power strips or a switch-controlled outlet that can shut off several devices at once with the flip of a single switch.

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