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Green Living


Would you buy a flat-pack house?

What if you could order a custom home and have it delivered?  Avava Systems has created just that. The flat-pack home is part of a growing tiny house movement, which advocates living simply in small structures, and a completely new way to have a pre-fabricated home. 

Prices range from $117,000 to $223,000 and are available in three sizes- 264, 352, and 480 square feet.   The cost includes permitting, delivery, installation and contractor services. All of the units contain a living area, kitchen, bathroom and closet, and can be assembled within 2 months. 

Flat-pack homes are also considered environmentally friendly; they are designed to to provide a high level of energy efficiency, they offer air tightness that helps to shield your home from the elements, and they help to bring down the need for shipping materials to a building site.

We're starting to see a couple "mini homes" be built in the City of Buffalo and are receiving more questions about this possibility. Knowing you could help protect the environment while living in a beautiful tiny home, is a flat-pack home something you would consider? 



Beat The Heat

These quick stats--courtesy of Lowe's Summer 2013 publication--can help you save some cash and keep your cool as temperatures rise this summer: save-money-air-conditioning

  • Direct sunlight can raise the temperature of a room by 20 degrees; block the excess heat with drapes, reflective film or other window coverings.
  • No need to set your thermostat lower than 78 degrees.  If temps are nearing that mark, turn on a fan to make your home feel up to degrees cooler.
  • House paint won't properly dry and cure if it is hotter than 80 degrees.  Get the job done in early morning or evening hours.
  • Once temperatures reach 95 degrees, using fans and opening windows will only circulate hot air.  Give yourself permission to turn on the A/C!

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"Cool" Ways to Save This Summer

staying cool

Is it hot enough for the A/C or will a fan do the trick?  Lowe's offers some helpful hints for saving money while still keeping your home comfortable:

  • Before you leave the house for the day, turn up the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees
  • Regularly change your furnace filter
  • Swap incandescent light bulbs for cooler and more energy efficient compact fluorescents
  • Fire up the grill and cook outdoors
  • Hold off on drying that load of laundry or running the dishwasher until the evening or early morning


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Gardening Tips for the Beginner and the Pro

It's that time of year that we are all thinking about our gardens. If you are a serious gardener or just flirting with the idea, here are are some great tips courtesy of HGTV to get you growing:

Image 1. To remove the salt deposits that form on clay pots, combine equal parts white vinegar, rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Apply the mixture to the pot and scrub with a plastic brush. Let the pot dry before you plant anything in it.

2. To prevent accumulating dirt under your fingernails while you work in the garden, draw your fingernails across a bar of soap and you'll effectively seal the undersides of your nails so dirt can't collect beneath them. Then, after you've finished in the garden, use a nailbrush to remove the soap and your nails will be sparkling clean.

3. To prevent the line on your string trimmer from jamming or breaking, treat with a spray vegetable oil before installing it in the trimmer.

4. Turn a long-handled tool into a measuring stick! Lay a long-handled garden tool on the ground, and next to it place a tape measure. Using a permanent marker, write inch and foot marks on the handle. When you need to space plants a certain distance apart (from just an inch to several feet) you'll already have a measuring device in your hand.

5. To have garden twine handy when you need it, just stick a ball of twine in a small clay pot, pull the end of the twine through the drainage hole, and set the pot upside down in the garden. Do that, and you'll never go looking for twine again.

6. Little clay pots make great cloches for protecting young plants from sudden, overnight frosts and freezes.

7. To turn a clay pot into a hose guide, just stab a roughly one-foot length of steel reinforcing bar into the ground at the corner of a bed and slip two clay pots over it: one facing down, the other facing up. The guides will prevent damage to your plants as you drag the hose along the bed.

8. To create perfectly natural markers, write the names of plants (using a permanent marker) on the flat faces of stones of various sizes and place them at or near the base of your plants.

9. Got aphids? You can control them with a strong blast of water from the hose or with insecticidal soap. But here's another suggestion, one that's a lot more fun; get some tape! Wrap a wide strip of tape around your hand, sticky side out, and pat the leaves of plants infested with aphids. Concentrate on the undersides of leaves, because that's where the little buggers like to hide.

10. The next time you boil or steam vegetables, don't pour the water down the drain, use it to water potted patio plants, and you'll be amazed at how the plants respond to the "vegetable soup."

11. Use leftover tea and coffee grounds to acidify the soil of acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, gardenias and even blueberries. A light sprinkling of about one-quarter of an inch applied once a month will keep the pH of the soil on the acidic side.

12. Use chamomile tea to control damping-off fungus, which often attacks young seedlings quite suddenly. Just add a spot of tea to the soil around the base of seedlings once a week or use it as a foliar spray.

13. If you need an instant table for tea service, look no farther than your collection of clay pots and saucers. Just flip a good-sized pot over, and top it off with a large saucer. And when you've had your share of tea, fill the saucer with water, and your "table" is now a birdbath.

14. The quickest way in the world to dry herbs: just lay a sheet of newspaper on the seat of your car, arrange the herbs in a single layer, then roll up the windows and close the doors. Your herbs will be quickly dried to perfection. What's more, your car will smell great.



Taking GREEN LIVING Outdoors - Part II

Ryan Connolly We ended last week talking about how to reduce energy consumption and live "green" outside your home. We continue those tips today with the following ways to care for the environment while toying in the yard this Spring, Summer and Fall:

Reduce chemical herbicides and pesticides - Our wars against weeds and garden pests have been fought fiercely and we've pulled out all the stops. But to reduce environmental pollution, consider alternatives to chemical herbicides and pesticides. Some "weeds" make effective garden filler, while reconsidering the types of plants you wish to grow on your landscape can also be effective at deer control simply by selecting plants that aren't appealing to deer.

Reduce chemical fertilizers - It's very simple for homeowners to switch to a natural approach when it comes to providing the landscape with nutrients. For example, by using mulching mowers, you can let the grass clippings fall where they may, acting as an organic fertilizer. If you do not own a mulching mower, you can compost your grass clippings. But don't stop there. Get into the habit of composting as much as you possibly can.

Composting - This is a terrific way to reduce environmental pollution. You'll also be reducing the amount of unneccessary material being transported into landfills. Note that compost holds many virtues beyond its ability to fertilize the plants in your yard. Compost also helps with aeration in soil, as well as helping soil retain water better -- so that you won't have to water as much. Successful composting depends on the proper mix of "green" material and "brown" material. The former provides nitrogen, the latter carbon. With proper air circulation and moisture in yourcompost bin, a mix of two parts green to one part brown should decompose fairly quickly. There's a ready supply of both green and brown materials in the average household. Kitchen scraps such as orange and banana peels, for instance, would be considered "green," while fallen leaves would be "brown." So you can use the leaves you rake in autumn for compost, as well as for a mulch.

Reduce the waste your plants arrive in - What's left behind after a new planting? All those plastic flats and pots. Since annuals last only one year, you'll have the same sort of waste to deal with next year, too. One solution is to switch to perennial flowers. Some perennials last many years. In some cases, they even spread readily, giving you new plants for free.



Taking GREEN LIVING Outdoors - Part I

  Ryan Connolly


We've talked this month about changes you can make to your home that are environmentally friendly, but have missed one aspect of a green home -- the outside. Here are a series of ways to carry your green living tips beyond those four walls:

Reel lawn mowers - Reel lawn mowers are an eco-friendly alternative to gas-powered rotary models and a boon to energy conservation. Being muscle-powered, there is no engine involved. Using them not only promotes energy conservation but also clean air. Another option? Buy a home with a smaller yard or convert grass into alternative surfaces.

Planting for energy conservation - Where you locate plantings of trees and shrubs can also play a role in energy conservation. Extensive lawns are useful for homeowners interested in badminton, ball playing and hosting social barbecues. But if you are more interested in turning your yard into a retreat meant for serenity, solitude and contemplation, the role of turf grass may be reduced drastically in favor of trees. A well-planned incorporation of trees and shrubs in your yard is an effective means of energy conservation. For example:

- Deciduous trees can be planted to the south and west of a home to serve as shade trees, reducing summer air conditioning costs. Because such trees will drop their leaves in winter, they won't deprive your home of sunlight when you need it.

- Evergreen trees planted to the north and west of a home can serve as windbreaks. By breaking the wind, such trees will reduce your heating costs in winter.

- Likewise, shrubs used as foundation plantings can reduce heating costs, creating an insulating dead air space around the home. Just be sure to plant the shrubs a few feet away from your foundation.

Water conservation -  Lawns require more watering than planting beds. In watering planting beds comprised of individual plants, you can target the watering better (using drip irrigation, for instance), thereby promoting water conservation. Rain barrels can also be used to capture rain water for various outdoor water uses, such as plant watering and car washing. One local site for rain barrels is Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER.



Why should you build a Green Home?

  John Connolly

As we discussed on Tuesday, green building is good for the environment. It's energy efficient, which reduces the need to burn fossil fuels and helps fight climate change. It also makes efficient use of water and other resources, minimizes pollution and waste, and reduces overall environmental impact.

Building green demonstrates your commitment to sustainability and gives your company a competitive advantage in the market. There is also peace of mind in knowing that the structures you build are better for the environment, healthier for occupants and save money over the long term.

Green Building Facts:


  • The US Department of Energy states that today's buildings consume more energy than any other sector of the U.S. economy, including transportation and industry.
  • Studies indicate that Americans spend up to 90% of their day indoors. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, air quality inside buildings is sometimes two to five times worse than outside air.

Benefits of Green Homes:

Energy Efficiency

  • Using energy more efficiently
  • Saves operating costs on utility bills over the 30-year life of the building
  • Enhances resale and lease value of the home

Environmental Efficiency

  • Reducing environmental impact
  • Reduces waste materials and disposal costs
  • Reduces water usage
  • Reduces chemical use and disposal costs
  • Encourages recycling and reuse of materials
  • Develops local markets for locally produced materials - saves on transportation costs and develops economy-of-scale price reductions.

Human Efficiency

  • Improves the indoor environment, producing a healthier place to live and work
  • Reduces sicknesses



Green Building trend estimated to increase in 2011

John Connolly Green buildings increase the efficient use of energy, environmental, and human resources. They also incorporate practices that significantly reduce or eliminate adverse environmental impacts, increase efficiency and translate into an economic benefit. Green buildings cost less to operate because, among other things, they use less energy and water, and require less maintenance. They have better indoor air quality because they minimize chemicals, mold and other harmful substances. And they have excellent resale value-because green buildings are quality buildings and they're built to last.

Making improvements to design when renovating or building is very cost effective. A one-time investment premium of less than 1% has been shown to increase energy efficiency over standard building code practices by 20-30%. Green buildings or buildings that meet the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) third party certification process, may be built with little increase in first costs. If green concepts are incorporated early in the design process, a certified green building may cost no more to build than a code compliant building.

Green building gives careful consideration to three main elements:

  • Healthy indoor environment
  • Maximum energy efficiency and conservative
  • Conservative and thoughtful use of natural resources

In the United States, and now worldwide, green buildings are certified through an independent third party, the US Green Building Council’s program, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®). More information on LEED can be found at their website.

In the United States, buildings account for:

  • 39% of total energy use
  • 12% of the total water consumption
  • 68% of total electricity consumption
  • 38% of the carbon dioxide emissions

Check back this week for more on Green Building.




GREEN LIVING: Home Energy Audits save energy and money

Ryan Connolly A home energy audit is often the first step in making your home more efficient. An audit can help you assess how much energy your home uses. An assessment will also show you problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money over time. Many energy audit programs provide extensive information about home improvement projects to enhance energy efficiency, lower utility bills, and increase comfort.

Especially if you live in a home more than 5-10 years old, you can benefit most through the use of an energy audit. To get an idea of how much you could benefit from an energy audit, use one of these online energy audit tools:

If you are interested in getting specific recommendations for improving the efficiency of your home, consider contacting a professional Home Energy Auditor. A professional auditor can use a variety of techniques and equipment to determine the energy efficiency of your home. Thorough audits often use equipment such as blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation. 

Your first step should be to contact your utility to see if they offer free or discounted energy audits to their customers. Locally, National Fuel provides this online energy audit information. If not, you can hire a home energy professional to evaluate your home's energy efficiency. These are a few in our area: Hughes Co.

Landmark Custom Homes

CJ Brown Energy PC / NYSERDA



GREEN LIVING AND YOU: Cost saving ideas for your home - Part II

  Anita Gullo-Eardley

Continuing on Tuesday's tips for green tips that save you money, we hope all these tips help you save money this year while doing just a little to save the planet:


- Energy Star AppliancesENERGY STAR qualified appliances incorporate technologies that use 10-50% less energy and water than standard models. If you can’t replace your appliances just yet, consider these tips:

- Wash your laundry with cold water whenever possible. To save water, try to wash full loads or, if you must wash a partial load, reduce the level of water appropriately.

- Don't over-dry your clothes. If your dryer has a moisture sensor that will automatically turn the machine off when clothes are done, use it to avoid over drying.

- One of the easiest things you can do to increase drying efficiency is to clean the lint trap before each and every load.

- Dishwashers use about the same amount of energy and water regardless of the number of dishes inside, so run full loads whenever possible.

- Place your fridge in a cool place away from a heat source such as an oven, a dishwasher, or direct sunlight from a window.

- Glass Block Windows - These windows offer great versatility, visibility and light transmission, energy conservation, security, durability and cost effectiveness. Glass block is scratch-resistant and requires minimal maintenance with a long-term life cycle.

- Lightbulbs - Replacing your five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them with ENERGY STAR qualified lights can save $70 a year in energy costs. Compact fluorescent bulbs can last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs, saving money on energy bills and replacement costs.

- Programmable Thermostat - A programmable thermostat  is ideal for people who are away from home during set periods of time throughout the week. Through proper use of pre-programmed settings, a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs.

- Pay attention to your furnace - Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool - wasting energy. A clean filter will also prevent dust and dirt from building up in the system - leading to expensive maintenance and/or early system failure