Archive for February, 2010

Home Energy Audits 101

By Home IQ Team

The options for calculating your home’s energy efficiency

Believe it or not the thaw is on its way, and as those spring cleaning lists grow, be sure to add a home energy audit to your to-dos. The audits take a closer look around the house and can help identify more than the obvious energy sucking cracks and leaks you’re already aware of – and in addition to being beneficial for the environment, the audits can help you save, too. Today we’ve got the scoop on home energy audits.

Energy Audit Options

DIY Approach

If you’re planning to take the DIY rout to the audit, we suggest (as always) doing the research first. Since taking a walking tour of your home to find problem areas can seem like a daunting task, it’s a good idea to identify target areas for improvement. For example, here the DOE’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) office provides Air Leaks, Insulation, Heating/Cooling and Lighting as main categories; then the site gives details on how to take a closer look at them in your home.

DIFM Approach

For energy audits when it comes to hiring the pros there’s a ton of options, and it’s essential to pick the most credible source. Certification is something important to look for in a home energy audit service. At Home Intel we think the best bet is too look for a tie to an organization or association, since most likely means the pros were trained and tested on the latest standards in energy efficiency. The Building Performance Institute offers services to find a certified contractor, as well as background information on the different tests and they do and what they’re looking to gather. The Residential Energy Services Network can help you find a certified tester, and also provides a wealth of valuable information for consumers.

Outside of associations/organizations/institutions there are a variety of independent audit solutions. Since there’s a lot of clutter to navigate through in the world of independent audit services, Wall Street Journal wrote a piece on filtering the good from the bad. They found a lot of services that either gave too technical much info that, or services that didn’t give enough feedback in their reporting. Still in their research they did find a few winners, and their ratings and conclusions are outlined at the end of the article.

Keep in mind…

  • Technology - It’s important to make sure energy audit services and pros have the experience and certification, but if you’re going to pay for a service make sure they’ve also got the leading technology for the job. The EERE says key devices and methods include blower door test, thermographic scans and the PFT air infiltration measurement technique. It’s up to you how much you want to learn about these new technologies/methods, but it’s a good idea to at least mention them in your audit service interview process.
  • Set Goals – Whether you’re doing a DIY audit or working with a pro, make sure you set expectations and communicate what you want to get out of the audit. If you’re doing it on your own set a plan for yourself and don’t deviate from that rout. If you’re working with a pro use the EERE list as a reference and give them areas you’d like to focus on improving in addition to the areas they’ll search on their own.
  • Next Steps – Once the audit is complete it’s easy to loose steam and motivation to carry out the improvements to problem areas you found. Gather your results divide them into two categories – areas of improvement you and your family can make and bigger projects that you may want to consult a professional on. If you worked with a service to do your audit, ask them for suggestions for next steps.

By Home IQ Team

Think positive, but be realistic.  And, clean your house!

Oh the joys of the real estate market. The frustration of trying to sell is only (slightly) overridden by the hope that you can take advantage of the market lows when you are able to purchase. It’s certainly a catch-22 as no one wants to take a bath on their own house, yet we’re fully prepared to take some poor seller to the cleaners.

When will we sell? What will the interest rate be? Should we put an offer on contingency? While we all wish it would be as easy as Johnny Carson in a turban putting an envelope to his head and saying, “May, 2010 for 2% under asking price,” it’s a waiting game. And a preparation game.

What we do have is data. The real estate industry and the economic forecasters do nothing if not produce data. The challenge, as with all financial predications based on history and market conditions, is getting a decent analysis. From realtor websites that want to create a hospitable atmosphere to the financial pundits who are doom and gloom, it’s all about reading multiple opinions, getting local information and doing your own analysis.

Where to start? Take a quick national glance, then take it local and apply that information to your town. In December 2009, sales of existing homes in the U.S. declined significantly, coinciding with the original deadline for the first-time homebuyer tax credit program. The National Association of Realtors reported that the total sales of existing homes dropped 16.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.45 million units, down from 6.54 million in November. However, sales were up 15 percent from 4.74 million homes in December 2008.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to live in one of the more favorable areas. Reporter Liz Scherzer from SmartMoney.com reported on the top five areas of the country that Moody’s Examiner.com analyzed and deemed the fare the best in 2010. The predicted areas are: Tacoma, Wash., (an increase of 2.44%); Memphis, Tenn., (up 0.99%); Pittsburgh (up 0.89%); Charleston, S.C. (up 0.18%); and Seattle (decline of 0.50%).

Regardless of your locale, here are tips from RealEstateABC.com for anyone selling a home:

  • Repair the little things. The potential buyer easily notices loose hinges and railings, and likely they’ll think that the bigger things have also been neglected.
  • Cleanliness is key. In a slow market, don’t turn down potential walk-throughs just because you’re not prepared. Keep it clean and take advantage of all opportunities.
  • Consider home staging, depersonalization and clutter removal. It will make it easier for the buyer to “see” themselves in that space.
  • Keep pets caged and litter boxes cleaned. Seems obvious, but….

And here are a few from us at HomeIntel

  • You know your home better than anyone. Don’t be afraid to tell your realtor exactly what you want highlighted in the brochure. Or, better, create it yourself.
  • Done any major upgrades to your home? Create a one-pager or add it to your brochure.
  • Think beyond your local community. If you live in Florida and your neighbors seem to be moving in from up north, then market your home in New Jersey or New York local media outlets.

By Green Experts Team

A look at programs and services that help consumers recycle items beyond the typical paper, glass, plastic.

copyofportreebluebins2 300x191 Beyond the Blue Bins: Recycling For Homeowners

Complements of the Highland Council

When you consider the history of recycling, we’ve moved from the stereotype of “only paper” to separating paper, glass, and plastic to single stream recycling where all materials can be mixed into one container.  Though more recycling bins line the streets of suburbia and dot the alleys of the cities today than in the past, sometimes it can be difficult to determine how to properly recycle those bigger items found around the home.  Today we’re providing a list of services and organizations that provide information on how to dispose of unwanted clutter- whether old furniture or an outdated PC.

Government

A good place to start learning about recycling is the EPA’s website.  Here you can find information on recycling categories and actual services and best practices.  Here the EPA explains eCycling – the method of recycling old electronic products.  Once you have the background you can check out this page, which lists different eCycling programs and services.

Some governing bodies in the U.S. are working to pass laws that require manufacturers to pick up their portion of the tab.  This New York Times article provides a great example of New York City working to pass a law that makes collection and recycling services mandatory for manufacturers when it comes to electronic waste.

Brands

Keeping with the idea that the responsibility of recycling shouldn’t completely fall on the shoulders of consumers, there are a number of brands that offer recycle and trade in programs.

If you’re looking for a quick drop off point, try Best Buy’s Walk-in recycle program.  Or consider a larger initiative like the partnership between LG and Waste Management.  Together the brands are offering consumers a recycling program for televisions.

Associations

With such a large number of homeowners trading in their outdated appliances for newer energy efficient models, you have to wonder where all of those old appliances are going.  Working with an organization like The Steel Recycling Institute is a great way to ensure you’re hunk of metal doesn’t wind up rotting away and causing problems in a landfill.  At The Institute’s website you can find information on not only how to recycle but also how to buy recycled.

Independent Sources

Beyond the corporations, associations and governing bodies, there are a number of newly developed sources that can help answer questions when it comes to recycling.  Over at Earth911.com there’s always an interesting article that gives a fresh angle to consider the recycling process.  Currently they have sustainability and recycle themed pieces that consider the Olympics, Mardi Gras trash, and “Wow, You Can Recycle That?”

Lessons Learned

Here are a few quick tips that are good to keep in mind for recycling items beyond the typical:

  • Check the EPA website
  • Check with your local government for any programs offered
  • Check with the company that your product came from – they may offer a program to take it back and dispose of it properly
  • If you’re buying a new item, check with the company that makes that new item as they may also have a trade in program
  • No recycling question is stupid – no matter how large or small the item.  When in doubt call your state or county waste management service

Want more info on salvage and building wast – check out our latest post on our sister blog Build Intel. Click here.

By Home IQ Team

Today, it’s all about convenience. We pay our bills online, check ourselves out at the grocery store and, chances are, most people can’t remember the last time they actually walked into a bank. Throughout the course of a day, we interact with dozens of brands without ever encountering a single human being.

The rise of online networks, blogs, and social media tools in recent years has made it so easy and convenient for companies to interact with customers virtually, some would say the need for the face-to-face interaction is no longer relevant.

However, not all companies are taking that approach. Instead of asking customers what they think of a product, 3M Company has set up customer innovation centers all over the world to give customers the opportunity to be part of the product development process.

According to a recent New York Times article, John Horn, vice president for research and development at 3M’s industrial and transportation business, explained, “The goal is to understand what our customers are trying to accomplish, not what they say they need.”

What can we learn from all this?

Turns out we, as homeowners, might be the most important source for product development research out there. We’re the ones who are using these products on a daily basis. We know which ones delight us and which ones fall short. We know what features would make our lives so much easier, and which only seem to complicate things.

This approach is also something to consider when making important purchasing decisions. Do we want to buy our next major appliance from a manufacturer that wants us to share our experience with the product online after the fact, or one that relied on customer input from the start?

Maybe more companies in our industry will see the value in this model and consider tapping into their greatest product development resource…the homeowner. If so, we’re ready when you are.

By Green Experts Team

Consumers Demand Transparency as a Way to Prove Corporate Sustainability

sustain 234x300 Consumer 101: 2010 Corporate Sustainability ExpectationsThe strict bottom-line approach to business has shifted in recent years to an emphasis on sustainable business growth grounded in strong consumer allegiance. As consumers become more eco-aware and socially responsible, they are demanding that corporations follow suit. What exactly does this mean? It means that consumers do not merely prefer but expect corporations to make positive social and environmental changes that are transparent.

Transparency is key and although sustainability reporting is largely voluntary it has come to be a norm among large companies. There has been a dramatic increase in sustainability reporting which has given the consumer an upper hand in demanding the adoption of sustainable practices. As more and more companies shift their business practices to become more eco-friendly there is a greater demand for transparency within their sustainability reporting. It is not just about saying that a company is adopting sustainable practices but it is about proving it.

Motivated to buy products that are eco-friendly, consumers are looking to corporations to make long-term investments in sustainability strategies that meet short-term consumer needs while contributing to long-term positive change on the environment. Without a doubt, we are living in an increasingly post-material age—one in which we are simply transferring material resources to meet a need, want, or desire. Indeed, consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about the businesses they support, in particular about what their patronage of a particular business says about them as an individual. Consumers do not want corporations to simply make a product that they need at an affordable price. Rather, they are now analyzing their level of consumption and demanding that products be made in a socially conscious way.

It is incumbent on the corporation to explain to their consumers how their business models are socially conscious. At this point there is no legal framework or uniform definition for sustainability reporting. Therefore, it has grown tremendously important for corporations to consistently communicate how their long-term sustainability strategy will positively impact the society and environment. As consumers become more environmentally and socially aware, the expectation for corporations to openly communicate and be as transparent as possible about their sustainability practices is deeply rooted in presenting facts, goals and expectations.

This new competitive landscape has made sustainability reporting less of a trend but a necessity in order to meet the consumers’ expectations. However, there is still much skepticism as to how corporations are relaying their message. Just because a corporation issues a sustainability report does not mean that they are truly catering to the needs of the consumer while also taking into consideration the environment. Due to a lack of uniform definition on how to report on sustainability it is up to us, the consumer, to continue educating and demanding certain expectations.

To find out more information about trends and issues in sustainability reporting check out: http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/02/10-trends-in-sustainability-reporting-great-minds-think-alike/

greenintel imre Consumer 101: 2010 Corporate Sustainability Expectations

By Home IQ Team

There are a few things that make a house a home, including warmly decorated rooms, soft lighting and hints of homeowners’ personalities strategically placed in every room – on coffee tables, bookshelves, furniture, etc. However, the biggest indicator of “home” inevitably rests in the kitchen. After all, isn’t it true that “no matter where you serve your guests, it seems they like your kitchen best,” and hasn’t it been widely stated that the kitchen is the heart of the home? Additionally, isn’t it the smell of cookies baking that remind us of the holidays and immediately instill a sense of home no matter where we are?


screen shot 2010 02 15 at 103337 am An Active Kitchen Equals a Cozy Home

Courtesy of Food Network


Perhaps this is why the Food Network is so successful. Programs like Barefoot Contessa, Giada at Home and 30-Minute Meals, which invite viewers into the kitchen and make cooking look easy, are viewed by people of all ages and backgrounds who claim that the shows are both relaxing and inspiring. True, many people may just want to see what Paula Dean’s house looks like inside, but we’re fairly confident that there is something soothing about what the Food Network has to offer. If nothing else, channels like HGTV and the Food Network give their audiences a brief escape from an otherwise hectic world.

Retailers have been benefiting from the success of the Food Network for a while with DVD and cookbook sales, and we expect that this trend will continue as more chefs launch lines in stores like Target, Walmart and Macy’s. Giada De Laurentiis just launched an extensive line of cookware and kitchen gadgets at Target (IMRE client), giving her fans even more to love. When asked what appealed to Giada about partnering with Target, she said “Target makes shopping very stylish and cool while still being affordable. I knew that Target would help me create a beautiful line of cookware that offers great quality and an affordable price.”

After using a few of the pieces this weekend, we definitely agree that Giada’s line brings a fresh, modern twist to everyday cooking. Unlike other chefs’ lines, Giada’s offers study, substantial pieces that have the professional-grade quality someone would expect from a Le Creuset product.

With a few more months of winter looming, we know that we will be spending a fair amount of time in our own kitchens, so we’re excited to try out more of Giada’s gadgets and find inspiration from programs that make gourmet meals less intimidating.


screen shot 2010 02 15 at 103156 am An Active Kitchen Equals a Cozy Home

Courtesy of Target


By Home IQ Team

1013 45 banner home weeklyintel1 Weekly Intel: News & Trends You May Have Missed

Check out a few trends and news nuggets from around the Web this week. It turns out that there was more to this week than the Blizzard of 2010 that hit the East Coast.

New DwellStudio Bedding for Target

Bathroom Sinks Designed for Fun

Inspiring Interiors from Brandon Barre

New beds are Much More than Places to Rest

Habitat for Humanity Plans Passive House in Vermont

Cindy Crawford Style Expands to Outdoor Living

Top 10 Most Romantic Homes (in the spirit of Valentine’s Day weekend)

screen shot 2010 02 12 at 51231 pm Weekly Intel: News & Trends You May Have Missed

Courtesy of apartmenttherapy.com


screen shot 2010 02 12 at 51345 pm Weekly Intel: News & Trends You May Have Missed

Courtesy of shelterpop.com



By Home IQ Team

screen shot 2010 02 11 at 41719 pm Shovels and Snow Removal Equipment Are in High Demand After the Blizzard of 2010

Ames True Temper SnoBoss

As East Coast residents, particularly those living in Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC, dig themselves out from one of the biggest snow storms in recent history, the winter weather is making national headlines and inspiring debate about global warming and climate change.

While our green experts are keeping up with the climate conversation, many of us have been wondering how the recent blizzard has affected the home industry. With Ames True Temper and John Deere being two of IMRE’s clients, we did not have to look far for insight into how two huge brands are being impacted by the snow.

Ames True Temper, the largest and oldest snow shovel manufacturer in the country, normally stops making snow shovels by the end of December, but this year the company ramped production up to service the late demand from its customers. As a result of what the Weather Service is calling a 100-year series of snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region, Ames will make scoops and square point shovels to fill emergency orders. In fact, the company, which typically manufactures six million shovels a year, has found additional resources to produce 1,000 extra units available for its customers today.

Like Ames True Temper, John Deere dealers are finding themselves quite busy. Outdoor power equipment dealers are selling, renting and servicing many pieces of the snow removal equipment on the roads and sidewalks in the region. Specifically, John Deere dealers are focused  on getting and keeping commercial and residential customers up and running. To better serve their customers, dealers are doing a number of things, including:

  • Extending business hours that revolve around customers’ needs
  • Targeting to turnaround all service in 24 hours
  • Personal, at-home deliveries of equipment
  • Utilizing John Deere Mobile Service, a national, at-home equipment maintenance service
  • Selling larger pieces of equipment to homeowners looking for snow moving solution

We can imagine that many homeowners will be pleased to hear that these two companies are moving quickly to help them dig themselves out of the Blizzard of 2010. So long cabin fever!

screen shot 2010 02 11 at 41306 pm Shovels and Snow Removal Equipment Are in High Demand After the Blizzard of 2010

John Deere 3E Series

By Christine Costa

With conversations about year after year building performance testing and the importance of life cycle teasing increasing at a rapid pace, society’s understanding of the “green” marketplace has evolved to a greater focus on Sustainability and long term performance. What’s influenced with long-awaited, mass paradigm shift?

 

Home & Building Industry Growth and Change:

  • U.S. green building activity to grow 146% by 2013 – The combined commercial and residential green building markets should grow nearly 146 percent from 2009 to 2013, according to research from Zpryme. In 2009, the combined markets represented $52.3 billion, but by 2013 the total should be $128.6 billion. (Environmental Leader, 12.29.09)
  • Whole systems thinking is becoming a bigger and bigger trend, and architects are demanding products that will perform in that system over time. Similarly, thinking about a building performance over the long term is now a requirement to maintain LEED certification
  • Buildings that have received the LEED certification and cannot meet building performance benchmarks year after year risk decertification
  • Net-zero deadlines – we are a decade closer to challenges like the 2030 Challenge than when we first began talking green
  • ARRA and DOE initiatives to position US for long term sustainability and energy independence

Consumer Savvy:

  • In a phone survey of 1,000 consumers, 50% said they purchased just as many green products as they did before the economy went into decline. 19% say they are buying even more. (Greenwashing Forum, University of Oregon, 2009)
  • 71% of the people surveyed by The Shelton Group cited saving money as a reason to buy energy-efficient products. Fewer chose to “protect the environment” (55%) or “to protect the quality of life for future generations” (49%).
  • Buying green products remains a priority despite economic downturn, SocialFunds.com reports.  More consumers purchased green products in 2008 than in 2007, the survey found.
  • 50% believe that green products are of a higher quality, especially in the category of digestible products. (SocialFunds.com)
  • Majority consumers expressed a willingness to pay a premium of 5% or more for green products, especially those in the food and electronics and appliances categories. (SocialFunds.com) Consumer motivation for LEED homes (Shelton Group):
    • 21% – Our children’s future
    • 19% – Increasing energy prices
    • 16% – Reliance on foreign oil
    • 14% – Global warming

Manufacturer | Builder Push:

  • No longer focused on product by product – outgrown LEED standards
  • LEED as table stakes
  • Looking at building holistically – how each product contributes to the whole
  • Rise of life cycle analysis for products and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)
  • Transparency and sustainability annual reports
  • All parties are moving towards focus on long term performance
  • The number of green products on big-box retailers’ shelves has grown 79% since 2007
  • Since 2008, legitimate eco-labeling on products making green claims has doubled to 23%
  • The number of Standard & Poor’s 100 companies producing sustainability reports with performance data jumped by more than a third in the past year, according to a new report from the Sustainable Investment Research Analyst Network (SIRAN)


The culmination of all of these influences – systems thinking, performance testing, consumer distrust of green marketing and increased demand for authentically sustainable products and the shift from cradle to grave to cradle to cradle – is resulting in a mainstream paradigm shift from green to sustainable. This shift is welcome and though just beginning, is essential to addressing climate change.

By Christine Costa

Last week we presented at World of Concrete in Las Vegas on “Authentic Green Messaging.” In reality, the presentation did not focus on Green messaging, but rather on the shift from “Green” to “Sustainability” messaging. We then looked toward the future, when Sustainability will simply become a synonym of High Performance and Innovation. To demonstrate this shift in messaging, we began by exploring how the Greenwashing issue first arose and why brands championing still their Green Power should proceed with caution.

entry points 11 300x202 The Evolution of Green: Proceed With CautionThere are, and always have been, 4 primary entry points any brand can take to participate in the sustainability conversation occurring today. However, most often, a brand has not reached true sustainability until all for entry points have been addressed.

 

Corporate Level: A brand entering at this level may issue a Annual Sustainability Report, identify a Chief Sustainability officer, build/retrofit LEED certified headquarters, set benchmarks to reduce the organization’s carbon footprint, join alliances and NGO’s that are working together to progress the environmental cause and review it’s supply chain and set environmental requirements.

Example:

  • While GM strives to improve the performance and sustainability of their vehicles, they’re also continuously improving the sustainability of their manufacturing operations. By greening their manufacturing process, GM is aiming to demonstrate to its customers that the environmental impact of all of their vehicles is considered during all stages of the product lifecycle.
  • Each GM facility tracks and reports its annual performance on energy use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.
  • GM added the world’s largest solar power rooftop to its car assembly plant in Zaragoza, Spain, which is expected to reduce about 7,000 tons of emissions per year. This initiative demonstrates that GM as a corporation that is actively working to progress the environmental cause

Product Level: A brand at entering at this level may conduct lifecycle analysis of products, invest in R&D to develop new environmentally safe products, review existing products and identify adjustments that need to be made in order to tread more lightly on the earth.

Example:

  • Not only did the Clorox Company create the first line of natural cleaners developed by a major consumer products company through its Green Works® product line, but they also set a standard for corporate environmental partnerships.
  • The Sierra Club partnered with Green Works in an effort to encourage other major manufacturers to green their product lines and to achieve their goals of putting affordable, green products in the hands of millions of people.
  • Through this partnership, the Sierra Club believes it will help Clorox develop a broader customer base for green products

Internal Level: A brand entering at this level may make their offices greener places to work by investing in soy inks, reducing the building’s energy load through energy efficient lighting, insulation and renewable energy sources like solar, as well as build a cross-functional team of employees to educate, inspire and empower employees.

Example:

  • To establish and maintain its environmental standards, Herman Miller, a manufacturer of office furniture and equipment and modern home furnishings, created its Environmental Quality Action Team (EQAT)
  • EQAT is a committee of Herman Miller employees that sets the company’s environmental direction and priorities and measures its results.
  • Founded in 1989, EQAT was responsible for creating Herman Miller’s first-ever environmental policy statement and established their first environmental goal. Since that time, the company continues to expand these goals in an effort to make Herman Miller a completely sustainable business.
  • To manage all aspects of the company’s environmental impact, EQAT even established several sub-teams to carry out specific tasks like “Design for the Environment”, communications, packaging and transportation.

Advocacy: A brand entering at this level may raise awareness around a cause, join a NGO or issue based association that holds a similar values to position brand for leadership and participate in speaking engagements at high profile events.

Example:

  • Our client, Johnson Controls, did this in 1990 when they developed the Energy Efficiency Forum.
  • Participants from the public and private sectors as part of a broader campaign to raise energy conservation awareness in Washington, D.C., and to encourage the development of a nationwide energy conservation ethic.
  • 1992 the United States Energy Association joined Johnson Controls as a co-sponsor of the forum.
  • The high-level, invitation-only gathering has been successful in advancing energy efficiency issues with the help of many eminent speakers, including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. Hillary Clinton, every U.S. Secretary of Energy since 1990 and other notables including journalists, members of Congress, and international business and industry leaders.

So much for a brand to do (and maintain) – its overwhelming. No matter which entry point a brand chooses to position itself as “green” in an honest and substantiated way requires commitment and investment – both of which most brands were not ready to make when environmental responsibility began to take root five years ago and, in truth, are still not ready to make.

So brands began to take a different approach (a cheaper approach), by focusing on a single attribute or customer benefit within one of these 4 entry points, putting their entire brand behind it, this marketing themselves as “green”. So began the slippery slope of Greenwashing.

entry points 2 300x177 The Evolution of Green: Proceed With CautionGreen as an initiative, a one off, a campaign that is not filtered all the way through the brand:

  • Causes a brand to take a singular approach to environmental responsibility as opposed to a holistic approach
  • Risks blanket statements, sidesteps the issue instead of taking incremental steps forward as an organization, lacks of transparency and sends inconsistent messages to customers


According to a TerraChoice’s 2009 Greenwashing Report, 98% of ‘green’ products reviewed in 2009 made false or misleading claims in some way. I’m willing to bet most of these brands have approached green as a single initiative as opposed to a holistic effort. Thanks to products like these, even brands using “green” messaging in an authentic way should proceed with caution and consider evolving to a more sophisticated environmental messaging platform.


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