The PATH to Energy Savings

Houseleakswithtext780The Saturday, October 27, Washington Post Real Estate section had an excellent article that includes 10 tips to consider when remodeling. It highlights the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's PATH program (Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing). The article touches on many of the items that have been discussed on this blog, such as efficient lighting and right-sizing heating and cooling systems.

PATH is primarily a partnership with the housing trades (builders, remodelers, financers, etc.) but has done a thorough job of pulling together comprensive information and tools that will help improve our nation's housing stock going forward. For instance, their web site includes a Tip of the Month. Bookcoverlarge_2This month's is very timely with winter coming on: Air Seal and Insulate.

If you are considering remodeling (or even if not--you just want to know more about how your home uses energy efficiently or inefficiently), I'd like to remind you of my post from a few months back recommending the book No-Regrets Remodeling, an excellent resource to use prior to undertaking any remodeling project.

Battle in Bethesda (Trail users unite to fend off developer)

Bar4Many of the people who enjoy the trails in this area: bicyclists, runners, bladers, walkers, etc. have really come to appreciate the Capital Crescent Trail that connects Georgetown to Bethesda, passes under Wisconsin Avenue through a terrific old railway tunnel, and then continues as a gravel interim trail all the way to Silver Spring (someday it will loop all the way to Union Station, but that's another story). In fact, sections of the trail see more than 20,000 users per week.Westportal

In July a developer submitted plans to Montgomery County to develop the parcel of land at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Bethesda Avenue where the trail enters the tunnel. As part of their plan they were proposing to close the tunnel for more than two years.

When I heard about this, my initial reaction was that there was no way Montgomery County would allow that to happen. But then I had a second thought that if people weren't paying attention, then the ball might not bounce the right way. Well, it didn't take long for trail users and other interested parties to take note. Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner (in whose district the tunnel is located) held a public meeting on September 15 to discuss the development (the tunnel closing was a key issue, but not the only one, aired at the meeting). I attended this meeting, and it was packed; well over 100 people were there. So was the developer, who had been invited to discuss the project.

Bar3The developer clearly got the message that the community was not going to accept the tunnel closing. Last week, the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail reported on its web site that the developer has informed the Montgomery County Planning Board that it will keep the tunnel open during construction. This was clearly a victory for everyone. The trail and tunnel are key commuting routes as well as a wonderful recreational trail for thousands of users. In an area like Bethesda, where traffic is a constant issue, providing as many other choices as possible is an imperative for quality of life.

Investments, Efficiency, VA Tech, and the DC Area

Eep400Last Tuesday's Washington Post featured a great article about the confluence of economic value and actions to reduce energy use and climate change. Virginia Tech and investor Hannan Armstrong along with other partners, including PEPCO Energy Services, are investing $500 million to improve the efficiency of at least 100 buildings in the DC area. The initiative is called the Energy Efficiency Partnership of Greater Washington.

It's important to note that Mr. Armstrong is not doing this because he is an environmentalist. He's doing it because he can make money at it. Opportunities to improve efficiency in buildings are enormous and profits can be made. The concept is pretty simple: invest money in energy performance improvements and then share the savings that come out of the utility bills. The building owner pays nothing up front and enjoys same or lower utility bills. The investor creates a stream of income from the utility savings that yields a good or excellent return on the initial capital investment. Both parties win . . .and so does our environment. The expectation is that the buildings they are investing in will reduce their energy use by 20% - 50%.

You can do this yourself, too, actually. In the short term, investing $200 in changing out the lighting in your house can yield up to $100 per year in investment returns--a fabulous return rate. If you have a home equity line of credit you can create your own positive cash flow--it's like printing money. 795pxunited_states_two_dollar_uncutBy investing in efficiency improvements that have rates of return higher than the interest you pay on your loan, you can create a cash cow right in your house. Here's an example: $3000 wisely invested in improvements could save you $30-$40 month or more on your utility bills. A 15-year home equity loan payment is $27.81 at 7.5%. So every month you essentially print yourself a $5 or even a $20 bill (because you save more on your utility bill than you pay on your loan). As utility rates rise your savings go up, too, but your payment stays the same. Many improvements will also add to the value of your home, so if you move your house will sell for more--recouping your investment again.

I've always thought that investment resources like Money Magazine and Kiplinger's should recommend these investments to their readers. They can create better returns at lower risk than a lot of the other investment recommendations they make. The environmental benefits are just gravy.