Greater Efficiency, Comfort: An Update From 2011 Green Home Giveaway Winners

As the winners of My Green Birmingham’s 2011 Green Home Giveaway, homeowners Jason Harlos and Laura Kate Whitney had the opportunity to create a more efficient, comfortable, and eco-minded home through an incredible green home makeover.  Selected from more than 150 entries, Harlos and Whitney’s home is a historic bungalow in Crestwood North, one of Birmingham’s oldest neighborhoods. The couple purchased their home in 2009, and spent the greater part of the following year renovating the house and making it their own. Yet, after “years of neglect,” Whitney says the bungalow still lacked the benefits of modern energy efficiency, and other green, more sustainable aspects.

Since the completion of the green home makeover, the Harlos-Whitney family say they have developed a much greater appreciation and respect for the everyday things that come in and go out of their home. “The experience changed not only the way our home operates as far as input and output, it also changed our perspective. We now have a home that affords us a more sustainable future,” says Whitney.

Presented by Alabama Power, the 2011 Green Home Giveaway makeover began with an energy audit performed by Jonathan Handey of Eco-Three, who described the quantity of air infiltration in the home as one of the largest amounts they’ve ever seen! “This is a 90-year old home; we knew she had deficits/weaknesses, but we had no idea the extent of it,” says Whitney.

The couple say their best recommendation for homeowners now is to get a home energy audit. “That was a huge eye-opener for us. We’d spent so much time and money restoring our historical home, yet we had no idea how much air infiltration we were dealing with. It’s not just about living and paying bills — it’s about living and doing it with respect to the environment, to our budget, and to our children’s future.”

Despite this home’s poor energy evaluation, Eco-Three felt confident they could help make some significant improvements. The number one mission for Eco-Three was to help make the Harlos-Whitney home more efficient, comfortable and safe, explains Handey. They shared their evaluation with other Green Home Giveaway sponsors, who were then also able to make recommendations for equipment and upgrades, based on the audit’s findings.

Without the benefit of on-site home energy experts, homeowners are often hesitant to take on DIY energy efficiency upgrades, and may worry about expensive installation costs. Yet, many home energy improvements can be both simple and cost effective. “We want homeowners to realize that it should not cost a fortune to make a home more energy efficient.” In fact, the Harlos-Whitney family says their experience with the various vendors involved in the Green Home Giveaway helped them gain new insight to their own capabilities as homeowners. “It really gave us a sense of just how much we could do to improve our home’s energy efficiency.”

The 90-year-old home received the much needed proper air sealing, and from Energy Guard, energy rated storm windows and caulking to help reduce air filtration. New insulation was installed throughout, and sponsors Mingeldorff’s and Guin brought in more energy efficient HVAC equipment, including a new programmable thermostat. Two SEER Mitsubishi HVAC systems were installed to help heat and cool two separate areas of the house. Mingeldorff and Guin also worked hand in hand with Green Home Giveaway sponsors Alabama Power, Ferguson Enterprises and A.O. Smith, to set up a new hybrid electric heat pump water heater and system. According to Guin, the homeowners should see an estimate of $500 in annual savings after installing the HVAC upgrades.

Overall, Whitney says so far, they have seen a significant decrease in their utility bills, and the most notable difference they’ve experienced has been the home’s level of comfort. “We are a young family with young children. We’re able to keep the house warm in the winter, and in the summer our house stays cooler.”

The 2011 Green Home Giveaway also featured outside renovations which included creating more sustainable landscaping courtesy of Portera Landscape Design, and the installation of a new rain barrel, provided by Nature’s Tap. “We love our rain barrel! And since we spend a lot of time outside in our yard, we’re inspired to not only utilize free, abundant rain water to freshen our landscape, we’re also committed to creating an outdoor environment that includes mostly native plants,” say Whitney and Harlos.

Not unlike many other Birmingham families who want to live in a more efficient and comfortable home, the Harlos-Whitney family believe these type of upgrades also  help secure a better future for our environment. Although many homeowners may not be in a position to all at once make the same green home improvements provided for the Harlos-Whitney home, the couple believes the Green Home Giveaway has opened up an important community dialogue, especially in historic neighborhoods such as their own.  They say it has prompted people to start conversations about  how to best utilize available technology for the upgrades that will yield the biggest, best results.

All of the combined work included in the 2011 Green Home Giveaway, including the energy efficiency improvements and green home upgrades, have helped the Harlos-Whitney family bring their home to today’s standard of living-and beyond. “We’ve been able to supplement our own hard renovation work with real, sustainable, quality equipment that allows us to use less water, less energy, and all with a greater peace of mind.”

The 2012 Green Home Giveaway will officially launch on Saturday, November 3rd at the Moss Rock Festival! For more information on how you can enter to win the 2012 Green Home Giveaway, please see our contest guidelines and entry form. Don’t forget to sign up for our e-newsletter to receive the latest updates!

Written by Kate Agliata

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