By Jenn Danko
When it comes to making recommendations for greening existing homes, Jamie Shapiro has seen the light. Coming from a long family lineage of electrical experts, the Montreal, Quebec-based business owner says that now more than ever, homeowners are looking for new ways to reduce their energy bills by investing in electrical retrofits using LED lighting.
"I like to think of it as giving people an LED-ucation," quips Shapiro, vice president of Canada's first LED Source lighting business, LED Source Eastern Canada. Servicing residents exclusively of eastern Canada, from Ontario through Maritimes, Shapiro also directs the company's sales and conducts in-home demonstrations to highlight quality and cost-savings first hand.
But real return on investment takes time—and for clients who are considering making green retrofits to their existing homes, a contractor's expertise goes even further. Consider approaching homeowners about these retrofit solutions for greening the value of their residences in more ways than one.
Shapiro says homeowners are becoming increasingly aware of the large returns LED lighting provides through lower utility bills. One LED lamp, he says, will result in up to 90 percent energy savings versus an incandescent bulb and a 50 percent savings as compared to a compact fluorescent lighting .
To better assess homeowner ROI, he conducts an onsite evaluation asking questions such as, "What are you paying in energy costs now?" and "How many hours per day do you generally leave your lights on?"
Posing the right questions will lead to the most cost savings for homeowners—and much of those savings are a direct result of using the most current, retrofit lighting solutions. One of his widely recommended solutions is a 6-inch LED downlight that he says is specifically designed for residential use and light commercial use. The brand Shapiro installs replaces up to 65 watt bulbs and is dimmable to about 5 percent with most standard incandescent dimmers, he says. It sells for around $100.
For a complete floor-to-ceiling retrofit, why not suggest that clients look at old trends for green flooring materials? Richard Cranston, a veteran of the flooring industry since the mid-1980s, says that while floors made from bamboo or cork are generating plenty of green buzz, he says they are not always the optimal choice when it comes to ROI on retrofits because they have a specific aesthetic appeal. And unless the consumers love that aesthetic, they may grow tired of it and replace the flooring before its full lifecycle is complete. He recommends builders show their clients other flooring that still meets the LEED for Homes points level.
"Something like a traditional, hardwood floor that is locally grown and shipped within 500 miles of the installation location gets you the equivalent points as a LEED home certification when considering a retrofit," he says, adding that any reputable manufacturer uses wood that is grown and certified through Forest Stewardship Council Canada, which ensures all trees are grown and harvested responsibly. As a price point, a mid-range to standard hardwood floor runs customers between $6 to $10 per square foot—which is about the same as more temperamental materials such as cork and bamboo.
For an even more cost effective retrofit, consider going equally old school with linoleum flooring. A flooring mainstay for more than 100 years, Cranston says the material is actually one of the greenest products you can offer customers because it is made from natural materials that are renewable or reused and provides a longer lifecycle at a relatively low cost. Some types of linoleum are also made with linseed oil and cork or saw dust as primary ingredients, and can be a smart fit in place of a PVC vinyl floor, which is cheap but certainly not green.
One of the main problems Cranston sees with clients looking to green their existing homes is the overabundance of choices when it comes to evaluating ROI. He recommends that homeowners start small, making a few changes at a time. Using low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) products and paints is a great way to get in the mindset.
Other small, useful retrofits include switching to low-flow showerheads, which can save up to 50 percent on water consumption and heating. Or, recommend replacing older appliances with high-efficiency appliances. Switching to a front-loading washer, for instance, can save 40 cents per load compared to the top model.
In the end, Cranston says the most important aspect of greening a home is going with an economical product that the homeowner loves and also meets their budget.
"The best way to ‘reduce' is to [have your client] buy something that they love and keep it looking as beautiful as they can for as long as they can," he says. "Longevity results in the highest ROI in the long run."