-- A "green house" benefits the environment -- and pads your pocketbook as well, said builder John Harris.
"When you really want to go green building or fixing up a home, there's a lot you can do," he said. "Most of these products save you money in the long run."
To prove his point, he reels off examples of simple energy-efficient items such as programmable thermostats that automatically adjust a home's temperature for different times of day. Ceiling fans, extra insulation and double-pane windows are other affordable products that can be retrofitted into existing homes.
Harris and his wife, Debbie, have taken environmental health and energy savings to the next level, designing and constructing their house with the latest in green technology and materials. Debbie also worked clutter-clearing extras into the house such as shelves, benches, closets and drawers that utilize every space for organizing a busy lifestyle.
The home is one of 18 custom-built, fully furnished and landscaped models in Broad Creek, a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood owned by the Norfolk Housing & Redevelopment Authority. House prices range from $170,000 to $500,000.
From foundation to insulation to illumination, the Harris house shows how green products can make life comfortable.
Some of those choices cannot be readily seen. For instance, there's an instant hot water unit tucked away in the attic. Instead of a conventional hot water storage tank, the tankless Bosch unit is shaped and sized like an large gift box. It's small enough to fit in a linen closet, garage corner or anywhere you want to put it, as long as it can be vented for natural gas hookup. The unit costs $1,500 or less, depending on whether you have gas or not, but will save you $250 to $500 a year for a family of four, Harris said.
"I've seen these [types of] units in Lowe's for $400, so they are really coming down in price," he said.
"It's an endless supply of hot water; you can run it 24 hours a day."
The Harrises' attic also has sprayed-in foam -- an improved version of that foam-in-the-can kind -- that seals gaps everywhere it's applied, including around electrical outlets and light switches.
"The house is sealed tight for drafts," he said. "If you want a breeze, you open the windows."
Rafters and the undersides of roofing material in the attic are spray-painted with E-Barrier, a reflective coating that reduces heat buildup. A gallon of the paint, made by Sherwin Williams, costs $40 and covers about 400 square feet.
Other energy-efficient features in the house -- framed with 2-by-6 studs instead of 2-by-4s to allow for more wall insulation -- include R-19 batt-type insulation instead of oft-used R-13, windows that withstand stronger winds and ductwork wrapped in thicker insulation. There are also recycled woods, high-efficiency appliances, extra air return vents and 9-foot ceilings for improved air circulation and an ultraviolet light kit in the downstairs heat system to kill off bacteria and mold.
Harris said using many of these products in new construction increases overall cost 10 to 15 percent.
It's not just about saving money, he said. It's also about giving our children a healthy and viable future. "I've got a 5-year-old," he said. "And I respect what we need to do" for the next generation.