Make Your House Work for You: 5 Smart Home Additions for 2017

HGTV is currently having its Smart Home Giveaway for 2017 and though we’d all love to win this gorgeous house, we can’t. Sadly. But! We have come up with some simple smart home features that you can add to your home. Below are five of our favorite smart home features that you can add during a custom remodel or a custom home build. What kinds of features would you want in your home for the future?

1. Light-Up Staircases:

These add such an ease to your everyday lifestyle, easy to see at night and beautiful. Adding lights underneath your stairs can automatically update the feel of your home and gives you an excuse to redo your staircase!

 

2. Remote Controlled Shades:

Do you have a home with hard to reach windows with blinds? Problem solved with remote controlled shades. There are a few companies out there that make them and can be worth the investment.

3. Electric Glass Windows:

If remote controlled shades just aren’t for you, then a relatively new product is electric glass. This is a great option for bathrooms, large picture windows, and even offices. Watch the video below to find out more about electric glass and what it can do for your home!

4. Wireless Dimming Lights:

Dimmable lights are nice…but dimmable lights that are wireless? It’s kind of amazing. Phillips has some amazing new lights out that connect wirelessly around your house so you can control them remotely.

5. All-In-One Home Systems:

From doorbell cameras to security systems that tie into your heating and cooling units, 2017 has some really amazing technologies coming out to make you feel comfortable. Whether your custom home is your primary residence or your vacation home, have ease of mind with some of these amazing companies:

 

6. Smart Appliances:

Smart appliances are all the rage right now, and for good reason. Not only do appliances (that sync up to the Bluetooth in your devices) make your life easier, but they can also give you peace of mind. Are your hands dirty but you need to preheat the oven? Jenn-air and GE have great smart appliances that connect directly to your devices so you can voice command and Bluetooth command what’s in your kitchen. Check out some of these awesome appliances here and here.

Off-Grid Essentials: What You Need to Unplug for your Custom Home

Durango is a charming town made up of a colorful and caring group people. Though there are a lot of things that make living within Durango a wonderful choice, many people may prefer the idea of moving beyond the buzz of our town and unplugging from the infrastructure of today. Building an off-grid home, or remodeling your current home to begin an off-grid life, is a rewarding process that will bring you the satisfaction and peace of mind that comes with knowing that your home is self-sufficient.

It can seem intimidating at first to begin planning all that is necessary to go off-grid. In truth, building a more conventional home requires the same considerations of building an off- grid home; the real difference lies in the solution to these considerations. Power, water, sewage, these are all things that must be addressed no matter what type of home you’re building. Where the approach to these questions in a conventional build is often to hook up to existing infrastructure, an off-grid home must find solutions in other ways. These options may even save you a bit of stress in the planning process if your location were to require an easement for access to power, water, or waste disposal.

Water

Water is a huge consideration when building or upgrading a home to be off-grid. Running out of water is not a situation that anyone wants to deal with, so securing a dependable source is imperative for any home. Most houses do not have access to a natural body of water on their property, and, in some cases, even those that do may not have the right to use that water. You will likely end up either drilling a well or installing a cistern to be the main water source of your home, both of which are standard systems for conventional houses as well as off-grid homes.

In 2016, a bill was passed into law that allowed for the legal collection of rainwater. This was wonderful news for off-grid homeowners as any additional source of water, especially one was easy to set up as rainwater collection, is wholly welcome. Rainwater should only be relied upon as an auxiliary source. One of the many reasons we love the Durango area is the abundance of sunny days every year. While this is surely not something anyone would wish away, it does mean that rainwater cannot be relied upon as a main supply of water.

Waste Disposal

Much like the options for off-grid water systems, the sewage systems that you will likely consider for your off-grid home are similar to or the same as those used in most conventional rural homes. Installing a septic system with a leach field will likely be the best option to choose for your home. In reality, there is only one other option available for sewage in an off-grid situation due to practicalities and established regulations. Installing a gray water tank to handle the waste water from showers and sinks (which can be reused as flush water) and a composting toilet that drains into a black water tank is a viable option that is a bit more hands on for the homeowner as the tanks need more frequent upkeep.

Energy

One of the first and main things you’ll need to consider, whether you’re building a new home or remodeling your current one, is where you’ll be getting your power from once you’re off-grid. Of course, there is always the option to forgo power altogether and embrace an older lifestyle, but most individuals and families are going to want power in their homes. Energy isn’t just for lights, it can be the source heating (air and water), refrigeration and cooking capabilities. Add in more modern amenities like computers, televisions, microwaves, washers and dryers and you’ll be needing a reliable source of energy to keep you going.

These days, solar panels have become so efficient and affordable that they have become the go-to option for those pursuing an off-grid lifestyle as well as those who are just looking to cut down on their electricity bill. Luckily, Durango is a sunny place to live so, as long as you have unobstructed southern exposure, solar power is a readily accessible resource that you can typically rely on.

While solar power is available to most, hydropower is an energy source that is only available to a lucky few. Not only must one have a natural source of running water accessible from their land, but they must be sure that whichever water source they rely upon will produce year-round energy that won’t run out in the depths of a dry summer or a particularly frigid winter. That being said, if you have that perfect combination don’t hesitate to utilize that resource.

Maybe your new location doesn’t have reliable year-round water or consistent sun exposure but instead, has on oft-overlooked energy source gusting by. Wind energy typically brings to mind images of gigantic industrial wind turbines churning away hundreds of feet in the air, but domestic wind turbines can be a great source of home energy in a much more compact size.

Many homes benefit from using a combination of natural energy sources. In the midst of a string of overcast days in which solar energy is lacking, wind power may be abundant and ease the worries of running out of energy; being set up to use complimentary systems can be advantageous. If you do choose to stick to one source of day-to-day energy, it may be best to prepare for the worst and have a backup generator to rely upon in emergency situations.

All energy systems that rely on collecting power from a natural resource will depend on a bank of batteries to store that energy. These home batteries have developed to high levels of efficiency and storage capacity, and the technology just keeps advancing. Whichever energy system you choose to rely upon, you’ll have a wide array of battery options to choose from to best fit your needs.

It’s worth looking into alternative methods for running systems that will reduce your dependence on electric power. Natural gas can be your source of refrigeration, cooking, and heat. Additionally, a wood burning stove can help keep you super cozy during those cold stretches.

Despite the great leaps in efficiency and capacity there still exist practical limits to what any off-grid system can handle. When relying on such systems it’s prudent to embrace a lifestyle of reduced demand. Being conscientious about the amount of water or energy you use day to day is nearly as important as the physical systems that provide you with those resources. This is not to suggest that you’d be living uncomfortably in an off-grid home. Little changes can add up quickly, such things as installing efficient appliances, designing your home to take advantage of passive solar energy, and any number of smaller thoughtful actions such as turning off all the lights as you leave a room will contribute to a comfortable, care-free and happy life in your off-grid home.

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Eco-Friendly Materials for Your Custom Home

sustainable, passive solar, energy efficient, custom home, custom home design

Building a custom home that is eco-friendly is becoming more and more commonplace now since more materials are being made available. Though many people are likely familiar with the benefits of traditional eco-friendly building materials and techniques such as adobe, solar panels or recycled tires, there are numerous emerging technologies that have either just been developed or have been known for decades but are just now finding footing in a wider market. While some of these materials can be more expensive than traditional building materials, many end up redeeming these price differences in what they eventually save you in cooling/heating, repairs, etc.

Elements such as these are so exciting because, whether they are creating new standards for efficiency or finding lower impact means to build, they are helping to continually improve the effect we have on the environment. (Even better, many of these materials do both for twice the benefit!) Let’s take a look at these two main ways in which we are striving to meet this goal.

Eco-Friendly from the Source

Many traditional building materials, while still highly reliable, may not come from the most environmentally friendly sources. Thankfully, much progress has been made in the area of building and construction materials that either come from more sustainable sources or are made from other recycled materials. Looking into these and other similar sources for materials while planning a custom home is one of the first steps you can take in building an eco-friendly home.

Wood – While wood is a staple in most building and construction projects, there are ways in which we can lessen impacts of deforestation and similar issues. When purchasing wood to be used in a project you want to consider the source. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an entity that monitors and certifies raw building material manufacturers to ensure that they adhere to sustainable forestry practices. Standards that they enforce include such practices as preserving the natural habitats from which the wood is harvested and prohibiting the use of hazardous pesticides in those areas. Sourcing materials from such certified and managed forests lessens the impact of unsustainable forestry tactics such as clear cutting an area or using harmful chemicals as pest management.

Other options when it comes to considering wood materials is to choose a type that is lower impact by nature. Many homes are utilizing bamboo more often these days, and not just because it is a beautiful option for any room. Bamboo grows much more quickly than other types of wood. It only takes bamboo three years to reach a mature state that is suitable for harvesting as opposed to the 50-100 years that other woods such as maple and oak need to mature. Bamboo’s natural durability makes it a wonderful option for flooring and has formed a large niche in that very market.

Cork is another great option for flooring. Being harvested from the bark of trees, cork eliminates the need to cut down the tree itself. And, since the cork bark regrows in just three years’ time, this source of materials is very much sustainable. As an added plus, cork is naturally hypoallergenic and anti-microbial.

Consider also sources of wood that doesn’t come directly from live trees. Reclaimed wood, such as wood salvaged from riverbeds or from old buildings, can be an aesthetically interesting choice as well as being environmentally friendly.

Sustainable, recycled, reclaimed wood floors
Reclaimed wood can provide endless options for unique floors and home accents.

We also have options that, while still incorporating wood for its natural useful properties, introduce elements that greatly reduce the amount of wood needed in an area. Wood-Plastic Composite is becoming a very popular decking material for numerous reasons. To begin, using a 50-50 mix of wood fibers and plastic not only reduces that amount of wood that would be required in building a deck, but both the wood and plastic often come from recycled sources. The next time you see those plastic bags you tossed into the recycle bin may just be when you walk out onto your new Wood-Plastic Composite deck.

In combining wood and plastic you get the best of both worlds, the durability of plastic and the pliable strength of wood. And, whereas wood decking may need to be replaced if not given the necessary attention throughout the years, Wood-Plastic Composite is rot and mold resistant and won’t need painting or staining to maintain its integrity.

So far we’ve looked at some options that collect wood from sustainable sources and others that combine wood with other materials to reduce the amount necessary. Still, there are further areas in which we can completely remove wood. Of course, wood has been the standard for framing in home building for centuries, but recycled steel is emerging as a highly reliable and eco-friendly option for home framing. In fact, recycled steel can also simplify the framing process in that the steel beams can be custom designed to fit each project. Aside from the convenience, recycled steel also boasts both the durability of steel that is desirable in high wind and earthquake prone areas and a great reduction in environmental impact.

One company reports that while it may take 40-50 trees to build a 2,000 square-foot home the material required to frame that same home out of recycled steel could be collected from no more than 6 scrapped cars. Using scrapped material not only reduces the energy required to make steel by 75% but also keeps that scrap from ending up in a landfill. With the dual impact of reducing both the number of trees being cut down and the amount of trash to be left in landfills recycled steel has a promising future as a sustainable building material.

Insulation from Sustainable Sources ­– Yet another area is which recycled materials are making an impact is in insulation. Fiberglass has been go-to in home insulation for many years, but it has some well-known drawbacks that can be circumvented with alternate materials. Cotton insulation is made from recycled cotton materials, such as denim, and, unlike traditional fiberglass insulation, it does not contain formaldehyde. Similarly, recycled newsprint is versatile as an insulation as it can be used in different forms. One simple form is as a blown insulation where the recycled, processed newsprint is professionally blown into the insulation space.

Sustainable insulation.
Newsprint insulation comes in many forms but is most commonly blown in.

There are other materials that, while not coming from a recycled source, are still eco-friendly. Hemp based insulation is made from fibers of easily grown hemp plants and has the added benefit of being naturally resistant to pests such as moths and beetles. This means that the insulation will not have to be imbued with pesticides, unlike some other insulation materials.

Beginning with materials that lessen your environmental impact is a great start to creating your eco-friendly home. To really reduce the effect your home has on the environment you will also want to consider materials that provide and maintain energy efficiency once you’ve settled in.

Energy Efficient Materials

Of course, many technologies exist these days that make a home energy efficient. Absolutely, these are wonderful options to reduce your environmental impact in your day-to-day life, but to get the most out of your home you want to begin by choosing building materials that will be efficient on their own and serve to amplify the effects of any technology you choose to introduce once the building is done.

Insulation – It will come as no surprise that choosing a highly efficient insulation is one of the easiest and best things you can do to make your home eco-friendly, heating and cooling account for about 50% of a home’s energy consumption. Above, we explored possible insulation materials that are environmentally friendly at their source, here we will look at a material in which the insulating property is its biggest asset (though it does contain materials that are from an eco-friendly source).

Plant-based Polyurethane Rigid Foam is an insulating foam that is manufactured from plants such as bamboo, hemp, and kelp. This rigid foam offers near endless advantages including high moisture and heat resistance, protection against mold and pests and an R-value (a metric used in rating insulating properties) that is higher than fiberglass.

Insulation can also be made very efficient by using different techniques of layering materials that maximize their insulating properties. Creating walls by pouring concrete between two pieces of insulating materials, a technique known as Insulating Concrete Forms, has been shown to reduce as much as 20% energy consumption in houses using this technique versus a traditional wood framed house. Conversely, in a technique called Structural Insulated Panels (SIP), a similar layering effect is used, but this time, concrete panels are on the outside and sandwiches foam insulation inside. Plywood or strand board can also be used as the outer material. In some estimates, this technique can yield as much as 50% in energy savings when compared to traditional building materials.

Windows – It’s well known that windows account for a great amount of heat gained and lost in a house. Of course, double paned windows have been a standard to combat this, but single paned windows have gained an ally in low-emissivity (low-E) windows. Low-E windows have a clear coating of metallic oxide that can reduce heat flow by up to half. This will help to keep the heat of summer out when it’s unwanted, but also keeps it cozy in winter while reducing your heating costs by 10 – 20 percent.

When it comes to building a home to match your eco-friendly lifestyle there are a lot of things to consider and a lot of options to explore. Thankfully, new techniques and materials are being developed all the time that allow for you to make the best choices for your home and location, those discussed here are just some of the most promising materials being worked with today. But, with a little forethought and planning, you can rest easy in knowing that the walls around you were built with the greatest of intentions and the smallest impact on the environment.

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