At the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show last week in Chicago, manufacturers touted their dual-flush toilets, ultra low-flow showerheads, and super energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, and light fixtures. During her keynote speech, former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman told an enthusiastic crowd that green products and design are not only good for the environment, but also are good for their businesses and for consumers’ pocketbooks. And kitchen and bath designers conversed openly about encouraging their clients to incorporate sustainability into their projects.
But I suspect few attendees could point to major changes they’ve made in their own lives.
When asked about how she embraces sustainability, Todd Whitman noted she and her husband drive hybrids, own Energy Star-rated appliances, and turn off the water when brushing their teeth. Still, the former Republican governor of New Jersey did not say she does much more than that.
I made my home much more energy efficient two years ago when I added on to it and renovated the existing space. For example, I replaced all the existing single-glazed windows with low-E, argon-filled units, upgraded to a dual-zone Energy Star-rated HVAC system, and stuffed more insulation into existing walls and ceilings as well as the new space. I purchased an Energy Star-rated refrigerator and dishwasher (I already owned a front-loading washer), laid linoleum flooring in the kitchen, installed fluorescent fixtures in many rooms, and painted the walls with low- or no-VOC paints.
But I stopped there. Why? Like many homeowners, I was stymied by the higher costs of a number of green products. The remodel already exceeded my original budget, so I couldn’t afford to take every green step, such as installing radiant heat flooring, photovoltaic shingles, a solar hot water heater, bamboo flooring, formaldehyde-free cabinets, or drought-resistant landscaping–all things I considered.
We all have heard the economic value of these products. Todd Whitman noted that Americans could slash their utility bills if they purchase Energy Star-rated products (a super-efficient refrigerator could save a family $45 to $65 annually, for example). She also was right when she told the K/BIS audience that if every American household replaced just one fitting or fixture with a Water Sense-rated product, the country could save billions of gallons of water annually.
Nevertheless, the utility and water savings have not been enough to spur hoards of homeowners to action. Again, cost is most likely to blame. The price of a horizontal-axis washer still is about $1,000, and it costs several thousand dollars more to buy a hybrid car, making these types of products out of reach for many men and women.
Spoken like a true politician, Todd Whitman concluded her speech by saying that using less water and energy are the right things to do for our children and grandchildren. But those also are the right things for our generation, too. Still, it will most likely take local, state, and federal mandates–and severe droughts and $5-per-gallon gasoline prices–to negate the higher costs of green features.