Last week I journeyed north to visit Seacoast Energy Alternatives in Dover, NH.  SEA is a retail store that offers information and products geared to conserve energy, save money and improve environmental impact.

SEA is part of USA Solar Store, a cooperative group of independently owned and operated retail stores that started in Vermont and is quickly expanding across the country.  As Pamela Bingham, one of the co-owners described, being part of the cooperative gives them the benefits of:

  • the group’s extensive product research and testing
  • specialized expertise of other members
  • the ability to offer reduced prices for their products

SEA has a wonderful range of products including appliances, composters, plumbing fixtures, lamps and photovoltaic systems.  Of all their products, Pamela and her co-owner Jack Bingham love to talk about their solar water heating systems.  As described by Dave Bonta in New Green Home Solutions, “Solar hot water systems are dependable, reasonably priced, and attractive.  Clean trouble-free solar domestic hot water will let you shrink your energy consumption and give you freedom from fossil fuel-based heating sources.”  

pamela and marathon

How does it work?  A solar water heating system consists of solar collectors (roof or ground-mounted), pumps to circulate the hot water, a storage tank and a back-up heating system.  Solar water heaters need super-insulated storage tanks, so it is usually best to replace an existing water heater.  The Marathon, on display at SEA and pictured above, is super-insulated and is guaranteed for life.

At SEA, you can see the two basic styles of solar hot water collectors that make sense for our climate, flat plate and evacuated tube solar collectors.  Their costs are similar, and the styles vary some in their use and applications.

flat panel

The new Velux flat plate collector modelled to be compatible with their skylight products, and beyond, installed vertically, a flat panel collector.

evac tubes

 An evacuated tube collector – also check out the composting toilet at left!

For any solar water heating option, proper sizing and installation are critical for maximum performance.  A solar water heating system requires good southern exposure.  If you don’t have that, you might want to consider another energy-saving option, a tankless water heater.

What are the costs and expected payback?  Did you know that the average household spends 30% of their heating dollar on making hot water?  The average system offered at SEA (for a family of 2-3), included the insulated water tank, costs approximately $10,000 and is guarantted for 5-10 years, but expected to perform for 20+ .  With available federal tax credits (30% until 2016), the cost is reduced to $7,000.  The solar water heating system should heat nearly all your domestic water supply in the summer and 40%-50% in the winter.  Most households currently heating their water with oil will see a complete payback of the initial cost within 5 to 6 years.  A typical solar hot water system will last much longer (40+ years) than a conventional hot water heater (10-12 years).

If you are interested in knowing more, check out or visit – Jack and Pamela enjoy giving tours of thier shop and products. 

Additionally, Jack will be joining us for the August meeting of the Seacost Green Building Group to discuss solar water heating systems.  We’ll be meeting on Tuesday August 11th, from 7-9PM upstairs at the Grog in Newburyport.  All are welcome! 

Feel free to contact me to talk about these and other great product options for your home or business or the Seacoast Green Building Group.


Do green upgrades translate to increased home value?  The answer is sometimes.  It seems so obvious that improvements to your home that will increase energy efficiency (lower operating costs) or that use more healthful products (non-VOC, non-formaldehyde) would translate to a higher property value.  From the perspectives of the traditional lender, appraisor and realtor, this isn’t the case.

I first became aware of this while chatting with a real estate appraiser friend of mine.  I asked her how much value is placed on a home labeled as “Energy Star”.  Energy Star for Homes, one of a growing number of building certification programs, sets readily achievable benchmarks for sustainability.  This is primarily based on insulation and mechanical systems efficiency.  The program has become a solid baseline for quality construction and one that clearly benefits homeowners in terms of comfort and cost.  My appraiser friend had never heard of Energy Star for Homes.

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve learned that there are appraisers who are knowledgeable in green construction and use this knowledge in their appraisals.  Scott Hardin, of The Appraisal Guy based in Redding, Mass, is well-versed in construction technology and is considered a ‘green’ appraiser.  In some states, there is a certification for green appraisers – Scott is hoping to be the first in New England.

On the lending side, there are lenders who offer ‘green loans’ for a certified new home or for energy upgrades to an existing home.  The value of these loans is based on not only the increased anticipated value of the home, but also the borrower’s ability to pay more for the loan due to their lower utility costs.  Makes sense!  These forward-thinking lending options require that assessors are aware of added value in these ‘green’ improvements.  For information on these loans, Jeff Cole at is a great resoures.  Wells Fargo and other lenders are also creating green loan programs.

Similar smart moves are happening on the realty side.  Savvy and conscious realtors are learning about green construction and its value in the tight market.  Paulette Zuena at Remax in Andover, Mass. ( has become a great community resource on green building.  Another realtor, Boston Green Realty ( located in Boston and Haverhill, specializes in green listings and in outlining their benefits to potential buyers.  In addition, Boston Green Realty will work with buyers or sellers to add planned energy improvements into the purchase price of the home, and with the lenders to verify the added value of those improvements.

It’s exciting to see that financing and real estate are catching up with the value of green construction, making it more feasible to improve our homes one house, or one loan, at a time.

For more information on making green improvements to your home or in planning a new green project, contact Juli at GreenBridge Architects.


October 14, 2008

Dreading this year’s oil bills, my husband and I took the plunge and did what I’m always suggesting to my clients – we had insulation installed in our attic and parts of our basement.  We have a 1796 house that leaks ‘like a sieve’ and decided to take a stab at improving it.  The roof is the most important place to start as most heat-loss and gain happens there.

Our attic…..before.  Nothing in the rafter spaces and old batt insulation and loose cellulose at the attic floor.  We wanted to use soy-based insulation, which provides a great ‘R value’, has the ability to move into the many gaps in our old house, and is primarily made with renewable materials, see to learn more.

We talked to our friends at The Green Cocoon, and they estimate that with this additional insulation, the investment should pay for itself in just two years.

Jim Materkowski from the GreenCocoon installed soy spray foam insulation – he was at the house for about a day.  The foam sprays on like shaving cream, expands and hardens.

The ‘finished’ product!  The attic is too low to ever use as a finished space, so we asked that Jim give us the thickest installation possible.  If we were going to add drywall to the rafters, he’d have to cut back the insulation for a smooth finish.  Contact for more information.