The amazing transformation of Charles and Cynthia Szoradi’s Wayne home is best summed up in the dramatic before-and-after pictures—some of which you see here. The well-matched couple (he’s an architect, she’s a real estate agent) purchased their two-bedroom, ’50s-era bungalow in 2005. Five years later, the house now has four bedrooms, with a new family room and modern eat-in kitchen, plus an outdoor living area.
But the Szoradis’ house is more than just another stylish and spacious Main Line renovation. It’s environmentally sustainable—powered by the sun, and loaded with state-of-the-art recycled and energy-efficient products and appliances.
From the start, Charles has focused his 15-year architectural practice on sustainable, green and salvaged buildings. He and his wife wanted to follow the same philosophy at home.
“My wife and I didn’t have the luxury of building a house from scratch,” says Charles. “We wanted to demonstrate that you could cost-effectively transform and expand an inefficient 1950s home into a high-performance, energy-saving residence while still maintaining great style and functionality.”
The couple succeeded—and then some. Total monthly utility bills are often under $60. And Charles found himself with an abundance of useful information he wanted to share. “We’d done so much research that we didn’t want to keep it to ourselves,” he says.
So he started GreenandSave.com, an increasingly popular, comprehensive online resource for those looking to make the most effective, eco-conscious decisions for their homes or offices.
“Measurement is the key to management,” says Charles of the process. “If you didn’t have any controls on the dashboard of your car, and at the end of the month, you got a bill that told you how much gas you’d used, how many miles you’d driven and your average speed, you’d be driving blind. Well, that’s how we are driving our houses. We don’t know the ongoing operating costs.”
That’s going to change. Within two years, a new generation of “smart meters” will be hitting the market. They’ll enable homeowners to monitor their utility costs minute by minute. So when you turn the lights off before leaving the room, you’ll literally be able to see what you’re saving.
“These are all great incentives to measure and manage the operation of our homes and offices,” says Charles. “But while you wait for these smart meters, just make sure you turn off the lights when you leave the room.”
While the Szoradis invested major money in their Wayne remodel, others can make smaller, less costly changes. Charles breaks down those changes in a user-friendly table on his website.
“People want to know how much time it takes to pay back that investment,” he says. “Now, people can see the actual payback in years. People assume that ‘eco’ equals ‘expensive,’ and that the payback is a decade away. We found that most come in the first few years.”
Among the simple steps homeowners can take is updating old showerheads with pressure-regulated, high-efficiency or high-performance versions. They require about 60 percent less water than their conventional counterparts, reducing flow from 2.5 gallons per minute to 1.6 GPM.
Previous “low-flow” showerheads delivered a weak stream of water—a real turn-off for many consumers. Not so with the latest versions, which run between $40 and $60. For a household of four, the savings can amount to hundreds of dollars—and thousands of gallons—annually.
“Over time, they’ll save more money than $4,000 in solar panels before federal and state incentives,” says Charles. “If you spend $180 replacing three showerheads, you save $200 annually, with a return on investment of 111 percent. Show me that sort of ROI in the stock market.”
It doesn’t make much sense to heat or air condition an empty house. To save money and keep energy bills down, Charles suggests investing in an Energy Star-qualified, programmable thermostat. During winter, set the temperature to 70 degrees or below. Lower it to 62 degrees overnight or when you’re not in the house.
In summer, raise it to 78 degrees or higher. While you’re at work, set it to at least 85 degrees—82 overnight. Cost of a new thermostat is about $115, with an annual savings of $180. That’s a 156.5 percent ROI.
Phantom power is a green buzzword everyone should know. It refers to the energy used by electronics and appliances that are plugged in but not turned on. Household electronics account for about 4-5 percent of a home’s energy costs. Many appliances consume 25 percent of their power when they’re in sleep mode.
Investing in a “smart” power strip will keep money in your pocket. It automatically senses the sleep mode, eliminating phantom loss and shutting off any electronics plugged into the strip. Power strips cost about $20, while saving $24 annually—an ROI of 120 percent.
To save even more money, look into a master energy management system that allows you to shut down all nonessential power sources with a single flick of a switch before you leave the house. They’re becoming more popular and affordable, and the financial benefits can come in a couple of years, depending on your lifestyle and setup.
A great first step in making your house more energy efficient is to schedule an in-home evaluation. That way, an energy expert or eco-consultant can determine where efficiency measures can be put to best use.
Such energy audits are becoming more common with homeowners. The initial fee is a few hundred dollars, but the long-term savings can reach the thousands. After receiving a detailed report on multiple areas of the home, the client is counseled on what steps to take for a more energy-efficient home.
Hopefully, energy-conscious homes will be the norm at some point. For now, though, Charles is confident that any homeowner can put at least a few of his eco-friendly, money-saving principles into practice.
The overall goal, of course, is to reduce our carbon footprint, but Charles is no dummy. He knows that the prospect of saving money is what makes his message so attractive to so many. And rest assured, he’ll continue to spread the word as long as people are paying attention.
So far, so good. The Devon-based GreenandSave.com was approved last year as one of just three “green-trusted” feed content providers for Google News, which reaches millions worldwide. Locally, Charles works as a consultant for PECO, sitting on panels and speaking about
“We’re a grassroots company that’s making energy conservation relevant for people,” he says. “Our mission is to save you money while saving the planet.”
What: Eco Academy, a new training program that certifies people to conduct home energy-efficiency checkups.
Who: Charles Szoradi, chief instructor of Eco Academy and founder of GreenandSave.com.
Where: Classes are held every several weeks in the Philadelphia area. Visit GreenandSave.com for the schedule.
Cost: $995 for the two-day course; $795 one-day course for professionals like plumbers and home inspectors. Early-bird discounts available.