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Construction Tips


Products Offering High Style at Low Cost

It’s no secret that Americans are obsessed with value and low prices and love getting a deal. “The truth is, few of us can resist a sale,” writes branding expert Martin Lindstrom in his book, Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Broadway Books). “Huge markdowns, or even the anticipation of sales, spark a primal urge in consumers’ brains.”

The Great Recession has kicked this craving into overdrive. As a result, we are fixated on low price even more than usual. “Thanks to the recession, we have become, psychologically, a society of bargain-hunters, even bargain-expecters,” Lindstrom writes.

Of course, paying a low price or getting a deal is better when consumers think they are getting quality goods or something new and different. As Lindstrom says, we ascribe greater value to things we perceive to be in some way special. In other words, consumers are more likely to get excited if they walk into a high-end design showroom and get a cool fixture for cheap than if they walk into a big box store and paid a similar price for a brand they don’t know that well.

Which brings us to your homes. We know you’re always looking for products to meet your budget, but your real goal should be to find products that also balance low-cost and good looks—those that add a measure of coo, visual interest, personality, and creativity. Budget products are good, but affordable choices that look cool and different are even better.

Of course, price should not be the only criteria for choosing products. You also need to factor in perceived value (for example, glass tiles have a higher perceived value than ceramic tile, and it also looks cooler), architectural impact, and uniqueness.

It helps to approach product acquisition with an open mind: be creative, think outside the box, and visit websites or stores that you wouldn’t normally think to visit.

To help you get your creative juices flowing, here are 10 more low-cost products offering great visual appeal.


Eco-Friendly Ways to Build a House

Improvements in modern home-building methods are helping to reduce the impact humans have on the environment. Eco-friendly building techniques include using materials that take less energy or require fewer resources to produce; designing homes to be more energy-efficient; and incorporating alternative energy and waste water management into home designs.

Green Building Materials

Recycled lumber can be used for studs. Insulation made of recycled jean material may be used for walls. Many of the plastic wood products are made from recycled material. Materials that last a lifetime reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills — and save resources that would otherwise be used to replace them. These products include cement board siding, stone and brick, and stand and seam metal roofing. It is also important to use materials that don’t release toxins (labeled LOW-VOC for paints and formaldehyde-free for particleboard).

Energy-Efficient Design

One of the most important features of eco-friendly houses is that they are designed for energy efficiency. Of course, it is essential to use high-efficiency appliances, heating and cooling equipment and water heaters. But green design can also include windows placed to allow ventilation throughout the house, south-facing windows that take advantage of the sun’s warmth, and shade trees and awnings for summer (see References 1 and 2). Skylights in interior rooms reduce electricity use during the day.

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy sources are becoming more common in private homes. Some systems generate electricity directly, like photovoltaic (PV or solar electric) and wind power systems. Other systems, such as geothermal and solar hot water, use the sun to heat or pre-heat water for domestic use or for space heating and cooling. Usually, the PV and solar hot water systems can be mounted on a roof, while wind systems have land requirements.

Water Management

Managing water is an often overlooked component in an eco-friendly house project. It is important to reduce rainwater runoff, which can carry too many nutrients to nearby watersheds. Minimize impervious surfaces and use rain barrels to catch water running off the roof. Water can then be directed to gardens and lawns. Gray-water systems recycle water from sinks and showers for use in gardens. Installing low-flow toilets conserves water and reduces waste, while composting toilets go a step further by not using water at all.


Obama bypasses Congress again on climate change

President Obama, who said last month that divisions in Congress are “too deep” to tackle climate change, bypassed Capitol Hill again this week with another effort to reduce climate-warming emissions.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Thursday, accompanied by officials from Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden, a joint effort to curb the short-lived emissions of pollutants including soot (also called black carbon), methane and hydrofluorocarbons that account for 30% to 40% of global warming. The United States plans to contribute $12 million and Canada $3 million over two years to begin the project, which will be run by the United Nations Environment Program.

“One of the benefits of focusing on pollutants that are short-lived is, if we can reduce them significantly, we will have a noticeable effect on our climate in relatively short order,” Clinton said at the State Department announcement. Scientists estimate that cutting these emissions can help prevent millions of deaths from pollution and lower global temperatures 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Clinton said it’s still important to reduce the primary culprit of climate change: carbon dioxide emissions, which remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been trying to address for decades with little success. Yet she said action is needed on short-lived pollutants that can also cause extensive damage.

“Millions die annually from constantly breathing in black carbon soot that comes from cookstoves in their own homes, from diesel cars and trucks on their roads, from the open burning of agricultural waste in their fields,” Clinton said. “Furthermore, methane – a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – can also be an abundant source of energy if we capture it instead of just venting it into the air or flaring it.”

In a recent study in Science, an international team of 24 scientists led by NASA climate modeler Drew Shindell identified 14 methane and black carbon control measures that include installing filters on diesel engines and capturing methane from oil and gas wells.

John Podesta, chairman of the board of the Center for American Progress, welcomed Clinton’s initiative but said it’s not the first time the Obama administration has tried to reduce these pollutants. In a review article, he said a handful of countries have blocked in the last few years an effort by the U.S., Mexico and Canada to reduce the emissions of hydrofluorocarbons.

In the announcement, Clinton said the Obama administration is taking other steps, too, to address climate change. She cited its efforts to double the fuel economy of cars and trucks by 2025, boost the energy efficiency of commercial buildings and home appliances, generate more power from renewable sources and put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Last month, in his State of the Union address, Obama mentioned “climate change” only once — to say that divisions were too deep ” right now” in Congress to deal with the issue. The House of Representatives passed a broad plan, which he supported, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 but the effort died in the Senate.

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