Everything seems to be “going green” these days – from cars, to companies, to coffee. However, sometimes it can be hard to tell what that really means, especially when it comes to your current or future home.
Building green means incorporating environmental considerations and resource efficiency into every step of the home building and land development process to minimize environmental impact. During the design, construction, and operation of a home, energy and water efficiency, lot development, resource efficient building design and materials, indoor environmental quality and homeowner maintenance should all be considered. Although we cannot entirely avoid affecting the environment when a house is built, green building can work toward minimizing that environmental impact.
The concept of green building isn’t new-our great-grandparents built climate-appropriate homes using locally available materials. Today’s green homes incorporate not only climatic considerations, but are resource and energy efficient, safer for occupants, and often less expensive to maintain.
What goes into a green home? In addition to the items mentioned above, other key components of a green home include:
Many of the energy-efficient qualities of a green home are easy to spot. Appliances, windows, and water heating systems will likely have ENERGY STAR ratings. The home should also include efficient lighting fixtures and bulbs. Renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic electric and water heating systems, further decrease the overall energy consumption within the home.
Fixtures and appliances such as low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets, and ENERGY STAR dishwashers and washing machines all conserve water. Programmed, low-volume irrigation systems, rainwater collection systems, wastewater treatment systems, and hot water re-circulation systems also save water.
These decisions – from home size, to orientation on the lot, to floor plan layout – are made in the design of your home and development of the lot. The house orientation and design should take advantage of natural daylight to reduce lighting needs, and should use strategies to reduce heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter. The home should contain renewable materials, including rapidly renewable wood species such as bamboo, and recycled-content materials in carpets, tiles, and concrete formulations.
The heating, air conditioning and ventilation system (HVAC) must be appropriately sized for an efficient and properly ventilated home. Fans in the kitchen and bathrooms should cycle fresh air inside, and release stale air. Low-VOC paints and finishes and wallpapers should be used as well.
In a green home, care should be taken to preserve trees and other vegetation native to the area. Landscaping should contain plants that are appropriate for the climate, and grouped according to water needs. Driveways and other impervious surfaces should be reduced as much as possible, and may be composed of gravel, permeable block pavers, grids or other permeable systems.
Up front, the homebuilder must have a clear understanding of the homeowner’s desires and expectations. These are many “shades of green”, and the customer’s budget will impact how green his or her home is going to be. There are methods and materials that will fit different financial plans. Simple changes to the type of light bulbs could be an energy-saving accomplishment. There are numerous Internet resources available, including www.nahbgreen.org, that offer a wealth of information, so be sure that you do your research before making any decisions.