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The 4 Basic Elements to Building a Green Home
Green building is more than the actual construction of your home, though that is a big part of the process. It is a beginning to end process which begins with the selection of your land, the design of your dream home, the materials and practices used during construction and finally, how you operate and maintain your dream home once it is completed. You can incorporate as many or as few of these elements into your home’s design as you choose.
You decide how “Green” you want to be.
Let’s look at the four basic elements in Green Building:
1. Increasing energy efficiency
2. Materials selected for building your home
3. Increasing the efficiency of water usage both in and outside of your home
4. Improving air quality, which improves the health and productivity of your family
There are many parts to each element. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail
1. Increasing Energy Efficiency
- Advanced Framing – Use a framing contractor who can apply advanced framing technique during the construction of your home. This creates a structurally sound home with improved energy efficiency, and lowers material and labor costs. This technique replaces lumber with insulation material and maximizes the wall that is insulated, improving the R-value of the home. On average, advanced framing uses 30% less lumber, which reduces the building costs and saves 2% to 4% of the total energy use.
- Hot Water Heater – Water heating can account for 14% to 25% of the energy consumed in your home. To increase the efficiency of your hot water heater, locate it near the highest point of usage. This is typically near the shower followed closely by the clothes washer.
- Pipes – Insulate the hot and cold water pipes within 3 feet of the hot water heater. This reduces standby heat loss. Your hot water heater is continuously heating the piping and water in it, even when no water is being used.
- Household Appliances – A green built home features appliances that are as energy efficient as possible. The U. S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have developed a program called Energy Star which labels those appliances meeting strict energy efficient criteria. The typical household spends $1,900 a year on energy bills. As you can see in the diagram above, a great deal of that energy is consumed by the appliances in your home.
- ENERGY STAR qualified appliances incorporate advanced technologies that use 10-50% less energy and water than standard models. Just look for the Energy Star label. The Federal Trade Commission requires that refrigerators, freezers, water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers and window air conditioners be labeled with an Energy Guide Label.
- The label for a hot water heater is shown here. This hot water heater uses 268 therms per year of energy and is being compared to other similar models which use anywhere from 238 to 273 therms per year. This model’s estimated yearly operating cost is $162.When comparing different appliance brands for your new home, be sure to look at their estimated energy consumption. This will impact the operating cost of your home for years to come.
- Air Sealing – This is advanced caulking which is a part of the airtight drywall approach (ADA). Specifically, caulk or gasket drywall is installed on exterior walls at the top and bottom plates, windows and door frames; on interior walls at the intersections with exterior ceilings; and at electrical, plumbing or mechanical penetrations in the drywall. This approach minimizes heat loss in your home. Work with your drywall contractor to see if he/she uses this method.
- Radiant Barrier – Reflect heat away from your home by installing a radiant barrier (a sheet of aluminum foil with paper backing) on the underside of your roof. This significantly lowers your cooling costs by reducing your heat gains through your ceiling by 95%.
- Insulation – Add insulation to your attic to keep the heat in your house. There are some environmentally friendly insulation products made from recycled blue jeans, soybeans, cotton or newspapers.
- Solar Power – If the sun shines on your home for most of the day in the winter, you have the potential for solar power to reduce your energy costs. A good solar design allows the winter sun to reach a thermal mass like a tile floor which holds heat and radiates it into your home for a period of time.
- Lighting – Install high-efficiency lighting systems with advanced lighting controls. This allows you to only use the light when you need it. Replace traditional incandescent lights with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs will use 75% less electricity and last up to 10 times longer. When designing your home or remodeling project, introduce natural daylight into as many places as possible.
- Thermostat – Use a programmable thermostat to provide you and your family the comfort you want day and night while minimizing heating use when you don’t need it.
- Ducts – Seal your ducts with mastic and insulate them to R-11. This minimizes the heat loss from your home.
- Paints – You can mix non-toxic ceramic powder into your interior paint to insulate your walls and reduce the amount of heat passing through to the outside. These ceramic particles create a radiant barrier that reflects the heat back into the room.
- Redirect The Heat – If you have a ceiling fan, redirect the heat back into your room by reversing the direction of the blades to counterclockwise. This brings the heat back down into your room.
2. Materials Selected for Building Your Home
- Plastic Lumber – This product can be used for non-structural applications such as fences, benches, decks, retaining walls, and picnic tables. It is weather and insect resistant, and will not crack, splinter or chip. It does not need painting and will not leach chemicals into the ground or surface water. By doing this, you minimize the amount of lumber used in your home, reduce your ongoing maintenance costs, and you won’t harm your local habitat.
The US is home to 4.5% of the population but is responsible for over 15% of the world’s wood consumption.
- Engineered Wood – This combines the raw materials of wood veneer and fiber with adhesives to produce such laminated lumber as wood veneers, I-beams and roof and floor trusses. The manufacturing process uses fast growing, small diameter trees, allowing more than 80% of the log to be used in the end product. This produces a product which is very consistent and stable while decreasing the impact on a natural resource.
- Fiber Cement Siding – This is a composite of cement and wood fiber reclaimed from wood processing waste or small diameter, fast growing trees. It produces a siding which is durable and low maintenance. Many fiber-cement composites offer a 50-year warranty, which increases the value of your home and decreases the maintenance costs.
- Brick -The process of extracting clay for brick results in limited wasted material. Brick has a limitless lifespan and can be recycled or salvaged after demolition.
- Recycling – The efficient use of materials when building Green comes in two forms. First, recycle construction waste and use reclaimed building materials during construction when appropriate. Once your home is finished, practice responsible recycling of the materials you use every day.
- Design – When working with your architect or designer, use standard dimensions, engineered wood and stacked floor plans to reduce the overall volume of lumber used as well as the volume of waste.
3. Increasing the Efficiency of Water Usage Both In and Outside of Your Home
- Porous Paving Schemes – Watertight, or “impervious,” surfaces suchas paved driveways, walkways and patios don’t allow storm water runoff to infiltrate into the ground’s aquatic systems. Using uncompacted gravel, crushed stone and open or porous paving blocks for walkways and other light traffic areas minimizes the number of impervious surfaces on your property, allowing storm water runoff.
- Rainwater Collection – Rainwater collected from your roof is a free source of landscape irrigation water. This collection system consists of a suitable roof and guttering system, a storage tank and a simple filtration unit.
- Low Impact Development (LID) – This innovative approach mimics your land’s original method of water run-off instead of disposing and treating storm water in large, costly, end-of-pipe facilities. This can come in the form of open spaces, vegetated rooftops, reduced street widths and curbs, pervious parking lots and sidewalks, medians and other buffer zones using more vegetation.
- Plumbing – Design your home to use recycled water for toilet flushing. Use ultra low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads.
Some older toilets use 3-7 gallons per flush while an ultra low-flow toilet uses less than 1.6 gallons per flush.
A family of 4, each showering for 5 minutes per day will use 700 gallons of water per week – a 3 year drinking supply for 1 person in the US. Using a high performance shower head uses 1 – 1.5 gallons of water per minute – up to 60% less than a traditional shower head.
- In Your Yard – Mulch exposed soils in your garden beds and improve that soil with compost to a depth of 8-13 inches to increase the ability to hold water. Select plants that have low water and pesticide needs. Planting trees not only beautifies your yard, but will also increase the value of your home while decreasing your impact on the environment. A single mature tree can provide nearly $300 in energy and resource values in terms of cooling, erosion and pollution control. Plus they reduce your “carbon foot print.”
Putting the right plants in the right place and developing quality, healthy soil means less watering in the summer, less need for chemicals and less waste to worry about.
- Chemicals – Avoid outdoor chemicals and fix oil and other fluid leaks to prevent contamination of the water runoff.
According to the NY State Attorney General’s office, 95% of pesticides used on residential lawns are considered possible carcinogens by the EPA.
- Hot water – Use recirculating systems for centralized hot water distribution or utilize “on demand” systems vs. traditional hot water tanks.
4. Improving Air Quality, Which Improves the Health and Productivity of Your Family
The EPA ranks indoor pollution among the top 5 environmental risks. Unhealthy air is found in up to 30% of new and renovated buildings. The electricity generated by fossil fuels for a single home puts more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than 2 average cars.
- Carpet – Using a low pile or less allergen attracting carpet and pad greatly improves air quality. Wool or PET carpet (made from recycled pop bottles) are good choices. In addition, at installation, have the carpet tacked down, not glued, to reduce pollutants. Many Green Built designs minimize the use of carpeted surfaces, replacing them with hard surfaces which don’t have these pollutants and are easier to keep free of dust, mold and mildew.
- Paints – Use low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds, such as formaldehyde) paints.
- Ventilation – While you want to seal your home to prevent heat loss, this creates a need for mechanical ventilation. Ventilation can be provided by quiet fans with automatic controls or by heat recovery ventilators. Talk to your HVAC contractor for the best system for your home’s design.
- Construction materials – To prevent microbial contamination, select materials that are resistant to microbial growth.
- Drainage – Provide effective drainage from the roof and surrounding landscape, as well as allow proper drainage of air conditioning coils.
- Window treatments – Avoid synthetic window coverings or those that cannot be cleaned easily.
Even though there is a lot to think about when using Green Building techniques and principles, it is manageable and doable. We here at UBuildIt can help you work with your architect or designer, subcontractors and suppliers to help you build or remodel your dream home while minimizing your impact on the environment. Taking the time to plan and build or remodel your dream home using UBuildIt and Green Building will positively impact you and generations to come.
About the Author
Chuck Warrender, an experienced custom builder, opened UBuildIt in 1988 to show people how to become Owner-builders and save money or gain equity on their own custom home building and remodel projects. Chuck designed the UBuildIt System for Owner-builders who want to build more home for their money by directing their own construction projects. UBuildIt’s Construction Consultants guide Owner-builders every step of the way and provide a proven system, professional advice and trusted resources. UBuildIt now has over 100 franchises across the US. Learn more about Chuck and how to build or remodel your own custom home at UBuildIt.com
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