Tips for Building “Green”
Tips for Building “Green”
GREEN -- how can such a simple word be so confusing? Perhaps because there are many “shades of green,” and many ways to incorporate “green” into the home building process. With the following tips, we hope to guide you to the “shade of green” that is right for you. There are also a number of green building programs, requiring specific criteria in the home building process. Some of these programs include LEED, EarthCraft, and NAHB Green Home Building Guidelines. Ask your builder for more information on these or other green building initiatives.
The majority of green building strategies occur in the first stages of the planning process. These strategies include: site orientation (location of house on the building site), design, and building material selection. Secondly, interior selections (including lighting, appliances and plumbing fixtures) offer options for “going green.”
WITH A PLETHORA OF PRODUCTS CLAIMING TO BE “GREEN”, BE AWARE THAT MANY HAVE NOT BEEN PROVEN AS ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE. CHOOSE WISELY BY RESEARCHING THE PRODUCTS YOU CHOOSE TO ADD TO YOUR NEW HOME TO ENSURE THAT THEY MEET YOUR NEEDS AND YOUR DESIRE TO OUTFIT YOUR HOME WITH ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS PRODUCTS AND MATERIALS.
This is the first important step. Survey your site and look for the best location for your home. Take into account location of sun rise and set, annual sun angles, existing vegetation (deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs), prevailing winds, contours, area noise and annual rain fall.
Orientation: Orient your home to minimize summer afternoon solar heat gain and allow for some winter solar heat gain. The long sides of the home should face south or north. The shorter sides should face east or west. If this suggested orientation is not possible, then the use of natural barriers (trees, hills) should be taken advantage of where possible. A sun angle calculator is available through Ball State University at: www.sbse.org/resources/sac/index.htm. Determining the sun angles at your site enables you to better position your house for less summer solar heat gain and more winter solar heat gain.
Orient your home to take advantage of prevailing breezes during spring, summer and fall. Fresh outdoor air circulating through your home reduces the use of mechanical systems (HVAC). Create a “chimney effect” with high and low operable windows, having cool air entering at the lower level and warmer air exiting the upper level. Research the climate data for your area, call the local airport for information, or refer to the NOAA website (WWW.NOAA.GOV).
One of the easiest ways to make your home more “green” is to purchase and use energy-efficient appliances. All the modern gadgets and technology that make our lives easier are also large consumers of electricity and they cost more money in the long run. Energy efficient choices can save families about a third on their energy bill with similar reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re purchasing an efficient appliance is to choose one with the EnergyStar label. Consider both purchase price and estimated energy use when deciding which brand and model to buy. Every appliance really has two price tags – the cost to purchase, and the cost of utilities to operate it over many years. In many cases you may actually save money by buying the more expensive, more energy-efficient model.
When choosing between various models, use the Energy Guide label to help you make a decision. This yellow and black label is required by the FTC to be attached to all new appliances (except kitchen ranges, microwave ovens and clothes dryers). It states the estimated annual energy consumption of the appliance. This helps you compare the efficiency or annual energy use of competing brands and similar models.
No matter what type mechanical system you use, choose the highest efficiency rated system possible. SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is a rating system for Unitary Air-Conditioning and Air-Source Heat Pump Equipment . The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit.
Reduce volume spaces in the home to reduce amount of area to be conditioned. Use ceiling fans to circulate conditioned air. Moving air across your body has a cooling effect, even though the air is not cool. Install a programmable thermostat to reduce the demand on the mechanical system. Consider a geothermal heating/cooling system, which uses the earth’s constant underground temperature and then warms or cools it, using less energy to reach comfortable temperatures.
You may also want to consider using alternate sources of energy for heating or power needs. Solar panels can provide hot water, produce electricity and possibly keep you off the power grid. Wind power can also be used to create electrical power for your home. Wind turbines can be used if your site is suitable to sustain the amount of wind needed.
When it comes to plumbing, saving water is the name of the game. With water shortages already affecting many
areas of the country and predicted to increase in the future, the way we use and conserve water resources is a huge priority. Thousands of gallons of water can be saved every year by making a few small changes in our daily habits and by purchasing and installing the latest water-saving appliances and fixtures.
Tankless hot water systems: Tanked water heaters use a considerable amount of energy because they have to keep the tank of water hot all day, whether you need it or not. Tankless water heaters heat the water on demand as you use it, and require far less energy than a tanked water heater. Tankless water heaters are available in electric and gas models. If you decide to stick with a tanked water heater, look for the most energy-efficient model you can find or consider a solar hot water heater.
Low-flow showerheads and faucets: When it comes to getting clean, a shower is a more water-efficient option than a bath in most cases (the exception: showers with multiple shower heads and body sprays often use more water than filling an 80 gallon bath. While luxurious, they are not ‘green.’) A standard showerhead averages 4.5 gallons per minute. Low-flow showerheads reduce water consumption to 2.5 gallons per minute or less. Manufacturers have found ways to reduce water use without sacrificing water pressure, so you won’t even notice the difference until you see your water bill, which could be up to $145 less per year.
Steam showers: If you want to take your bathroom water conservation one step further and add a spa-like element to the bath, consider installing a steam shower. A 20 minute steam bath uses less than half a gallon of water while relaxing muscles, opening pores, and increasing circulation. A quick rinse at the end finishes the process and uses far less water than taking an extra-long shower.
Dual flush/low flush toilets: New and improved high-efficiency toilets use less than 1.3 gallons per flush—that’s at least 60 percent less than their older, less efficient counterparts. Compared to a 3.5 gallons per flush toilet, a WaterSense labeled toilet could save a family of four more than $90 annually on their water bill, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilet. For even more efficiency consider a dual-flush toilet, which has two flush options – one for liquid waste and one for solids. The liquid waste flush on most models uses less than a gallon, while the solid waste flush is still under 1.3 gallons. A dual-flush toilet used properly will save even more money than a single-flush high-efficiency model.
Choosing lighting for your new home can be a complicated process. There are many factors to consider beyond aesthetics and functionality. With 90% of the energy used by a standard light bulb given off as heat, your air conditioning system is forced to work harder to cool the air. Choosing lighting options that will be energy efficient is beneficial to the environment and your budget. Sustainable lighting options don’t have to be boring or unattractive. As the popularity of sustainability and eco-consciousness grows, aesthetically pleasing options become more available as well.
Here are a few ideas to improve the energy efficiency of the lighting in your new home:
- For ceiling and wall-mounted fixtures that will be on for two or more hours each day (kitchens, hallways, home offices, etc.), install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s). These bulbs emit less heat and can last up to 10 times longer than an incandescent light bulb.
- If recessed lights are installed in a ceiling with an unconditioned space above it (such as an attic), use only Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved fixtures that are airtight, are Insulation Contact (IC) rated, and meet ASTM E283 requirements.
- To limit the amount of unconditioned air that seeps into your new home, seal light fixtures to the drywall using caulk.
- Choose fluorescent, high-intensity discharge or low-pressure sodium fixtures for exterior lighting, unless incandescent lights are automatically controlled by motion sensors or timers and will be used for just a few minutes each day.
- Use motion detectors, photo sensors and timers in less frequently used areas, such as closets and the exterior of your home. In addition, consider installing dimmer switches on lighting in the busier areas of a home. Keeping the lights dimmed to 80% or less of their full power reduces energy consumption by half and increases the life of the bulbs as well.
- Install skylights to allow natural light into the home. Natural light can limit the use of lighting from electrical sources.
Unwanted air, water, sun and noise are the four elements that the structure/construction of a home should be able to control. Air carries pollutants, temperature change, noise and moisture. Water carries pollutants, temperature change and of course is moisture. Sun produces heat and material degrading radiation. The building structure’s “envelope” is key to controlling these elements. The envelope is made up of the floor, walls and roof of the home.
Floor: If building on a crawl space, insulate under the floor and install a vapor barrier to cover the exposed ground, or consider using a sealed crawl space which is supplied by conditioned air from the HVAC system. For basement foundations, Insulated Concrete Forms can be used to form poured concrete foundation walls to provide added insulating value to the basement walls.
Walls: R-value is a term used to describe the insulation properties of certain building materials. Its use is limited to situations where thermal insulation is achieved by retarding the flow of heat through the material itself rather than reflecting radiant heat away. When insulating the wall cavity, remember the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. Wet blown borate-based wall cavity insulation made from either cellulose insulation from recycled cardboard and paper products, or insulation made from recycled blue jeans are both very “green”. Be sure to install a moisture and vapor retarder (house wrap) on the warm side of the wall. Generally speaking, this is on the outside of the exterior walls in the South and on the interior side of the exterior walls in the North.
Doors & Windows: Window and door openings need to be properly flashed to prevent moisture intrusion, and should be insulated around to fill all air gaps. Install weather stripping at doors and windows.
The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) rates energy performance of doors, windows and skylights. By using the information contained on the label, you can reliably compare one product with another, and make informed decisions about the windows, doors, and skylights you choose. Go to http://www.nfrc.org/label.aspx to see a description of the label.
Roof: Install roof sheathing with a radiant barrier. Radiant barriers help keep attic temperatures low. Provide ventilation for attic areas by providing soffit, ridge, and gable vents. Insulate the ceiling. Light colored shingles help reduce heat gain in the attic. Alternately, you may choose a sealed attic, making the attic a conditioned space. Provide a ventilating air space directly below the roof sheathing.
When building a sustainable home, there are many things to consider. Because it is not part of the construction process or the home itself, landscaping is often overlooked. Making smart choices with your planting choices can positively affect the energy efficiency of your home and create curb appeal at the same time.
To create environmentally-conscious landscaping for your new home, consider a few of these ideas:
- Plant deciduous trees that will shade your house during the hottest hours of the day, and plan windbreaks to divert the cold winter winds that can force your furnace to work harder than it has to. Windbreaks are used to reduce and redirect wind.
- Choose plants that are native to your area. These plants are predisposed to the kind of soil, insect predators, etc. in your region and will require less maintenance, water and harmful chemicals. They can also provide food for regional pollinator species such as bees and butterflies.
- Collect rainwater for irrigating your garden rather than using a hose, which can waste gallons of water each minute that they are left running. If you choose to use a hose, use a nozzle with an automatic shut-off.
- Consider porous concrete or interlocking pavers for your driveway and other paved areas as an alternative to asphalt or solid concrete.
Indoor Air Quality
According to the EPA, indoor air is on average 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Volatile Organic Compounds are organic chemical compounds that can be hazardous to your health and the environment. Formaldehyde is a chemical compound used in many various household items such as carpet or paint. As a green alternative, choose products with low or no VOCs. If you must use a product with VOCs, allow it to air out for several days before using the room. Consider keeping indoor plants. They absorb airborne pollutants that you breathe, by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and purifying the air.
Avoid chemical treatments for insects, termites, etc. Use sand or stainless steel screen barriers around and in the foundation as a permanent solution for termite control. Use a natural brine solution spray on the frame of the structure as insect repellant.
There is no way that a four page article can even begin to scratch the surface of all the information available to homeowners who are building. We encourage you to consider these tips as a starting point to get you interested and thinking about ways to make your new home green. We encourage you to visit the websites provided to learn more about living green.
Department of Energy
Energy Efficiency and Renewable
Energy, Department of Energy
Environmental Protection Agency
National Association of Home Builders
United States Green Building Council
EarthCraft House (Southeast region)
Green Home Guide
Low Impact Living