10 Ways to Build Green
1) Plan with the Local Climate: Planning your home with the local climate in mind will reduce the time and energy required of your heating and cooling system in addition to providing a more pleasant living experience. Be sure the layout of your home, the placement of windows, and the size of overhangs are designed to take advantage of prevailing breezes and changing sun conditions throughout the year. When the weather is nice you can turn your air conditioner off, open the windows, and enjoy the day.
2) Insulation, Insulation, Insulation: Insulation slows the time it takes for heat to transfer through walls and roofs. The more you have, the longer your house will stay warm or cool and the less your heating and cooling system will need to run.
3) Double-Down on Windows: Windows are big holes in insulated walls. Choose a good double-pane window. The double-pane, sometimes called an Insulated Glass Unit (IGU), usually contains an inert gas such as argon that adds to its insulating ability. If you have big windows that face south and receive direct sunlight, consider an additional Low-E (Emissivity) coating that will greatly increase their insulating value. If you are renovating a home with single-pane historic windows, consider adding a secondary storm window inside or outside. Secondary storm windows add great energy savings, cost less than full windows, and will not detract from the historic appearance of the original window.
4) Seal It! In many homes unsealed cracks and crevasses can be the equivalent of leaving a window open all the time. Not only do they allow warm or cool air to escape more quickly, they provide pathways for pests and moisture. To avoid this, ensure joints are tight and sealant is applied where walls meet ceilings, floors, doors, and windows, and where all pipes, wires, and vents penetrate walls and floors. Pay close attention to sealing the kitchen area to reduce pests. The duct work from your heating and cooling system should also be sealed to prevent air escaping before it gets to your air vent. There are pressure tests called 'blower' tests that can be done to your home and duct work during construction to help reduce air leaks.
5) Choose Efficient Heating and Cooling Systems: Consider geothermal if you're building site is suitable for it. This systems uses pipes in the earth in lieu of that ugly outside condenser; which allows it to operate at twice the efficiency and half the utility bill. Tax credits form the Federal (30%) and state (varies) now make the installation cost of geothermal close to a standard split system. Small roof mounted wind turbines and solar cells can also help augment heating and cooling energy needs if your building site is suitable for them.
6) Go Low-Flow and Tankless: To reduce the energy required to heat water, consider a heat-pump water heater or a tankless water heater. Unlike the conventional system that constantly heats a huge tank of water, tankless systems work on demand, rapidly heating water when you turn on the faucet. To reduce the amount of water you use, install low-flow faucets, shower heads, and toilets. Look for the the EPAs 'WaterSense' label as a guide.
7) Toss the Old Energy Hogs: Lighting and appliances are energy hogs. Forget the old incandescent lights and go with Light-Emitting Diode (LED) or Compact Fluorescent (CFL) fixtures. The color of light is measured in Kelvin (K). If you like the old incandescent feel (yellow hue), look for lights between 2700K and 3000K, If you want a brighter hue closer to sunlight move toward 5000K. Your appliances, TV, and even phone charger draw energy at all times when plugged in; so consider something like the 'BertBrain' system or 'smart' power strips that can sense when the appliance is off and automatically cut the flow of energy. Always look for the EPA's 'Energy Star' label as a guide to the most efficient appliances.
8) Be a Responsible Steward of the Earth: Know where products come from. Look for labels that certify it came from renewable or recycled resources. Consider using bamboo which is extremely durable and quickly renewable. Look for recycled content in all products from insulation to roofing to reduce the demand for mining the earth. Most importantly, make sure the waste materials from construction are being recycled and not sent to the landfill.
9) Kill the Smell: The smell of fresh paint and new carpet is affecting your health. Widely used organic chemicals are emitted as gasses from many solid and liquid products and can persist in the air long after a product has been installed. Look for products labeled as "Zero" or "Low-VOC" (Volatile Organic Compounds), particularly in paints and sealants.
10) Think Long Term: A home is the biggest financial investment most people make in their lives. Building green can add some upfront cost to construction, but if you plan to live there more than five years, your initial investment will pay dividends for years to come.
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Text and Image by ThoughtCraft Architects