As a Nation, We Can Do Better
According to the U.S. EPA, the average home creates more pollution than the average automobile. It’s not surprising there is increasing interest in building environmentally responsible homes, and today it is possible to build “green” without sacrificing aesthetics or livability.
Following is a brief introduction to various aspects of building an environmentally-friendly home and links to helpful articles. Currently, there are several green building initiatives, but it appears consolidation is happening around the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) National Green Building Program. For more information, visit www.NahbGreen.org.
Reduced Energy Consumption
Perhaps the largest environmental impact is achieved by choosing to build an energy-efficient home. Better insulation, windows and doors can help you create a “tighter” home, reducing air leakage in and out of your home. Similarly, energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling equipment, water heating and appliances can significantly cut energy use. By building your home highly energy efficient, you can help conserve natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides) by thousands of pounds per year.
Homes designed with windows on two sides of rooms increase natural light levels and can reduce the need to turn lights on. Opening those windows ushers in natural cross ventilation, lowering dependence on air conditioning. Large covered porches provide relaxation and considerable shading, too.
Reducing energy consumption may also be one of your best performing investments. Often, spending a few dollars more per month in a tax-deductible mortgage payment can be more than offset by lower utility bills. And as energy costs continue to rise, your future savings will be even greater.
Resource-Efficient Product Choices
Choosing to build a home with engineered wood (e.g., I-joist floors, trusses, etc.) from managed forests instead of traditional lumber saves old-growth forests from being harvested. More durable products, such as siding and roofing backed by a 50-year warranty are also environmentally responsible, as they won’t end up in the landfill nearly as quickly as their traditional counterparts. Paying attention to product content is another important factor. Carpeting made from recycled plastic water/soda bottles is one example.
Homes can be designed around standard building material sizes to maximize efficiency. Carpeting often comes in 15’-wide rolls, so designing a family room to be 15’-6” wide means seaming two pieces of carpet together and often generates waste. Streamlined structural systems require fewer steel beams, structural headers, etc.
A water-saving dishwasher can reduce water consumption enough to provide all of a household’s drinking water. Some clothes washers save enough hot water to accommodate your bathing needs. Water-efficient toilets and showerheads will make a big difference and “home-run”-type plumbing systems can deliver hot water faster, helping you avoid wasting gallons of water waiting for the shower to “warm up.” Another important consideration is landscaping. Choosing native and drought-resistant grasses and plantings can minimize water used for lawn irrigation.
Minimizing the negative impact homes have on the environment is critical. While home plans themselves are not necessarily ‘Green’, simple choices in the home’s design and selection of environment-friendly home products can make a huge, positive impact.
Green building can improve indoor air quality, an issue of particular concern to women because of its link to asthma and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children as well as heart and lung problems, headaches, and blurred vision.
Life at Home
The Paybacks of Energy Efficiency
Totaling up the costs of building a new home can be intimidating. For most of us, it’s one of the most expensive things we will do in our lifetime. Consequently, it’s often necessary to scale back some dreams and make compromises along the way. But one of the places it’s important not to cut corners is energy efficiency.