Tips on Building a Green Home

A home that is built and operated using sound environmental practices is considered a “green home” We are hearing more and more on the topic of climate change on a daily basis and it is becoming obvious that each one of us should do our part to reduce the impact that we have on our planet.

“Going green” is the simplest way to accomplish this, and your home is the obvious place to start . When you make the decision to build a new home, you are given a great opportunity to think ‘green.

The Internet is a wonderful source of information. It will give you a vast array of items that you can use for your kitchen and bath that will help the construction of your home from an environmentally friendly perspective. In fact, you will find environmentally friendly products that cover the entire building process. Green products from carpets to paints and plumbing fixtures are obtainable to add to the decor of your home,

The choice of building a “green home” is not made just because it is the environmentally friendly way to go. In actuality you will have a much healthier home for you and your family and the cost to operate the home will be considerably less than traditional homes.

Building Materials

If you are considering building a new home, you should think environmental and the use of renewable resources should be a high priority in your mind. The use of materials such as lightweight concrete, straw, timber or readily available earth to build the home should all be investigated. Each one of these building resources has distinct advantages and disadvantages, but none should be ruled out without thorough research.

If you are fortunate to be in a climate that would make an earthen building practical, what better choice do you have than to build a home from the very dirt below your feet? This proved practical for millions of years for a very good reason.

Another viable option for a green building material that has been used in the United States for more than fifty years is lightweight concrete. Although this type of concrete is not as strong, it will hold up to the weather and will perform as well as traditional concrete. This type of lightweight concrete is often used as insulation for the home, and has outstanding fire retardant properties. In addition, lightweight concrete has an additional benefit that it doesn’t need as large a foundation and less reinforced structural steel is needed.

There is a trend now days towards the use of manufactured building materials. Individuals who are concerned about the environment, but are not quite ready for an earthen home are choosing this option. The use of manufactured materials results in a home that is more in harmony with the environment.

Wood remains an particularly versatile building material and is readily available. However, Environmentally speaking though, wood was once considered a sustainable resource for construction, but over harvesting of our forests throughout the world, has grow to be a serious environmental concern. Our greed for lumber has far outpaced our ability to regrow our forests. If you are considering wood to build your home, choosing woods that are from environmentally friendly sources should be considered..

Green Home Styles

When choosing a design for your green home, there are many styles you can decide on. Obviously, you can choose a traditional design or even consider rounded styles, earthen homes or even organic designs. The possibilities are endless.

Traditional homes are the designs we are, for the most part, familiar with, and usually fit into our impression of what a home should look like. There are many traditional designs to pick from such as contemporary, Victorian, bungalow, ranch homes and more.

A rounded home helps the owner be more in harmony with the environment and in many parts of the country this type of construction is being seriously considered for it’s hurricane resistant design. Rounded homes are considered to be very environmentally friendly.

Earthen homes are built either entirely underground, or only partially into the earth. When these homes are built at least six feet under the surface, the home will have a stabilized temperature, and will only fluctuate about six degrees. This bit of information is significant because it takes much less energy to heat and cool this type of home. That not only saves the homeowner money, but saves our precious resources as well.

Conclusion

Green buildings are a wave of the future. We should be considering our environment as a natural resource, and if we plan on passing a healthy environment on to our children and grandchildren, we need to “think green” right now.

Building a Green Home Requires Teamwork

The Traditional Approach

Green home building and remodeling requires a different approach than the traditional, established way of building. Traditionally, the homeowner, you, approaches an architect who designs the home, based on your descriptions, ideas, dreams and wishes. The finished design is then distributed to several general contractors for bid.

The general contractor in turn contacts his/her subcontractors to get bids from them for framing, roofing, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, excavating and foundation work, landscaping, interior finishes.

The bid prices are based on the interpretation of the drawings by each contractor. Rarely do the subcontractors talk to each other during the bid process. Rarely is the architect contacted with questions. Almost never is the homeowner, you, contacted. The contractors’ final bids usually include a list of exceptions and/or a contingency allowance, which might never be used, but is paid for by you anyway.

Homeowners most often accept the lowest bid. Why not? Unless you are familiar with and know the construction business, know the contractor’s quality of work, what other criteria could you apply?

The procedure outlined above often results in considerable construction cost increases, dissatisfied homeowners and sometimes lawsuits.

Huge resources are being neglected and missed when homes are remodeled and built the traditional way: Experience and trade-specific expertise, which could save you time, money and headaches.

The Green Approach To Building A Home

Building a green home must be a systematic approach and done as a team. The project must be looked at as a system, in which each component is connected to and depends on the other components. For example:

  • Location of the home on the property will determine the amount of soil disturbance, excavation and landscaping
  • Location, size and types of windows will impact the heating and cooling requirement
  • Type of heating and cooling equipment will impact space requirements for furnace, heat pump, solar collectors, piping, ductwork, etc
  • Choice of exterior wall will impact first cost versus installation cost versus insulation values versus appearance

You get the idea

Teamwork is required to make it all come together. The folks who design and build your green home, will be working with you and with each other for weeks or months. These are some important questions to ask when assembling your green building team:

  • Do all of the team members agree on the importance of building green and are they committed to it?
  • Do architect and contractors have experience in green home construction and if not, are they willing to learn? The majority if the team should have some experience in designing or building green homes
  • Do you like and respect them? Can you see yourself interacting with each of them frequently and maybe work through some challenges?
  • Do they like and respect each other?
  • Do they take pride in high quality work?
  • Can they accept input about their trade from other trades?

Don’t underestimate the importance of your team getting along and working well together. There will be times during the construction when tempers flare, tensions are high, pressure is on. And this could be just when the insulator has to do some very meticulous work to seal all leaks, while the electrician is breathing down her neck to hurry up so he can get his work done.

It is important to include as many of the trades as possible during the design phase. Decisions about choices in materials or heating system can then be done by all involved parties from a fully informed perspective. For example:

Someone mentioned to you the advantages of using structurally insulated panels (SIP), and that is what you would like to use for your green home. Preliminary investigations show that these panels would have to be shipped from hundreds of miles away. The general contractor suggests using insulated concrete forms (ICF). The factory is only 50 miles away, his team is very experienced with this system and he knows that he can do it cheaper than with SIP. The architect supports this idea, because she also knows that homeowner insurance rates are sometimes lower for homes built with ICFs, due to their resistance to termites, wind and fire.

Or

General contractor, architect and HVAC contractor work closely together to determine if your green home should use solar collectors or a geothermal heat pump system for hot water and heat. They contact the wood truss manufacturer to help determine the impact of the heavy solar collectors on the roof frame. A call to the local geothermal heat pump specialists reveals that your future neighbors down the street installed a geothermal heat pump system two years ago and are very satisfied with it. With all this information, you can now make an informed decision.

When the time comes to put the final cost for your green home construction project together, you can be assured that unexpected costs will be minimal. You will know that you and your green building team are all pulling in the same direction.

Addressing and optimizing key factors up front with the whole team will result in a smoother construction process, lower costs and a much better green home for you and your family.

Take Note – Affordable Green Home Building Is Possible

I’m sure you’ve heard the argument that building an energy efficient, green home costs substantially more than a home constructed using traditional methods. Until fairly recently this was a true statement but builders specializing in green construction are now able to build efficient green homes that are approximately the same cost as standard constructed homes.

Heather’s Home is one such an example. Built by Ferrier Custom Homes – it is a three bedroom, 2000+ square foot, (get this part) affordable green built home near Ft. Worth, Texas. This home is very energy efficient as it rates in the top one percent of Energy Star home built in the United States today. That translates into major savings when it comes to utility bills – how does around $15 per month sound? For Texas, where the summers are very hot, that’s pretty incredible.

Heather’s Home is the first home in the United States to be certified under the new and more strict American Lung Association’s Healthy Home guidelines. Additionally, it was built under the NAHB Green Home Building guidelines and has been accepted into the Building America Program sponsored by the Department of Energy. Even more accolades include being the first Texas home to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and the third home in the country to receive LEED’s Platinum certification. Heather’s Home was also awarded the top most honor (Gold) in the Energy Value Housing Awards by the United States Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and the National Association of Home Builders.

Following are some of the high performance and green features that went into the construction of the home…

o Passive Solar Design

o Proper Shading of Doors and Windows

o “Thermo-Siphoning” Attic Fan

o Organic Landscaping

o Metal Roof

o Rainwater Harvesting

o Fiber Cement Siding

o Non VOC Interior Finishes

o Green Sustainable Products – Counter tops, Trim, Floor Coverings, Finishes, etc.

o CFL and Flourescent Lighting

o Energy Star Windows, Doors, Lighting, Appliances

o Solar Hot Water System

o High Efficiency Heating and Cooling System

o Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS)

Passive solar design principles are an integral piece of the overall efficiency of Heather’s Home. For Texas, this means minimizing sunlight exposure in the summer months and maximizing it in winter months. A reversed scenario would be typical of a high performance design for homes built in more northern climates.

Water is heated by solar panels on the roof. Heating hot water typically accounts for approximately thirty percent of a home’s utility bills. Solar systems that power an entire house can be expensive, however, solar hot water systems can be installed for as little as $3,000.

Quality control is ensured using a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) test. The testing occurs during and after construction to make sure that the home meets the stringent guidelines of the EPA for energy efficiency. To ensure that the house is airtight, a duct blaster test is also performed as well as the review of a checklist for thermal bypass.

Heather’s Home not only looks great, it’s affordable – proof that a high performance, green, and modern home can be economically pragmatic. Thanks to the innovations of Heather’s Home there is no reason that more builder’s shouldn’t be building green homes for the general population. Shout it from the roof tops – you don’t have to sell the farm to build a green home.