Should I Go Green?
Green Certifications Part 1
Today many builders and home buyers are concerned about preserving the environment. With increased attention on the condition of our planet, “green building” has become a sought after choice for homeowners, especially in our market.
But what does green building mean? In its simplest terms, green building is making your home the best it can be. It means increasing your home’s efficiency so it makes better use of things like water, energy, temperature control, and construction materials. It’s about using resources effectively so you reduce the impact of your home on the environment, buying local, and creating a healthy indoor air environment.
While building an environmentally friendly home sounds good to most people, they usually want to know two things: what can I do and how much will it cost me? Let’s address the last question first.
You may have heard that building green is more expensive. While that may be true in some instances, it doesn’t have to be. In today’s market, some elements of green building can cost more initially, but many do not, and some even cost less. Factor in energy savings over time and the increased durability of many of the green building products, and any additional up- front cost becomes much easier to justify. Also, some mortgage companies now offer reduced mortgage rates to homes built green, and green homes are worth more than non-certified green homes.
To answer the other question, let’s take a look at a few things you can do to make your new home more environmentally friendly.
- Heating and Cooling Equipment: One of the most important things you can do to make your home more “green” is to carefully consider your choice of heating and cooling equipment. The heating/air conditioning system should be built and installed with the highest SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating possible. The greater the SEER rating, the more energy efficient your unit will be. The system should also be sized appropriately to effectively cool or heat your home without being oversized. In fact, it is often better to err on the side of being undersized by half a ton than oversized. (Note: A “ton” is a unit of energy used to measure output. Typically you need about one ton of output for every 400 square feet of your home.) Many builders don’t recommend that you oversize the tonnage of your home’s AC system. The most efficient homes often run on a system designed to be 10 percent smaller than typical installations. A good air system should also be installed with as few bends and connections in the duct work as possible to minimize the risk of gaps and voids.
- Insulation: If it’s within your budget, one great option is to have your home insulated with a CARB II complaint foam product. When installed correctly, foam can be quite effective. On top of the good R-values (a term used to measure how well insulation resists the flow of heat or cold through it) foam can fill cracks and crevices in ways that traditional insulation can’t. If a foam product can’t be used, great care should be exercised to make sure the installation is done to eliminate as many gaps and penetrations as possible.
- Home Orientation: To reduce energy loads, it’s important to design and position the house in such a way as to minimize exposure to the hot sun while taking advantage of cooling breezes. Whenever possible, the front door or the house’s longest wall should be set to within 5 degrees of true south. It may also be important to landscape in such a way to create wind breaks for the home or create shade to increase efficiency. Good window placement can increase natural light while reducing the need for electric lighting. These decisions are taken into account when designing a home for passive heating and cooling.
- Windows and Doors: Windows help make a home beautiful, but they can also waste a lot of energy if they let in heat in the summer, cold in the winter, and drafts anytime. To get more energy-efficient windows, select ones with good insulation values. Some have special coatings that can help repel heat. Others are double- or triple-paned which helps insulation. Some energy- efficient windows have non-toxic gas between the panes such as argon or krypton that provide better insulation than air. Even the window frames can affect how efficient they are. For example, aluminum frames typically provide lowest insulation level. Wood, vinyl, and fiberglass are better. Warm-edge spacers are even better. Certain window coverings like reflective blinds and shades can also generate incredible savings on energy usage. When it comes to doors, make sure they have a tight fit and use excellent weather stripping. Some new door frames include a magnetic strip that creates a tighter seal and reduces the amount of air that leaks out. Some of the best core materials for a door include fiberglass and foam. If a door has glass, it will be more energy efficient if double or triple-paned insulating glass is used. To get the best performance, only use products that are NFRC rated. (NFRC is short for the National Fenestration Rating Council, which is a non-profit organization that established standardized ways to test the performance of windows and doors).
- Roofing and Exterior Paint: Consider using reflective roofing and lighter exterior paint colors. These two items offer a cooler home by reflecting the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them. Roof choices (reflective) and lighter paint colors can create double digit drops in exterior surface temperatures which can result in greater energy savings.
- Building Materials: Choose to use “earth-friendly” products and building materials whenever possible.
Typically, these include:
– products made with recycled content
– products that are natural to the environment
– stay away from exotic hardwoods like mahogany and IPE
– products that avoid toxic emissions (low to no VOC compliant or CARB II compliant)
– products that are rapidly renewable such as bamboo, cork and straw
- Water Systems: For full-time residents, a heat pump water heater is the most efficient choice for heating water in the home. This appliance uses an air-source heat pump to take the ambient heat from the air around it to off-set the ground temperature of the water and then only uses electricity to heat the difference. Solar and geothermal heat can also be used to pre-heat water using a Super-D heater. For second homes, consider installing tankless or “point-of-use” water heating systems. These systems do away with the traditional standing hot water tanks and more efficiently heat water for the home on an as needed basis.
- Appliances: Consider installing “Energy Star” rated appliances. Energy Star is a program backed by the government that identifies products with high energy efficiency. These products often last longer and are more economical to operate than non-Energy Star rated appliances
Building an environmentally friendly home can not only save you money over time, it also helps the environment and preserves your health. But keep in mind, incorporating green features into your home early is critical to its success.
Building A Quality Custom Home
Want to know more? This book by Sean Sullivan is full of helpful information in easy-to-read chapters like this blog post.
It is a step-by-step guide to the “must-know” issues of building your dream home. Discover the custom-home construction secrets that could save you headaches, heartaches, and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars.