If you plan to build a green home, energy efficiency will be high on your list of requirements. However, there’s more to green building that the cost of heating, cooling and Energy Star appliances. (Although all three are important!) Building a green home takes into account the entire life of the structure, from planning to demolition, and places the health of the occupants as a prime concern.
Location, Location, Location. It’s not just how you build; it’s where you build. The site will have a major impact on the success of your green home. A west-facing home on an exposed hilltop will suffer from direct sun on hot afternoons and cold winds in winter and spring, raising energy use. If you have to drive 30 miles each way to buy a carton of milk (whether almond, dairy, or oat), your trip cost (money and pollution) will factor into your overall environmental impact. Finally, how will your home fit into the landscape? A home that works with its location will be more successful. A Cape Cod isn’t suited to the desert, and a flat-roofed adobe won’t stand up to a New England winter. There will always be trade-offs, but think carefully about your site before you buy.
Right size. How much house do you need? Not everyone can be comfortable in a tiny home, but a smaller house used efficiently will result in a smaller carbon footprint. Make rooms do double-duty. A modern version of the Murphy Bed will drop down from a stylish wall unit to turn your home office or craft room into temporary guest quarters. If you don’t want or need a formal living or dining room, create a great room that includes spaces for cozy conversations and family dinners. Think about how you really live and how much space you need.
Building Materials. Green homes use natural, non-toxic materials. They may be sourced locally (stone), be renewable (bamboo flooring), or be recycled (old wood). Materials may include non-toxic paints and finishes, wool carpet, and natural fiber insulation. While it would be ideal to use only green materials, you will need to balance cost, availability, and cost-effectiveness. Green building may not be more expensive in the long run, but you will need to look beyond your construction costs to get the full picture.
A Room With A View. One of the biggest energy wasters? Windows. Apparently, the U.S. is coming late to the party for high-performance windows. Our friends in Europe have been creating extremely efficient windows that not only keep their homes warmer/cooler, but also offer ventilation options for cleaner air and reduced moisture build-up. You can install the most energy efficient HVAC system possible, but if your windows aren’t effective, you’re wasting your money. In fact, you may be able to save on mechanical systems by spending more on your windows.
Find Your Builder Or Your Home. For any construction project, you need to make sure you are working with someone who is properly licensed and insured. Beyond that, you’ll need to find a contractor with knowledge of green building materials and techniques. While there is no one central licensing body, there are several independent associations you can check. If you aren’t going to do a custom build, look for Energy Star Certified homes and builders.
Ready to go green? You and your mother (Earth) will breathe easier.