Is Going “Green” the Way to Go

The environment. With increased attention on the condition of our planet, “green building” has become a sought after choice for homeowners. But what does green building mean? In its simplest terms, green building is making your home more environmentally friendly. It means increasing your home's efficiency so it makes better use of things like water,…

The environment. With increased attention on the condition of our planet, “green building” has become a sought after choice for homeowners. But what does green building mean? In its simplest terms, green building is making your home more environmentally friendly. 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. 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 does not 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, many mortgage companies now offer reduced mortgage rates to homes built green.

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 do not 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 so as 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 foam product. When installed correctly, foam can be quite effective. On top of the good R-values ​​(a term used to measure how well insulating resists the flow of heat or cold through it), foam can fill cracks and crevices in ways that traditional insulation can not. If a foam product can not 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: Reflective Koolply wood on the under side of the roof decking will keep your attic 30 degrees cooler. To reduce energy loads, it's important to design and position the house in such a way as to minimizeize 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 feet 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 decreasing the need for electric lighting.

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 coats 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 effect how efficient they are. For example, aluminum frames typically provide the 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.

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 conserve natural resources – products that avoid toxic emissions – products that are rapidly renewable such as bamboo, cork and straw.

WATER SYSTEMS: Consider installing tankless and “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. They are also more cost effective.

APPLIANCES: Consider installing “EnergyStar” 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 economic to operate than non-Energy Star rated appliances.