The building industry consumes significant amounts of energy, water, and natural resources, and billions of tons of raw materials annually, choosing to build “green” homes can help reduce this burden on our environment. Since our “home” extends beyond the walls of our houses, we are all part of the ecosystem, we must consider the impact that our building and construction choices have on us, as individuals, communities, and a planet.
Start with your own health, and extend your thinking about health to include the environment. A “green” home supports your personal health and wellbeing, your personal goals and values, and the health of your “home.” All of the following strategies benefit human health, as well as environmental health.
The Every Day, Every Way Challenge
Choose at least one action you will take in the coming year to make your home a safer, more comfortable and more sustainable place to live. (From www.coopamerica.org)
Building a New Home or Addition
Can you find an existing home to meet your needs?
Research what building materials are plentiful locally and what construction methods match your climate and terrain.
Assess your need for space. Smaller homes can save time and money.
Oreint your home to get more sun in the winter and less in the summer. Consider solar energy.
Find a contractor who will employ efficient framing techniques, use recycled lumber and avoid lumber from old-growth forests.
Consider a plumbing system that reuses waste water from your sinks to flush your toilet.
Invest in overhanging eaves and good water protection to avoid wood decay.
To save energy, seal the building well and use nontoxic insulation.
Insulate crawl spaces and wall cavities. Invest in extra attic insulation or a radiant barrier.
Stone patios and terraces have less environmental impact than a wooden deck. For decks use plastic lumber, recycled wood or ACQ-treated lumber
Buying or Renting a Home
Can you use less space? Extra square footage means higher prices, maintenance costs, energy and resource use.
Choose a well-built home to avoid repairs, high energy costs and adverse health effects. (bullet)Look for quality doors and windows, nontoxic interior materials and overhanging eaves.
Look for homes with energy-efficient appliances and lighting fixtures, and good insulation.
If you buy or rent in a new development, ask if environmentally friendly construction methods and materials were used. By showing interest, you help create a market for green building.
Try to find a home close to public transportation and within walking or biking distance of stores and services.
Look for revitalized urban neighborhoods and avoid developments contributing to urban sprawl.
Renovating Your Interior
Sign up for audits with your water and utility companies, they’re often free. Set up a schedule for implementing their plans.
Install energy-efficient windows and doors. Some utilities offer rebates.
Install low-flow showerheads and bathroom fixtures to save water and money
Choose energy-efficient appliances.
Maximize natural ventilation by installing operable windows and ceiling fans.
Recycle or reuse doors, fixtures and cabinetry. Look for salvage yards that buy and sell reusable materials. Use natural wall and floor coverings which are nontoxic and made from renewable fibers.
Use recycled or sustainably harvested wood.
Greening Your Existing Home
Choose natural carpets or rugs made from wool, sisal, jute or hemp. Check old carpets for mold or mildew.
Buy used furniture or pieces made from natural materials.
Buy energy-efficient light fixtures and compact fluorescent bulbs.
Weather-strip doors and windows. Fix leaky faucets and toilets.
For both new construction and remodeling, research and select products that do not harm you, and have not harmed the planet, reduce or eliminate materials that release toxins and VOCs. Many building materials off-gas and release toxins into your home and the environment. Treated lumber is treated with arsenic, and many paints, adhesives, and carpeting release VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) over the course of many years.
Consider the life-cycle of the material, as most materials are produced, manufactured, mined, or disposed in ways that are harmful to the environment. For example, buy lumber that comes from certified sustainable, well-managed forests. World Wildlife Fund recently praised Home Depot for their efforts to support certified sustainable forests. Bennet Lumber, in Minneapolis, sells ACQ treated wood, which does not contain arsenic.
Save energy in operating your home. Integrated planning about the design and operation of your home can make your home more energy-efficient. For both new construction and remodeling, the most cost-effective strategy to reduce your home’s impact on the environment is to invest in high-quality, eco-friendly insulation (extruded, not expanded), and maximize the efficiency of your furnace. Buildings are energy-intensive, to construct, operate, and demolish, thus, saving energy in any of these phases of a building’s life reduces the impact your home has on the environment.
Protect and enhance the site. Preserve or restore local ecosystems and biodiversity by planting native trees and shrubs, and minimizing cuts and fills in the landscape. Respond to the microclimate of your site, and its natural energy flows.
Create and foster a sense of community. Orient your home and site to maintain connections to the community. One way to foster community and preserve the connections between your home and the surrounding community is to locate your garage behind your house, instead of in front of it.
Make your house more silent. Minimizing HVAC noise, and other noise pollution, will reduce stress for you and your home, and the ambient noise pollution of our communities.
Integrate your home with your site. This includes orienting your home to take advantage of the unique features of the landscape, shading, daylight orientation, natural ventilation, and views.
Integrate natural daylighting and natural ventilation into the design of your home. Natural ventilation and daylighting are rarely successful as “add-on” features, they need to be considered as part of an integrated planning and design approach to your home.
Maximize longevity by designing for durability and adaptability, and minimize construction and demolition waste. Use materials that are durable, and won’t need to be added to our landfills. According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, Minnesotans sent one million tons of construction and demotion waste to landfills last year, more than the municipal waste that was sent to landfills last year. Choosing materials that have a longer usable life-span means not only less waste in our landfills, but less energy and raw materials that are required in the production of building materials. If you are remodeling, optimize existing and new space, do not make the existing house unusable.
Save water. Design for low water use in your home and landscape. You can invest in low-water use appliances, and use native plantings in your yard, as they will generally need less watering than a traditional green grass yard.