Is a "Green" Home for You?

What is a "Green" Home?

It is a better home, designed to cost less to maintain, use less energy, and cause less pollution, while being more comfortable.  Green building used to be considered weird.  Now that many have discovered that building green does not mean giving up lifestyle, it has become main stream.  Whether remodeling your home or building a new one, following green principles can make it a better, more beautiful place to live, and increase its value.

Let's consider some reasons why so many are making their homes greener and how they do this.  This might be just the information you need to make your home the best it can be.

Spending Less . . .

Most people choose to go green to save money.  It is very expensive to build and maintain a building.  Using some principles of green design can help you reduce costs.

The most common way to make a home green is to make it more energy efficient.  Reducing the utility bills is a great way to make a mortgage payment more affordable.  As utility costs increase, so will the money you save by making your home energy efficient.  The state and federal government and the utility companies often have programs to help pay for making your home more energy efficient.  Many utility companies offer to inspect your home.  They might recommend sealing up drafty leaks, adding insulation, upgrading your windows, or a more efficient air conditioning system.  All of this can make your home more valuable too.

Another great way to reduce your expenses is to build smaller.  This is the easiest way to reduce energy costs, and it can save on construction costs too.  The money saved could be invested in better quality materials.  This might also reduce your maintenance costs.  A professional designer can help you plan a smaller, better home.  This is a new trend in home design.  Many realize they do not feel comfortable in huge mansion style homes.  They choose quality over quantity, and this is good.  They have a home that takes less time and money to clean and maintain, and they have more time to enjoy their home.

Another growing trend in home design is passive solar.  Now before you dismiss this idea, let me explain that most passive solar homes do not have panels on the roof, large glass walls, or barrels of water to store heat.  In fact the only difference you would notice is that the home is more comfortable.  This can be as simple as designing the roof overhang to shade the windows from the hot summer sun, but letting in the winter sunshine (which shines at a different angle).  The home can also be designed to reduce the glass that faces the hot summer sun and the cold winter winds.  These changes can reduce your need for heating and cooling, allowing you to have a smaller, less costly heating and air conditioning system.  Some home designers can help you plan a home that considers the direction of the sun on your property.

Making Your Home More Healthy . . .

Many are choosing to make their home green because they are concerned about their health.  Do you remember all the news reports about lead, asbestos, radon, sick building syndrome, and mold?  The EPA website tells us that of all the places we spend our time, our homes are usually the most polluted, as much as ten times worse than outside.  It is a very good idea to consider this before building your home.

You might be surprised at one of the biggest threats to our health: Radon.  Just because we don't hear about this anymore does not mean this problem has gone away.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.  For those who smoke the danger is far worse.  One more fact: The southern Appalachians are a radon prone region.  But your home can be protected by incorporating an inexpensive venting system during construction.  This system is explained on the EPA's web site and in the building code.  If you do not include this vent system in your new home, fixing a radon problem can be many times more expensive later.

We do hear a lot about mold.  This problem is very expensive, and there is a lot of money being spent on solutions that do not work.  Experts agree that there is no chemical or machine that effectively solves all mold problems.  It must be carefully removed, and the conditions changed so it will not regrow.  Mold needs moisture and food to live.  Most walls are covered with sheetrock panels that are lined with paper, and this paper is perfect mold food.  If the inside of the wall is damp, you have everything you need for lots of mold.  These conditions are also perfect for wood rot, carpenter ants, and termites.  To solve this issue, we can reduce the food sources.  Paperless gypsum panels are available.  If more people request this material for their homes, it will become more available.  Another way to fight mold is reducing moisture.  How?  Reducing humidity can help prevent mold.  So can reducing air leaks in the walls, floors, and ceilings.  Eliminating all water leaks is important too.  A well designed home would have much less chance of mold problems.

Do you want a green home because you suffer from allergies?  To solve this problem it is important to know what type of allergies you have.  If it is mold, the previous paragraph considers some solutions.  But most allergies are caused by dust mites and most of your dust comes from your vacuum cleaner.  Even a HEPA rated vacuum might leak a lot of dust after you beat it around the house a couple of years.  Place your vacuum by a sunny window, turn it on, and watch for the dust cloud in the sunbeam.  Central vacuum systems do not leak dust in this way, and fortunately they are much more affordable now.  Replacing carpet with hard surface floors and area rugs can help.  Putting these rugs outside in the sun once a week will prevent dust mites from living in them.  To help with pollen allergies you can have a special filtration system added to your air conditioner.

Some choose to build green because of their sensitivities to certain chemicals.  There are many new products and materials that reduce this problem.  To deal with your sensitivities, it is helpful to provide your designer with a list of what bothers you (perfumes, adhesives, paints, cleaning products, pesticides, etc.).  Your designer can research where these chemicals are used and recommend solutions that best fit your needs.  But most dangerous chemicals do not come from the construction of your home.  They come from you living in the house after it is built.  Using pesticides, cleaning products, and even taking a shower can cause chemicals to accumulate inside your home.  You should discuss with your designer strategies to reduce this problem.  For example, you can also install and use exhaust ventilation fans when showering and cooking.  Your air conditioning can even be equipped with a ventilation system that brings in fresh outside air every time it runs.  There are many other ways to reduce harmful chemicals in your home.  But be careful, many products and devices being sold do not work.  For example air purifiers that produce ozone have been found to be harmful.  Ozone is known by experts to irritate the lungs.  Ozone is one of the most irritating components of smog.  You don't want to add this to the air of your home.  The EPA web site has information about this.   A professional designer can help you put these ideas into a healthier home.

Reducing Environmental Impact . . .

Some people want a green home that causes less harm to the environment because they are concerned about this planet.  Studies find that the construction and maintenance of buildings causes more damage to our planet than any other industry, even automobiles.  They believe that if all new buildings are green, we can make a big difference.  That is why many are spending extra money making their home green.

For example we can reduce the pollution caused during construction.  This can be done by using materials that are harvested and processed locally.  When we use granite from Italy and tiles from Spain, we put into action the shipping of heavy products from very far away.  This shipping uses energy and causes pollution.  It is much more efficient to use local products.  We can also reduce pollution by throwing away less.  Many left over materials can be ground up and used for driveway base or garden mulch.  Many builders have changed their procedures to reduce or reuse construction waste.

We can also consider the impact our construction project has on the earth's resources.  Many lumber dealers sell wood that is certified to have been taken from better managed forests.  Every day new materials come out that claim to cause less damage to the environment.  We can reduce the amount of materials taken from petroleum like foams, plastics, and vinylís.  When deciding which materials to use in your home, consider the damage they cause along with their lifespan.  For example, building a concrete floor might cause more harm than a wood floor.  But if it lasts twice as long, it might be the better option for the environment.

Many are doing their part by choosing used materials.  There are many stores that sell surplus and salvaged building materials and products.  Sometimes salvaged lumber has much better quality too.  Everything you use makes a difference, and it might cost less.

Another way to build green is to use materials taken from your property or close by.  Some people save the trees cut down from their construction site, and have them sawed into lumber for their home.  Using the rock excavated from your property saves a lot of energy and money compared to buying rock from far away and having it transported to your home.  It might not be the exact color you want, but local rock would match your property better.

There is now much more interest in active solar systems because of rising energy costs, incentives, tax rebates, and more reliable systems that cost less.  Some systems heat water.  Others generate electricity.  There are wind generators too.  If you would like to consider these systems in your home, it would be very wise to get unbiased professional assistance.  If your property does not have enough wind, it would not be a good idea to install a wind turbine.  A good designer can help you make these decisions.

You can see that there are so many ways to make your home green, that there is no way to include everything in your home.  We are limited by our finances, our climate, and what can be done locally.  We should begin by deciding what options fit your needs and your property.  Then decide which ones get the maximum results for the minimum cost.  Saving costs might leave us with more funds to make your home even greener.  If we make your home as green as possible, we can be happy that we made a difference.  You have a home that costs less to maintain, is healthier, and caused less harm to the environment.

How Can I Make My Home Green?

The best consumer is an educated consumer.  If you want your home to be green, then invest some time into learning about green principles from books, magazines, and web sites.  There are many nonprofit organizations like South face in Atlanta and Healthy Built Homes in Asheville that have much to offer.  The Mountain Home Show and web site is dedicated to educating the public about better building practices.  You can read all of our articles on this web site.  And you may attend our show each spring where we have seminars about better building practices.  Learning about all of this can help prevent others from taking advantage of you.  It can also help you appreciate your green home better.  By understanding the principles of green design and construction you would be able to take better care of your home too.

After learning all you can you need to get expert help.  Choose a designer that has the knowledge and experience to plan your green home.  It would be important to discuss why you want a green home, and what is most important to you.  You also need to find a builder who has the desire and the ability to build your green home.