For many years now, alternative homebuilders have been promoting environmentally conscious dwellings such as adobe or straw constructions, or “earth ships” built into the side of a hill. These structures often use solar or wind power, and recycled tires or metal as construction material. While these kinds of homes make great economic and environmental sense, most new homebuyers are likely to prefer a more conventional approach to homebuilding.
Luckily, many homebuilders have already adopted greener practices, and these eco-friendly changes can make a great difference to both the individual homebuyer and to the entire community.
A cornerstone of green building is energy efficiency. For decades, homebuyers unthinkingly constructed large houses that left correspondingly large ecological footprints. Sometimes owners found that heating and cooling these “McMansions” was prohibitively expensive, and that some of the house’s rooms were underused. New green thinking about design urges homebuyers to build only the spaces they require, and to eliminate unnecessary rooms or features. This has resulted in houses with more flexible living areas and less waste space.
Paying attention to several key areas during design and construction can help to conserve energy and reduce fuel consumption. These include:
Windows. Large windows are a popular feature in contemporary home design. Yet it’s estimated that 25% of the average home’s heat is lost through windows. This statistic helps to illustrate why choosing energy efficient windows is crucial. “Super Windows” , as they are sometimes called, are a type of highly rated window glazed with argon and resistant to wind, water and air, and provide great insulation. A low emissivity (or Low-E) coating on windows is designed to keep radiant heat inside. This in turn helps to regulate indoor humidity, improving the air quality.
Doors. Wood, steel and fiberglass doors can all be energy efficient as long as they’re installed properly, and sealed. Adding a door sweep (aka “draft dodger”) at the bottom of each door is useful.
Insulation. When it’s hot outside, good insulation keeps the heat from coming in; when it’s cold out, it holds cold air at bay. An additional feature known as a “house wrap”, helps to stop drafts from coming through small cracks. Environmentally conscious builders are cautious about insulation; some types use formaldehyde in the manufacturing process. This can be harmful to humans through factory emissions and also due to off-gassing in the home. There are various green insulations made from natural or recycled materials that are much preferred.
Appliances and Fixtures. By choosing appliances such as Energy Star approved stoves and fridges, you can conserve electricity. Installing low-flush toilets wastes less water.
Heating and Cooling Systems. Although options for heating and cooling vary greatly, depending on climate and other factors, it helps to educate yourself about various systems. Augmenting with a radiant floor heating system, for example, allows you to turn down the thermostat for a net savings on heating bills.
Eaves and Landscaping. By strategically placing eaves where they will block high summer sun yet let in lower winter light, you can put nature to work for you! Planting trees and bushes in the proper places can serve a similar purpose.
Adding Solar Panels. Solar panels are simple to install, and can be helpful in reducing conventional energy consumption.