Green Building: Your Green Home
A green building is one where the indoor and outdoor (house and landscape setting) environmental qualities have been considered and protected during its design, construction, maintenance and use. A house that incorporates green building principles is said to be "built green". Built green homes:
- Improve energy efficiency
- Conserve water
- Improve indoor air quality
- Are more durable and more comfortable, and
- Reduce pollution and save natural resources
When building a new house or remodeling an existing house, homeowners have many opportunities to make environmentally sound choices. These opportunities exist in many aspects of the design and construction phases and include choice of building material, waste disposal, and contractor. Some factors to consider include:
Avoid constructing new where possible
Green building advocates less new construction. In addition to consuming building materials, new construction contributes to urban sprawl impacting open space, habitat, water resources, and transportation. Consider expanding your existing house. If a move is necessary, consider purchasing an existing house that is near public transportation, work, shopping, and other services.
Downsize new construction
If you decide on building a new house, strive to construct a smaller house. It requires fewer resources. Energy consumption and maintenance requirements decrease.
Select "resource – efficient" and recycled-content materials
Shop for "gently used" building components, or surplus items from manufacturers or building material exchanges. Incorporate building materials with recycled-content. This helps to close the recycling "loop", provides more demand for recycled products, and cuts resource consumption and costs. Locally produced materials help reduce the inherent environmental and energy costs associated with factors such as transportation. Consider using more durable materials which offer a longer user life.
Select non-polluting materials
Indoor air pollution and hazardous waste can be reduced by choosing building materials such as carpets, paints, interior finishings and wall coverings that are produced with fewer or no toxic chemicals. These products are often a major contributor to poor indoor air quality due to the VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). Avoid building products that contain formaldehyde. Consider materials made from natural sources such as linoleum, cork, and cellulose insulation.
Buy energy efficient appliances and mechanical systems, maximize insulation and ventilation opportunities, and incorporate renewable energy resources where feasible
An energy-efficient house is more comfortable and economical to live in, not to mention better for the environment. Before buying a new furnace, have an energy audit conducted to check for leaks and additional insulation needs. Local utilities usually conduct this service for a nominal fee. Proper insulation can reduce the required size of the furnace or air conditioner. Furnaces with a 92% or better Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating are now available. The higher purchase price of these furnaces is offset by energy savings over time.
Solar heating opportunities should be emphasized. For instance, take advantage of the sun by maximizing window exposure on south side of the house. Windows should be well-insulated and energy-efficient. Awnings, overhangs and trees can provide shade in the summer and block unwanted heat gain.
Select Energy Star rated appliances
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy are working together to establish energy efficiency criteria for several consumer products. Manufacturers that meet or exceed these criteria may place the Energy Star label on their products. Look for this label when you shop.
Incorporate sustainable landscape practices
The landscape amenities must be selected and configured to suit site conditions and restore habitat using self-sustaining landscape design and site maintenance procedures. Practices should promote the conservation and restoration of existing biological and water resources, including species diversity, soil fertility, and aeration.
The use of native plants, grasses and flowers can conserve water and significantly reduce the harmful impacts that pesticides and fertilizers have on the environment. Properly located trees and shrubs can reduce the cooling demands of a house, and provide protection from wind, rain, and ultraviolet light.
Encourage your building contractor to recycle, reduce, and reuse materials to the greatest extent possible
A study from the School of Architecture at Washington State University shows that as much as 90 percent of construction waste can be reused or recycled, and that the majority of demolished material can be used in new construction. Construction and demolition wastes take up valuable space in landfills while often posing environmental risks to soil and water. Recycling materials is more cost-effective than ever, with waste disposal costs increasing dramatically over the last few years and more landfill closures. Ask your architect to incorporate a waste specification that requires the building contractor to reduce, reuse and recycle materials. If you are working directly with a building contractor, find one committed to green design and construction concepts.
This information is provided as a service to those professionals in the construction industry. This information does not include all available references and does not constitute an endorsement by DEEP. Use of this information does not in any way lessen your responsibilities for compliance with applicable federal, state, and local laws.
Content Last Updated February 2020