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Building Green - The New Gold In Home Construction

Green building, the new byword in home construction, means a home that uses energy, water and material efficiently with a minimal effect on the environment.

“Why should I care about green building?” a prospective homeowner asks. There are compelling reasons for changing the way we build and live as we become aware of the finite resources that are the earth’s riches.

The process of building green incorporates environmental considerations into every aspect of the building process. This includes design, construction and operation of a home, energy and water efficiency, lot development, resource-efficient building design and materials, indoor environmental quality, owner maintenance and the home’s impact on the environment.

Some Guiding Principles

Lot design, preparation and development can reduce the environmental impact and improve the energy efficiency of new housing. This includes saving trees, constructing onsite storm water retention/filtration features and adapting to maximize passive solar heating and cooling.

Resource Efficiency involves using resource-efficient materials such as engineered-wood products in which more than 50 percent of the log is converted into structural lumber than conventional dimensional lumber. Since the average single-family home generates between 7000 and 12,000 pounds of construction waste, resource efficiency is also about reducing job-site waste and consequently reduce the quantity of landfill material.

Energy Efficiency is considered a priority in most green building programs. Energy performance does not end with increased R-values, the use of renewable energy or more efficient HVAC equipment. These need to be balanced with careful window selection, building envelope air sealing, duct sealing and proper placement of air and vapor barriers from foundation to attic. Water Efficiency is increasingly important, especially in areas affected by long and short-term drought conditions. The daily per capita indoor use of water in most homes tops 64 gallons. Water conservation methods can reduce usage to less than 45 gallons. More efficient water delivery systems indoors and drought-resistant landscaping choices outdoors can prevent waste of this valuable resource.

Indoor Air Quality is another top issue of interest in green homes. An increase in allergies and respiratory ailments and the use of chemicals that can off-gas from building materials have added to the heightened awareness of the air we breathe inside.

Operation and Maintenance, if improper or inadequate, can defeat the designer’s and the builder’s best efforts to create a resource efficient home. Air filters must be changed regularly; kitchen and bath fans need to be operated to remove moist air. Pesticides, fertilizers, and common cleaning agents also affect air quality. Global Impact is another guiding principle. An example is the selection of paints that contain low or no volatile organic compounds (VOC). The release of VOCs from wet paint help form ground-level ozone pollution which has a greater effect on a global scale than on the indoor environment.

Site Planning & Land Development can be part of the process if a builder is also involved in the development of a community. Considering the entire community in addition to the individual building can amplify the benefits of green building. For example, by improving a subdivision’s storm water management plan and preserving natural resources through careful design and construction practices, a builder can influence the resource efficiency of the entire subdivision and its overall environmental impact.