Sustainable home building design and “green” construction techniques are important aspects of the home-building process. The growing concern about protecting our environment and natural resources, coupled with the continuous rise in energy prices, is driving the movement to build cost-effective homes and commercial buildings that also incorporate environmentally-friendly technology. There are a number of minor upgrades that can help you make your existing home more “green” (for more information, please read our article on Home Upgrades for Sustainability). However, if you are planning to do a major remodel or build a new home, there are some important building techniques and options that can help you build a truly sustainable home. Remodelers and builders with the Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation will be able to advise you on sustainable home design, and can guide you towards solutions that will help you build a home that is both eco-friendly and wallet-friendly.
Sustainable Home Building Design Options
- Site the home on lot for maximum solar efficiency. The location of your home on your property can have a huge impact on the amount of electricity you will need to use throughout the year. Even without exploring any solar paneling options as an alternative energy supply, you can still build your home in a way that allows you to utilize the maximum amount of natural light throughout the day. Through careful consideration of your home design and your lifestyle, a Certified Green Professional can help you plan a home with a shape and orientation that will give you access to natural lighting where you need it the most. Studies have also shown that increased exposure to natural light can improve your mood, productivity, and overall health.
- Optimum location of trees on lot for solar efficiency. The location of your home on the lot can have a major impact on your energy usage, but you can also use natural methods like landscaping to achieve a more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly home. Consider the size and location of trees on the property in order to allow the optimum amount of natural light to enter your home, while also providing shade to cool the house in the warmer months. This natural method of heating or cooling your home can help you reduce the energy you spend on heating and air conditioning throughout the year.
- Xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is another way to utilize landscaping for environmental conservation. Xeriscaping focuses on landscapes and gardens that are designed to reduce or eliminate the need for additional watering. This is especially important in regions with limited rainfall or water reservoirs. By exploring xeriscaping as an alternative to traditional gardening, you may be able to reduce water consumption and maintenance time, while maximizing rainfall retention and extending the life of your plants during water restrictions. Many plants will benefit from composted soil, which helps retain rainwater and is another great way to reduce your environmental footprint. If your garden still requires watering, you can explore options like timed sprinklers that will water your garden at night to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation, or automatic rain sensors to shut off the sprinklers during a rainstorm.
- Utilize resource efficient and/or recycled materials. Sustainable construction materials can help you reduce maintenance costs, reduce energy usage, conserve non-renewable natural resources, and give you increased design flexibility. Resource efficiency can be attained by using recycled or refurbished materials, purchasing products that are made locally (to reduce the resources spent on transportation) or with a resource-efficient manufacturing process (to reduce the amount of waste and greenhouse gas emissions). Additionally, choosing materials that require very simple, non-toxic cleaning products can help reduce your environmental impact AND increase the interior air quality of your home.
- Proper sizing, installation and use of HVAC equipment. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC) often account for the majority of a home’s energy consumption. “Green building” techniques focus on designing a house-wide HVAC system that also takes your local climate into account; different regions experience different climates, and this will impact the load on the different elements of your HVAC system. The initial investment required to plan an effective and efficient HVAC system often saves homeowners time and money over the long run. It will also help to improve indoor air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and can help you live more comfortably in your home.
- Proper maintenance of home. Investing in sustainable home building technology will only produce short term effects without proper monitoring and maintenance for your “green systems.” To really make an impact on your energy usage and to get the most out of your environmental conservation efforts, it is important to schedule preventative maintenance with a certified technician or professional who can ensure that you are getting the most out of your investment in green technology. Exterior maintenance is also important; regular roof inspections and debris removal will help keep your home in good shape despite storms and regular wear-and-tear. Regular maintenance and cleaning of the entryways will also help to reduce contaminants and moisture to prevent the buildup of mold and fungus. Lastly, regular inspection of your water fixtures (faucets, shower heads, toilets, etc.) will help to identify leaks before they cause major damage to the structure of your home or cause your water bills to skyrocket.