Sustainable design (or “green building”) is a process that incorporates environmental conservation techniques and efficient energy consumption into buildings and land development projects. Sustainable design has become increasingly important as energy prices continue to rise and natural resources become more scarce. The Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation is awarded to builders and remodelers who have committed to incorporating cost-effective, environmentally-friendly building techniques into homes, and to continuing their education on the latest “green building” techniques and regulations. To learn about some options for integrating sustainable design into your new home or remodel, read our article about Sustainable Home Design. Your CGP-designated remodeler will be able to find solutions for any budget that will help you turn your home into a residence that is healthier for you and for the environment.
Quick Sustainable Design Upgrades
Some of the small, quick changes that you can make to increase your home’s sustainability and to decrease your environmental footprint include:
- Swapping out your old lightbulbs for compact fluorescent or LED lighting. These bulbs may cost a little more than the old incandescent bulbs, but upgrading your lighting can save you money in the long run. Incandescent bulbs use a lot of energy and produce a lot of waste heat. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) produce UV light that emits visible light once it hits the coating of the lightbulb. They can take some time to warm up before they attain full brightness, but they use less energy and last significantly longer than the old bulbs. LED lamps are more expensive solutions, but they are available in a variety of different colors, they are shock-resistant, and they don’t emit heat. LED bulbs will also never burn out, so they can offer you significant long-term savings AND they reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Having the correct lighting in your home can also help you reduce eye strain. Look for ENERGY STAR certified bulbs to ensure consistent color, minimum output, and high efficiency.
- Utilizing rain barrels to collect and store rain water. These simple tanks can be made from recycled materials, and can help you harvest rainwater to water your lawn, wash your car, or fill your swimming pool. You can also use it to fill toilets and washing machines, and when properly filtered, it can even be used for drinking water. Rain barrels usually cost between $100-$150 for a 50-gallon tank, and even this minor investment will help you save money and resources right away. In addition to collecting free water, rain barrels can also help reduce runoff, prevent contamination, and improve the health of your plants.
- Using low-VOC finishes on your walls. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals with a low boiling point, which causes the molecules to evaporate from the liquid form into the surrounding air. Standard paints and finishes produce anthropogenic VOCs like formaldehyde, which can harm the environment and cause long-term health issues like allergies, respiratory illness, and immune system damage. Some highly toxic VOCs are known to cause cancer in humans and animals, and contribute to formation of smog. To protect your health and reduce your impact on air quality, make sure you use low-VOC or no-VOC products. Try to buy only what you need so you don’t end up stockpiling harmful chemicals in your house, and only use products with VOCs in well-ventilated areas.
You can also make some sustainable design upgrades to your home that may require professional installation, but that are still fairly inexpensive and can save a lot of resources in the long run.
- Installing Energy Star appliances & windows. The Energy Star designation means the products were manufactured by an Energy Star partner, and have passed rigorous testing by the National Fenestration Rating Council in order to meet the strict Department of Energy efficiency guidelines. Energy Star windows, doors, and skylights can help reduce energy bills by up to 15%. They can protect against colder temperatures during the winter, and reduce heat gain into your home in the summer. Energy Star windows can also help to reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your energy use. You can find Energy Star certified appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, and freezers to save money on your energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Installing & maintaining air sealing & moisture management products. Proper air sealing can reduce or eliminate air infiltration to make a more energy-efficient building. While ventilation is necessary to prevent the buildup of mold, dander, and chemicals, faulty air sealing can make a home less energy-efficient and less insulated against the elements. Over the span of a year, the small gaps in the sealing system of a typical home can result in the same amount of air flowing in or out of the house as leaving a window open all the time. An energy auditor can use a blower door test or infrared imaging to identify building leaks or poorly-insulated areas. Another important aspect of maintaining the health of your home is moisture management. Moisture can cause problems like frost heaving, wood rot, mold, spalling, and more. This can cause structural failures, cosmetic damages to the house, and toxic mold growth. Strategies and products that deflect water when possible, help with drainage of water that can’t be deflected, and dry any residual water are key elements for moisture management. Whenever possible, homes should be built with durable materials will help withstand exposure.
- Installing low-flow fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom. Fresh water is a vital natural resource, and sustainable building practices often focus on water efficiency and wastewater reduction to help conservation efforts and save money. Low-flow fixtures like faucets, shower heads, and toilets use high air pressure to maintain water flow while using a fraction of the water as older fixtures. These products can also reduce sewage waste and excess building materials by using less water and smaller piping. Low-flow fixtures can be a little more of an initial investment, but the water savings can help return the investment within a year. Incentives to buy and install low-flow fixtures are sometimes available through local governments and utility companies.