What is sustainable building?

Sustainable building (or green building) is a responsible building practice where elements are incorporated in a new or existing home that save energy, water, use reclaimed materials, use rapidly renewable materials, create less waste, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Why use sustainable practices?

It has been found that 48 percent (annually) of energy consumption and carbon emissions come from our homes, offices, schools, and all other buildings in our communities (Angie's List pp.10-11). By using sustainable or green practices we can reduce our water consumption by 40 percent and our energy consumption by 39 percent. The consturction costs of building a green home can be as much as 2 to 5 percent higher than a traditional home.

Sustainable elements you can use to build a new home or "regreen" an existing home:
  • Use an infill homesite or keep the home within 1/4 mile of an existing community.
  • Control erosion during construction and permanently.
  • Design landscape that minimizes water usage.
  • Use permeable materials for the majority of the property.
  • Harvest your rainwater and re-use to irrigate your property.
  • Reduce water waste.
    • Install dual-flush toilets.
    • Install aerators to sink faucets and use a low-flow shower head.
  • Follow the Energy Star Indoor Air Package initiative.
  • Use low or no Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) products.
    • VOC's are most often found in paints, cleaning products, and commercial adhesives. Products that have high VOC ratings are often marked with a warning telling its users to make sure the area is well ventilated. Many of these VOC's are harmful to our short term and long term health and are best avoided.
  • Use Energy efficient heating and cooling systems.
    • Use non-ducted HVAC Systems like Hydronic systems.
    • Geothermal heating and cooling take advantage of the of the earth's natural constant temperature. This system removes heat from one source and deposits it in another. These systems have been shown to save as much as 70 percent in heating costs and as much as 50 percent in cooling costs.
    • Solar energy has come a long way from when it first came out. "The current generation of panels can produce energy even on cloudy days and in wintertime" ( Angie's List pp 18-19). Also, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires that public utilities are required to offer net metering services and most states offer rebates or tax incentives to homeowners that install these devices.
  • Upgrade your insulation, this is the easiest way to lower your heating and cooling costs.
  • Seal air leaks.
    • Air can sneak in through windows, doors, electrical outlets, light fixtures, and air ducts that are not sealed properly which in turn means that the heating and cooling appliances must work harder to do their job. Make sure that when fixing these air leaks that the ventilation is still adequate so that the air quality in the home does not deteriorate.
  • Use appliances, lighting and windows that have the Energy Star seal and/or exceed Energy Star requirements
    • Appliances have been tested and manufactured and on average use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than other products. The Energy Star website is a great resource to search for products with their seal and stores that carry them.
    • Use windows with a higher rated U-factor.
    • Lighting that uses compact fluorescent light bulbs are easy and the use of motion sensors keep the lights off when not needed.
  • Build smaller.
  • Limit construction waste.
  • Build with Advanced framing techniques or use (SIPs) Structurally Insulated Panels and or (ICFs) Insulated oncrete Forms.
  • Use renewable or alternative wood products.
    • Look for wood products that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Some examples of rapidly renewable wood products are Durapalm (coconut trees) and Plyboo (bamboo).
    • Use materials produced locally.
  • Hire a project team capable of sustainable design and construction.
    • Involve all team members to help adopt and increase cost efficient green design and planning.
    • Implement a quality control program to ensure appropriate construction, selection and design.