Where do I even begin? That is often the first question asked when it comes to Green Home Building, and for good reason. The information available on the internet about green building is unbelievable! Of course, we all understand that a Green Home is going to help the environment. What many don’t understand, however, is that a Green Home is also a high efficiency home. Green Homes are healthier, tighter, and better built than traditional homes. In the long run, they will cost less to operate, be more reliable, and have better resale value than conventional construction.
As a design build firm, our goal is to learn the “ins and outs” of the green home building industry and pass that information along to our customers. As we’ve become better educated on green home building, several important facts stand out that we’d like to share with you.
The Truth about Green Home Building
All green home options are not expensive.
While some elements are pricey (and even those often justify their price tag), there are many options that require little or no monetary investment. All that’s required is getting educated and making intelligent choices. In fact, building a certified green home (see the “Certified Green” section below) can cost as little as a couple thousand dollars. When you add these additional costs into a thirty-year mortgage, the monthly costs are very low–usually less than the money saved on your electric bill.
In addition, there are opportunities for various tax incentives that help offset some of the additional costs. Also, there are mortgage companies and lenders who will offer loan discounts for certified green home building projects. (Ask us for additional guidance, as these programs change frequently.)
Every little bit helps.
Much of the public focus about green home building is on the big energy saving devices, such as solar panels and wind turbines. Building green, however, actually encompasses all phases of construction and includes numerous options, devices, materials, and construction methods that each contribute in a small way to helping the environment. (See the “Green Options” section below.) In fact, Elements Design Build, custom home builder Greenville SC, has already incorporated many of these ideas into our standard building practices. So, even if you’re not ready to build a zero-energy home, you can still build a home with some elements of green building.
Energy usage isn’t the only consideration.
Green home building is multi-faceted and includes site planning, material selection (choosing sustainable, low maintenance, long lasting products), waste management, water conservation, and indoor air quality. (For more information, click here.)
If you eventually sell your house, the only thing a prospective buyer has is your word that you were environmentally conscious unless your home has been certified green. So, if you really want to have evidence of your level of commitment, a home needs to be certified as “green” by an independent third party.
In our area, there are two primary local programs and a couple of national programs involved in non-profit green certification.
Earthcraft House, based in Atlanta and affiliated with Southface, is a regional program in the Southeast.
NAHB Green (introduced in 2008), sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders, is a program that will likely become the national standard.
LEED for Homes, a US Green Building Council sponsored program, is one of the most established programs, but unfortunately is also the most difficult and expensive to implement. Their checklist can be found here.
Requirements of Certified Green Programs
Each program has a checklist containing the various green options that are available during the construction process. The options belong to a category, such as site planning, energy savings, indoor air quality, water conservation, etc. In order to qualify for certification, the home must earn a certain number of points in each category, as well as a certain number of points overall. Each program also has required elements, as well as tiers indicating various degrees of commitment.
Prior to construction (or better yet, prior to design), you go over the checklist and determine which options you are going to pursue. Ideally, your builder should also be heavily involved in this process. And depending on the certification program, they may also offer guidance.
During construction, most checklist items must be verified through documentation provided by the builder and/or inspections. An agent of the certification program or a professional energy rater performs these inspections (usually two). The professional energy rater is trained to run tests on the house to determine its energy efficiency. These results are used to obtain an Energy Star rating, which is a required element of some programs.
There is a lot of documentation and paperwork involved (which you can manage directly, or you can pay a small fee to your builder to manage the paperwork). You also must pay a fee to the certification program, as well as for the services of the energy rater. The fees depend on the size of the house, as well as the certification program, but usually run from $1,000 to $2,000.
Although it may seem overwhelming at first, when building your custom home, it is actually quite easy to add energy savings and healthy features. As you decide whether to pursue Green Home Certification discussed above, consider the green options listed below.
Low Cost Choices
Many of these low cost options are standard features at Elements Design Build, custom home builder Greenville SC.
- Long lasting, reduced maintenance options such as vinyl windows (preferably Energy Star rated windows) and fiber cement siding.
- Advanced framing techniques, such as studs on 24” centers – The goal is to use less lumber and increase the amount of insulation in the home.
- Wet spray cellulose insulation, made from recycled material – This insulation does a great job of sealing gaps and penetrations.
- Properly sized A/C system with sealed ductwork and programmable thermostats; keep all ductwork in conditioned space.
- Air tight house with little air leakage – sealed penetrations, spray foam around doors/windows, elimination of thermal bypass (air and heat moving around in the walls), zip system roof and wall sheathing (eliminates need for house wrap and roofing felt) – In our opinion, having a tight house is much more important than insulation.
- Low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint – Conventional paint gives off toxic gases long after it’s applied to the wall.
- Ceiling fans, compact fluorescent lighting (CFL), occupancy and motion sensors.
- Low flow plumbing fixture and toilets.
- Adding fly ash to concrete – uses up coal byproduct and reduces cement production (a major energy user).
- Pre-plumbing a house for solar voltaic panels, solar water heating and/or radiant floor heating – If you aren’t ready for these relatively expensive options, preparing a house for their eventual installations can save thousands of dollars down the road.
- Metal roofs – very long lasting and made from recyclable material; with light colors, can help reflect heat.
- Reflective roof deck coating – metallic coating under your roof to reflect heat away from the house.
- Variable speed air handler for your HVAC system – allows the fan to run more frequently at lower speeds; this means lower energy costs and a more comfortable home with less humidity.
- Fresh air ventilation system – A tight house requires fresh air from the outside to be healthy.
- Whole house air filters, dehumidifiers (for basements mainly), and humidifiers (for winter)
- Tankless (on-demand) hot water heater – continuous hot water, uses less energy.
- Spray foam insulation – expandable foam creates a very tight home.
- Energy efficient appliances and front-loading washing machines.
- Alternative materials (concrete/glass countertops, acid stained concrete floors, recycled shingles)
- Radiant floor heat – supplying heat through coils installed in the floor
- Geothermal heating and cooling system – uses the constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool the house
- Solar water heating – letting the sun heat your water
- Solar photovoltaic energy storage – creating energy from the sun
- Rainwater collection system – from simple rainwater collection barrels to large cistern systems that supply a whole house with water
Passive Solar Options
- Properly orient your home to capture warmth of the winter sun.
- Properly sized overhangs keep sun out in summer and let sun in during the winter; general guideline for our area is to locate the sun’s shadow at window sill based on the June 21 sun angle (about 78 degrees at its peak). Try this sun angle calculator for other locations.
- Thermal mass heat storage – concrete or water filled walls to absorb the heat during the day and release at night
- Daylighting – eliminating need for daytime lighting through strategic window placement
- Cross-ventilation – windows / screen doors that allow for air flow in the house, as well as operable upper windows to release heat from the home
Green Home Building Resources
If you’d like more information about Green Home Building, check out the resources below by clicking on the various links.
www.energystar.gov – ENERGY STAR qualified products and practices help save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. EPA and DOE. The ENERGY STAR label also designates superior energy performance in homes and buildings.
green.wikia.com – Founded by the same person who founded wikipedia, this is a user contribution supported encyclopedia on green building. There are hundreds of articles on a wide array of subjects.
www.southface.org – An Atlanta based organization promoting sustainable building. They have a very useful resource center in their demonstration home. Southface also sponsors the EarthCraft House green building certification program.
www.usgbc.org – The US Green Building Council’s goal is to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation.
www.dsireusa.org – Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. A nationwide (state by state and federal) list of a wide variety of incentives for homeowners to invest in green technologies. Of note to area residents are the NC Renewable Energy Tax Credit and the Duke Power Energy Star 5% discount. On a national scale, there’s the Residential Solar and Fuel Cell Tax Credit and the FHA’s Energy Efficient Mortgage Program.
www.greenandsave.com – Green and Save, returns on investment for various green building options.
https://www.architectmagazine.com/ – Contains numerous articles about sustainability
Green Building – More information about Green Home Building on the Resources page of Elements
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