Sustainable Living: 10 Tips for Building a Green Home

More and more, “green homes” are coming to mean “high performance homes.” While it may seem like an expensive investment, with the right planning and a quality contractor, you a green home can not only be affordable, but in the long run, cost-efficient and energy-saving.
March 31, 2021

If you’ve been dreaming about building a new home or renovating your existing home, now would be the right time to think of going green for it. With the rising climate crisis, the time to build sustainable homes is now

While some might think that building green inevitably leads to sacrifices in terms of luxury and comfort, gone are the days where you’ll need to compromise comfort in order to be environmentally conscious. Thanks to modern innovations, a green and sustainable home can be as cozy as it is eco-friendly. In fact, with the right planning and strategy, making your home eco-friendly can actually be affordable.

Green homes have come a long way in the last few decades, and building a green home is quickly shifting from an “alternative” way of building to the mainstream method of construction. If not entirely sustainable homes, more and more people are incorporating green home elements into their houses. So whether you’re a business owner looking to distinguish your shop in an expanding market, or you’re a homeowner interested in building a “net zero home” or “certified green home,” just know that there are now a slew of options for consumers that improve the quality of your home, reduce energy costs, and have a decreased environmental impact. 

Not to mention, the reported costs for building new green homes have gone down, even as the demand for green building elements have risen. This is likely due to the increased builder experience, compounded with the wider array of options and competition that drive down the prices in the green products market. 

Even more good news: building a green home doesn’t necessarily mean you have to conform to the strictest requirements of sustainable building, nor does it mean you have to make your new home “Net Zero Energy.” (A term that means your home produces more energy than it uses.) The lowering costs in green tech is making green housing an extremely popular investment that’s becoming available to more and more homeowners. You no longer have to go “off the grid” to a rural outpost in the mountains to start incorporating green elements into your home. In fact, many green technologies can be purchased right from your neighborhood hardware store, or even from your smartphone!

So really, with all the knowledge and resources available to us today there is absolutely no excuse to not be environmentally conscientious. It has become vitally important to lesson one’s carbon footprint to save our existing ecosystem. With our world rapidly changing—often in ways less than desirable—it’s up to us as individuals to make positive changes in any way we can. And those changes can start in the one area we have the most control over: our homes. 

Tips for Building a Greener Home

1. Use sustainable building materials

While it sounds like a fancy technical term, in the context of green homes, “sustainable” is a catch-all term that encompasses as many of these points as possible:

  • Recycled or Reused: Recycled material means material that has been reprocessed, such as turning aluminum cans into wheelchairs. Reused materials are versatile and are usually used in windows, doors, and flooring.
  • Sustainably Harvested: One of the prime examples of sustainably harvested materials is wood. Wood that comes from sustainably managed forests means that the supply chain is certified and well-documented, preserving the ecosystem.
  • Quickly Renewable: Materials that are quickly renewable are also considered sustainable. Bamboo, for example, is a type of grass and not a wood, and so grows much quicker than say, oak or pine.
  • Non-Toxic and Non-Allergenic: Non-toxic and non-allergenic materials are not only bad for you, but also bad for the environment. These types of materials contain usually formaldehyde and black mold.
  • Locally Sourced: Whenever possible, use materials sourced within a roughly 100-mile radius, as it reduces the carbon footprint of having materials carried over great distances.

Sustainable materials is the cornerstone of a green home. While no single type of material is considered universally sustainable, opt to get materials that fulfill all of the above checkpoints as possible. The more of these “good points” you check off, the better.

2. Prioritize water and energy efficiency

In the past, builders and homeowners viewed energy and water as renewable resources, creating homes that have unwisely used energy and water. Today, we know better than that. 

An intelligently built green home won’t consumer tons and tons of water and energy, but rather, use it efficiently and optimally. Water efficiency usually entails collecting rainwater and reusing graywater (such as dishwasher, laundry, and sink run-off). You can also install efficient bathroom fixtures like low-flow shower heads and toilets. 

3. Go solar or geothermal

The sun is the ultimate source of clean, low-cost energy. When building or renovating, you’re in a unique position to include solar power as native technology in your home.

There are different ways to do this, the simplest being to take advantage of natural lighting! Positioning and proper geography can help ensure your home will be naturally lit for most hours of the day. Also, how you situate your home on its lot and where you place solar panels can have a significant impact on the power you collect.

Another option is geothermal power. Geothermal power involves a substantial up-front investment, but with it, you have almost limitless energy with which to heat and cool your home. With geothermal energy, the earth itself becomes your heat sink. During winter, heat moves from deep underground to your home’s HVAC system; in the summer, your AC removes excess heat and dissipates it underground using the same principle as a heat pump. Think of geothermal heating and cooling as a way to move heat instead of creating it through combustion.

4. Emphasize indoor air quality

Indoor air quality is the most vital yet often most underlooked part of green home building. Prior to the green home building movement, few designers, architects, and builders gave much thought to the quality of the air within the home. Now, with more man-made and artificial materials entering our homes—and thus a greater amount of chemicals—indoor air quality has become vitally important. 

When building or refurbishing your home, you should know about these critical areas:

  • Paints: Acrylic or latex paints on the market mostly contain low or no VOC. Oil-based paints do contain VOCs and should be avoided.
  • Floor Coverings: Carpets usually harbor dust and allergens and though lovely in a home, do not rank high when it comes to improving air quality. Wool carpets are the least harmful, but it’s preferable to let your flooring breathe naturally.
  • Moisture (Mold): Moisture means mold, and while that mold is not always toxic, it sometimes can be. Be sure to install bathroom and laundry room ceiling fans that don’t allow water to collect on walls. Regularly check remote locations like crawlspaces and attics to ensure that no mold is growing.
  • HVAC Filtration: If you have central air or furnace, the one point in your home that all air passes through is your air filter. Ensure that your filter is a HEPA-level filter. (You can ask your contractor about this.) If it is not, you can supplement this (or replace it, if you do not have a central system) with a standalone air filtration system.
  • Radon: Test your home site for Radon prior to building. Radon is an invisible air-borne radioactive gas that is the second most common cause of lung cancer in the U.S., second to smoking.
  • Building Materials with Formaldehyde: Insist on formaldehyde-free materials with your contractor. Generally, natural materials will have less formaldehyde, though plywood and particleboard both may contain formaldehyde. 

5. Build smaller

While we all want the home of our dreams, a large green home will have more of an environmental impact than a smaller home with the same energy-efficient and eco-friendly construction techniques. And even though “tiny home living” has been all the rage in recent times, building smaller doesn’t necessarily mean living tiny—it just means using creative design principles to make your home smarter space-wise. 

Not to mention, smaller housing not only has lower impact, but is more efficient, has reduced maintenance costs, and are popular in both urban and rural settings. Smaller home living provides residents the opportunity to be thoughtful about their space when planning and building, rather than going with the “bigger is better” mindset. Overall, when it comes to building the green home of your dreams: design your home around your lifestyle, but keep everything manageable and cost-effective. Square footage is an investment—make thoughtful use of every square foot.

6. Cool your roof

Your roof can make a dramatic difference in your home’s energy efficiency, depending on the material you use. You may want to consider a product that reflects the sun’s energy away from the roof, cools faster at night and holds less heat for less time. This will help reduce energy costs and usage related to heat. A few of the roofing products available with varying degrees of green home benefits are slate, terra cotta, white tiles, special membranes, and metal roofing. While there are many roofing options, green ones are typically more expensive, though in the long run you’ll recoup the costs through energy savings, product longevity, and reduced maintenance costs.  

While used more frequently in commercial buildings, you also have the option of creating a “living roof.” Also known as green roofs, living roofs are constructed to hold plants that grow on the roof to catch and filter rainwater and will insulate the home. This also prevents roof water from running directly into the storm sewer system. 

7. Work with your land

Designing your home to take advantage of the surrounding landscape will ensure easier lawn care for as long as the home is yours. Natural-looking landscaping also allows for easier care of decorative flora and beautifies your home for less effort. For example, if your property is on unlevel ground, such as a slope, it's best to take advantage of these characteristics with the appropriate plant types, such as water-loving plants in the lower areas where rainwater is more likely to collect, and airy, sun-loving plants on higher ground. 

You can also try researching a landscaping technique called “xeriscaping.” This technique uses native plants and rocks to minimize water use. You can contact specialist landscape architects who are familiar with sustainable development strategies to help you with natural, environmentally-friendly landscaping for your green home.

8. Invest in energy-efficient windows

A popular product in the green home product market, Energy Star windows are much more energy-efficient windows than even the newer, double-pane window models. These windows, due to their make, greatly reduce sound and energy transfer between the inside and outside of your home, resulting in lowered heating and cooling costs, saving you hundreds of dollars a month in reduced energy bills. If you ever plan on selling your home, these windows also bump up your home value by a significant degree.

9. Take thermostats to a whole new level

Once only available in high-end homes, highly programmable thermostats are becoming the standard for new homes everywhere. These are high-tech thermostats that can be programmed to adjust heating and cooling activities, and take into account the time of day, the times when no one is home, your vacation days, and more. This type of thermostat reduces your heating and cooling bills and saves the environment by reducing energy production. A pricey installation, but overall an excellent green home investment.

10. Reuse and Recycle

If you’ve ever wondered where the items that you toss into the “recyclable” bin goes, the answer may be closer than you think. Recycled materials can be used in total-fill insulation. Since this type of insulation is using recyclables, the initial material cost is lower. They also perform as well or better than first-use insulation materials, saving you money over time. Cotton, wool, wood pulp and soybean byproducts are a few of the materials you’ll find as spray-in or roll insulation.

Aside from that, you can also reuse materials when green home building, such as utilizing reclaimed wood or purchasing countertops made from recycled glass or aluminium soda cans. Discuss with your contractor options for using recycled steel or recycled wood/plastic composite, both of which are high quality, durable products that can reduce the amount of new lumber used in your home.

No Sacrifices When Going Green

More and more, “green homes” are coming to mean “high performance homes.” As the market evolves, more and more green products and smart building options start to crop up. By taking advantage of this uprise in green home building, you can add value to your home, decrease your home’s environmental impact, and overall get your home to perform better, for less. While it may seem like an expensive investment, with the right planning and a quality contractor, you a green home can not only be affordable, but in the long run, cost-efficient and energy-saving.

So what are you waiting for? Contact ColeBuild today to help you go green for your new home.

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