Reducing the amount of materials and energy required to build or maintain a home can help to substantially reduce your carbon footprint. At the same time, a green approach to home ownership ensures greater peace of mind, physical comfort, and preservation of a sustainable investment over the lifetime of the home.
Save money while living a more responsible green lifestyle - whether buying a condo, remodeling a home, planning new construction, or just wanting to take simple environmentally conscious steps forward. Here are some of the many interesting paths to a greener home:
The use of recycled materials; formaldehyde-free insulation, nontoxic paint, and intelligent energy-aware construction methods are just a few of the ways to create a more Earth-friendly home.
• Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) techniques are those design and framing strategies for wood or "stick-built" construction that were developed by the Forest Products Laboratory in collaboration with the National Association of Home Builders. Buildings employing OVE practices use less lumber and achieve higher insulation values without compromising structural integrity.
• That translates into lower construction costs and less energy consumption over the life of the home. The amount of lumber bought, transported, wasted due to overage, and transported away from the site as trash is greatly reduced, while thermal and acoustic insulation is boosted.
• A study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders Research Center (NAHBRC) found that OVE framing techniques can potentially save as much as $1.20 per square foot when compared with conventional wood framing methods.
• Pre-fabricated architecture is also making progressive strides forward. An entire generation of green designers is offering aesthetically award-winning houses and condos that can be built quickly in a modular manner, because much of the work is done off-site. That not only reduces environmental impact but also saves the homebuyer substantial expense.
Systems and Appliances
There are a variety of ways to harness green energy as a homeowner, and one of the best is to install appliances rated with the Energy Star designation. Some states even offer "healthy home" certification for energy efficiency that can qualify the homeowner for tax rebates or other perks.
• Passive heating and cooling techniques can be also employed by almost any homeowner to capture or deflect solar heat with a reflective roof, intensive insulation, or just strategically placed old-fashioned ceiling fans. An open floor plan with good cross-ventilation, in fact, can actually reduce energy bills significantly by making a home easier to cool in summer - so green options do not necessarily have to be radically futuristic.
• For those who decide to install solar panels or wind turbines, there is an increasing amount of government support being offered. Both state and federal tax incentives are available, depending upon where you live, and many local utility companies also provide assistance.
• The utility company may, for example, help install the equipment or share the cost of the system. Homeowners who tie their panels and turbines into a public grid can also "run the meter backwards" by selling the excess energy that they produce back to the utility company. Then the power will be redistributed so it can be used by other customers who share the grid.
Green Products for the Home
Homeowners can also choose more environmentally safe and beneficial products such as "on-demand" water heaters, energy efficient light bulbs, low-VOC paints, and flooring or counter top products made from renewable materials like bamboo, cork, and recycled plastic or glass.
• Conventional house paints contain toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). But low or zero-VOC paints and finishes perform just as well and they are more pleasant to use because they do not have the strong odors associated with high-VOC paints.
• Cork bark can be sustainably harvested without damaging the health of the cork tree. Then it grows back within a year or two. Cork is a great insulator and is unusually resilient - making it exceptionally comfortable underfoot. It also cleans up easily and is acoustically superior, so it is a quiet choice for any room in the house.
• Bamboo is harder and more durable than many varieties of hardwood, yet it also happens to be the fastest growing plant on the planet. As one of the most rapidly renewable sources of potential building materials on Earth, it is also beautiful to look at and gives off a warmth and glow that will enhance any ambience at a highly competitive price.
If you decide to build an outdoor deck, check out the newer decking materials made from recycled plastics. They look and perform like wood but have none of the harsh chemicals and annoying splinters that are found in conventional pressure-treated lumber. Maintain a healthy canopy of trees outside to shade the home and reduce air conditioning costs, keeping in mind that trees and plants clean the air - making the environment better for everyone.
Jeffery A. Hammerberg, Author
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