It's Not Easy Building Green!

To paraphrase a well known popular frog...it's not easy building green!  In fact, it can be complicated and confusing. 

There are many choices of materials and methods that claim a “green” label.  Green comes in many shades, and any particular material may be included or excluded on the “green list” depending upon who you ask. 

Trying to find a standard, universal definition of “green building” is no simple task.  It starts by defining “green” not as a particular product or process, but as a lifestyle, which people from all age groups and stations in life are moving toward.

Several points must be taken into account when building a new home, and they become even more important when looking at the new home from the perspective of living a green lifestyle. 
  • An appropriate-sized house.  “Appropriate sized” means a home that fits the owner's needs.  While a "tiny" 120 square foot home may be appropriate for one person, it may take 800-1000 square feet to be appropriate for another--this is truly a personal preference and decision.  But keep in mind that extra space that is used only occasionally raises property taxes, and costs more to build, maintain, heat, and cool.  Keep spaces small and multifunctional.
  • Efficiency.  The shape and configuration of a house determines its comfort and convenience.  An open floor plan and easy access into, out of, and through the house make daily routines easier.  Round shapes are the most efficient.  Avoid long rectangles and offset or “bumped out” exterior walls.
  • Energy.  How can energy needs be reduced while insuring a comfortable environment?  Build the tightest, most energy efficient envelope you can afford.  Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are a reasonable cost method for walls and roofs.  Choose and size windows that allow natural light in while having as high an R value as possible.  Appliances, lighting, and water heating are high energy users.  Get the most efficient models available and manage for minimal energy use.  Minimizing energy use through proper insulation and sealing, natural light, and air flow will significantly reduce monthly utility bills.  Reducing energy needs pays – a savings of $100 per month total on utilities adds up to $24,000 over 20 years at today's rates, without future increases. 
  • Alternate Energy.  Adding solar electric generation, solar domestic water heating, or simply passive solar heating is much easier and cost-effective in an appropriately sized, low energy use home.  Siting and landscape plantings can be used to block winter winds and provide shade in the summer.  Work with nature as much as possible in making your home comfortable.

Even the most appropriately sized, well built, and energy efficient home must be lived with, not just in.  Window shades or thermal shutters operated to match the changing conditions of the day, hot water use at the end of the day using solar heated water, turning off, or even better, unplugging appliances that are not being used...all of these are little changes that add up to a “greener” lifestyle.

While building green may not be easy, it is easy to live a green lifestyle.  Soon, just like that little frog, being green comes naturally.


Appropriately Sized Houses

It has been said that the next big thing…is small.  We have seen it already in automobiles and meals.  And now we are seeing it in our houses. 

There is already a growing “tiny house” movement.  Houses in the 100 to 120 square foot size are built on a trailer frame for portability, which allows the owner to work around current zoning laws requiring a minimum home size.  Tiny houses do, however, have their drawbacks. They are a little too small for most people. Storm resistance on a trailer frame must be taken into consideration.  And vehicles large enough to tow the trailers tiny houses sit on, along with the resulting transportation costs, are not tiny by any stretch of the imagination. 

A logical step up from the “tiny house” is what we call an “appropriately sized” home.  What is an appropriately sized home?  It’s a house that feels big but is not; a house that is secure on a permanent foundation; a home that can be expanded as future needs change; a home that is affordable for singles, couples beginning their lives together, and empty nesters who want to downsize.  It’s a home that is efficient in the use of initial building materials as well as long term energy use and maintenance.

Smaller, appropriately sized homes are the future.  A smaller house offers substantial savings in building and maintenance, lower taxes, and lower energy consumption.  At the same time, owning a smaller home means more time and more freedom, and the money to enjoy them.

Consider all the options for your future housing needs, whether small or tiny, and find what is appropriate for you and your lifestyle.  It is true that size does matter.  And the future is clearly smaller.