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.

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