Green homes have come a long way in the last few decades, and green housing is quickly shifting from an “alternative” way of building to the mainstream…and it’s only growing greener. According to research conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction, green builds in the residential sector made up 17% of construction in 2011, totaling $17 billion in economic activity, and the residential green building market was expected to grow five-fold by 2016. And now it’s estimated that by 2018 62% of homebuilders will be building 60% or more of their new homes green — with 32% of those builders delivering 90% of their homes as green — plus there has been enormous growth in the amount of green remodeling work that is being done.
This is good news for builders who are looking to distinguish and expand their business in the recovering market. It’s also good news for people who are interested in building the home of their dreams as a certified green home or with green home elements. With the expanding green home markets, there are a slew of options for consumers that improve the quality of their home, reduce energy costs and have a decreased environmental impact. Even better, the reported costs of building a green home have gone down significantly. Builders report that the cost to go green is now 7%, as compared to 11% in 2006.
Dropping costs in green technology are helping to make green housing a popular investment and available to more and more homeowners. Many green home products and technology can now be purchased right in your local hardware store. Even well-known national homebuilders are beginning to offer green home options and choices for their home buyers. These green building concepts are being put to work for homebuyer customers at all price levels. Read more about the trend here.
If you’re planning to build a new home, here are some green home building ideas you may want to consider:
No matter how green you build a large home; a smaller home with the same energy-efficient and eco-friendly construction techniques will have a smaller environmental impact. That doesn’t mean that you need to restrict yourself to building a humble cottage instead of an expansive dream home, but be thoughtful about how you use your space. Plan your home around your lifestyle, and keep the space manageable and cost effective. Think of square footage as an investment; put it where you want it most instead of expanding in every direction.
The sun is the ultimate source of clean, low-cost energy. When you build, you have a unique opportunity to plan for solar power use in a way that owners of older homes cannot. By making solar power native technology in your new home, you can take advantage of light and geography to get the most efficiency and energy for your investment. How you position your home on its lot and where you place solar panels can have a significant impact on the power you collect (evaluate the solar potential of your property and others using Google’s Project Sunroof website). Combined with other green building ideas, solar power can generate enough energy for you to start selling some back to your utility company. If that isn’t incentive enough, there also are grants, tax breaks and other government incentives related to the use of solar power in your home.
Cool Your Roof
The material used on your roof can make a dramatic difference in your home’s energy efficiency. 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 in order to help reduce energy costs and usage related to heat. Slate, terra cotta, white tiles, special membranes, and metal roofing are a few of the roofing products available with varying degrees of green benefits. There are many roofing options, and though the green options typically are more expensive – both in terms of materials and installation – you’ll likely recoup the costs through energy savings, the longevity of the product and minimal maintenance required.
We have to mention the “living roof”, because it’s just so…cool. 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. While they’ve been used more frequently in commercial building, living roofs certainly can be incorporated into residential roofs.
Harness 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. The earth itself becomes your heat sink with geothermal energy. 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.
Rely on Recycling
If you’ve ever wondered where old blue jeans and newspapers go, the answer might be as close as your walls. Total-fill insulation made from recycled materials pays off in the short term and the long run. Because you’re using recyclables, your initial material cost is often lower than it would be for virgin materials. You’re also saving money over time by using insulating products that perform as well or better than first-use insulation. Cotton, wool, wood pulp and soybean byproducts are a few of the materials you’ll find as spray-in or roll insulation.
There are many other recycled materials being used in green home building, such as reclaimed wood and countertops made from recycled glass, aluminum and even soda cans. You also may want to discuss with your builder 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.
Use Sustainable Materials
From the frame of your home to the flooring inside it, sustainable building materials can reduce the impact of your construction on the environment. Wood is a renewable resource when you choose a supplier who follows sustainable planting practices. The Environmental Protection Agency can help you source wood suppliers who adhere to sound silviculture standards. Flooring is one area where new products that are environmentally friendly and great for home insulation ratings and climate control efficiency are flourishing. Modern flooring of this sort includes bamboo, cork and linoleum, which is made of natural, renewable materials. More consumers, designers and builders are choosing linoleum as environmentally friendly flooring with a long lifespan — 25 to 40 years – and the ability to be completely recycled at the end of life.
Work with Your Land
If you design your home to take advantage of the surrounding landscape from the outset, you’ll enjoy easier, less expensive lawn care for the life of your home. If your property slopes, plan your planting to take advantage of its natural characteristics, planting water-loving willows in low areas and conifers on higher ground. Try xeriscaping, a landscaping technique that uses native plants and rock to minimize water use.
Focus on Water
Americans are becoming increasingly aware of fresh water consumption and conservation, and are taking further steps to reduce water consumption. Consider fixtures and appliances that conserve water such as low flow faucet aerators, tankless water heaters and Energy Star rated washers. There’s even a product on the market that automatically pauses your shower once the water has warmed up so that gallons of hot water aren’t wasted in an empty shower. Also consider capturing rainwater on your property. Before homes had running water, households often collected run-off in cisterns. Collected rainwater can be used to fill water features, irrigate gardens and maintain landscapes. Innovations in onsite water management technologies include using a rain garden in place of simply piping water off the property and as a natural way of filtering runoff in your yard.
“Energize” Your Windows
Energy Star windows are relatively new players in the window market, but they’ve quickly become rock stars. These aptly-named windows are government-rated as Energy Star products, and are much more energy-efficient windows than even the newer, double-pane models. Energy Star windows also greatly reduce sound transfer between outside and inside. The result? Heating and cooling costs drop and home values rise.
Take Thermostats to a New Level
Once only available in high-end homes, highly programmable thermostats are becoming the standard for new homes everywhere, as well as off-the-shelf upgrades being installed in existing homes. These high-tech thermostats can be programmed to adjust heating and cooling activities that take into account time of day, times when no one is home, vacations and more. This type of thermostat reduces your heating and cooling bills and saves the environment by reducing energy production. Furthermore, your HVAC system works more efficiently, meaning less wear-and-tear on the system and a longer life.
There are many, many green products and building options out there today that can add value to your home, decrease the home’s environmental impact and make your home perform better. In fact, as the market evolves the term “green homes” is being used alongside the term “high performance homes” to convey the efficiency and cost savings that are gained by the homeowner.
Ready to get started? Consult your builder, architect, landscaper, as well as your local home builders’ association – before building your home and throughout the process – to help you go green while building your own dream home or when building for your customers.
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