Our home is our castle, and while we might focus on decorating our houses, we can also expand our focus to build green, sustainable homes. But what does that really mean … and yes, it's confusing. Knowing there are numerous organizations creating different green home standards, I decided to see what Wikipedia has to say about sustainable homes. The results from googling “sustainable homes wikipedia” were fascinating:
- Code for Sustainable Homes – covers the rating method for certifying the performance of new homes in the UK.
- Green Building – talks about green construction or sustainable building that is “environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition”.
- Sustainable living – looks at lifestyles that reduce our impact on the Earth's natural resources, including energy consumption (housing), diet and transportation.
- Green Homes – are houses designed to be environmentally friendly and sustainable, with an emphasis on efficient use of energy, water and the natural resources that go into building materials and products.
- … and the list continues – sustainable design, sustainable architecture and lifetime home standards.
Wikipedia also describes the current lack of consistent standards within the housing industry. “The parts that make up a green home are not universally agreed upon. There do not exist national standards on what constitutes a green remodel, beyond non-profit certification.”
Designing Sustainable Homes
Sustainable homes cover every aspect of building a house, from the land to the design and materials used to build the house. It doesn't stop there, continuing through the finishes and home systems that will affect the home's operating costs. And while there's a slightly higher investment to build sustainable homes, they provide a return with lower operating costs month after month.
So let's look at the top home features you should look for in evaluating how sustainable a house is.
1. Building site – that will support solar and/or geothermal energy, water for native landscaping and a garden, and enough air and privacy for the home you want. Consideration should also be given to easy access to community services and transportation/roads for commuting to work.
2. House orientation – focuses on maximizing sunlight for lighting and heat during cooler months of the year. The length of your house should run east-west and windows will depend on where you live – cold or hot climate, in the northern (U.S.) or southern (Australia) hemispheres.
In cooler climates you want larger windows on the south side to capture as much sunlight and heat as possible. In hot climates, you want the sunlight without the heat. You can do this with more windows on the north side of your home and/or shading south facing windows with roof overhangs or awnings. For example in this Arizona home, the pool is on the south side of the house. The patio roof blocks the sun from reaching indoors and the other windows have sun screens.
3. Floor plans – should make sure that rooms get optimal natural lighting and air movement based on when they're used, to reduce the energy needed for lighting, heating and cooling. Open floor plans support the concept of sustainable homes as they reduce the number of walls that must be constructed, along with lowering lighting and ventilation needs.
Features and Finishes of Sustainable Homes
4. Sustainable building materials – mean using recycled, reclaimed and/or re-purposed materials like wood, aluminum, stone, glass and bricks. With the emphasis on sustainable building, more builders are following deconstruction guidelines to recycle up to 80% of the materials in a house. Many home buyers and homeowners are learning to save money and the environment, by searching for doors, windows, fireplace mantels and more on Craigslist, at Habitat for Humanity's Re-Stores and architectural salvage stores.
When using new materials, use wood that has been sustainably harvested or renewable materials like bamboo, that are quickly replenished due to their rapid rate of growth. Buy EnergyStar appliances, WaterSense toilets and energy efficient lighting, either LED or CFL. For air quality, look for paints, cabinets and furniture that is either low or free of VOCs.
Common green products for sustainable homes include:
- Green flooring – is commonly associated with bamboo, cork and recycled wood. Tile and stone flooring, are also great choices as they don't have to be updated as frequently.
- Green cabinets – are those made from bamboo, or recycling cabinets by painting/refinishing your cabinets or buying them used.
- Eco-friendly walls – which are becoming very popular, include brick or composites made from lime, stone, sand and cement. They're especially good on exterior walls where they offer savings on heating or air conditioning bills.
5. Sustainable energy – is available to homeowners with solar panels and geothermal systems. If remodeling, you can start with a solar hot water heater or step-up to a solar system that provides most of the energy needs. Geothermal systems offer another choice for lowering your energy usage, along with lower utility bills.
6. Green landscaping – means using using native plants to minimize the water and maintenance that your yard will need to keep it looking great (read: Green Landscaping with Native Plants). You can also design a system to catch rainwater to reduce your water bills. Gutters and perimeter drains can channel water to the garden or even be used to flush the toilet.