Green houses once meant the glass enclosed sheds avid gardeners had in their backyard. Now there are hundreds of words and phrases used to talk about green houses, that mean something totally different.
This article covers some of the most important green concepts. It will help you interpret all the new green words you're hearing – going green, living green, green home, green building, green remodeling, green building materials, green architecture, green building products, energy star, recycled products, eco friendly products, green cleaning products and more.
Understanding the Words Describing Green Houses
Words describing green houses aren't meaningful unless we know the underlying concepts. All resources can be grouped into 3 categories: renewable, non-renewable and perpetual resources, the later being a new word I discovered while doing research for this article.
Perpetual Resources – are resources not affected by human use. The best examples are sunlight and wind. No matter how much energy we collect from the sun or wind today, we won't impact how much sunlight or wind will be available tomorrow. That's why it's so critical that we find ways to use sunlight and wind to power our houses. Read about new solar roofing shingles replacing early solar panels.
Renewable Resources – refer to resources that can be replenished using renewable processes. An example of a renewable resource is corn grown for ethanol because you can grow a crop, harvest it and grow another crop in the same place. Mining coal or drilling for oil are not renewable processes. There is a finite amount of raw materials that once removed from the earth, will take millions of years to replace.
Non-Renewable Resources – are available in a fixed supply. For example, fossil fuels including coal, natural gas, and oil are non-renewable resources that are being rapidly depleted to heat/cool our buildings and power everything from cars to power tools and machines. While we've focused on animals that get placed on the list of endangered species, there are many other non-renewable resources we need to start paying attention to:
- Plants and Animals – are non-renewable when they become extinct. Fishing and hunting limits are one way to protect many species from extinction.
- Fresh groundwater – when used up faster than it is replaced through rain fall, is non-renewable. More than 3/4s of our underground water supplies are non-renewable as the cycle to replace the water takes centuries. This is a huge problem as the worldwide population is growing faster than our water supplies.
- Trees – When a forest of trees is clearcut, it can change the soil and the climate of the ecosystem. This affects the growth of new trees, plants and animals who must leave the area or die. There are new techniques for harvesting trees that do not have such a negative impact.
- Oxygen / Clean Air – A mature leafy tree produces enough oxygen in a growing season as 10 people inhale in a year. The same tree can absorb enough carbon dioxide to support 2 human beings. When forests are destroyed, it has a significant affect on the air. Air pollution also reduces the ability of trees to produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, and similar oxygen production in rivers.
- Land / Soil – Soil includes nutrients which are lost when land is overgrazed or proper farming practices are not followed to replace nutrients used when growing crops. Natural vegetation is also needed to absorb rainwater and protect the land from wind or erosion will occur.
Green Houses Minimize Their Impact on the Environment
Making a commitment to green houses is challenging. That's because “the typical buyer of a single-family home can be expected to stay in the home approximately 13 years before moving out” according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). So it's hard to justify spending money on solar panels that will pay for themselves but only after 20 to 30 years of savings on electricity.
But with more home buyers willing to pay extra for a home with green savings, many homeowners are making their houses greener. They know it will help sell their homes when it's time to move, and buyers are willing to pay more for these features. Where green homes once meant energy efficiency, buyers now want many green home features according to the American Institute of Architects. They include high-efficiency insulation, high-efficiency windows, tankless water heaters, water-conserving devices, products aimed at improving indoor air quality and renewable flooring products, like bamboo and cork.
Sustainable – means something you can keep doing for a long time, much longer than years. Long is defined as decades, generations and century after century. Sustainable processes cannot use non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and oil. Sustainable processes cannot reduce supplies of fresh water or topsoil. Sustainable processes must leave stocks of fish and other wildlife as rich and varied as they were before the process started.
Sustainable design is a term that we'll start to hear more about. The intent of sustainable design is to eliminate any negative environmental impact through our actions. It will affect how products are harvested and/or manufactured, packaged and brought to market. Sustainable design ideally will require no non-renewable resources and have minimal impact on the environment. It will affect our homes from their design to the building processes and materials used. Today we take electricity for granted. Tomorrow our homes will become self-sufficient, generating the electricity we need. That's why there are tax incentives for solar and wind energy producing products today, to spur research and development to achieve this goal.
Renewable Does Not Equal Sustainable
When you don't understand the difference between these terms, it's easy to confuse them and assume sustainability where a resource or process is merely renewable. Looking at the corn example above, growing corn for ethanol is renewable but not sustainable. It uses fossil fuel to produce the corn (tractor, irrigation, fertilizer, insecticide, and pesticide) and it depletes the topsoil. In comparison, a garden in your back yard can be sustainable as you could keep gardening for centuries without depleting the soil.
Want to learn more? We've got lots more articles on green houses here, and please let us know if there's a topic you're interested in. Our goal is to inform homeowners so if there's something you want help researching, let us know and we'll research and write it for you!