What is Building Green?

Just hearing the term “building green” makes some people cringe an even creates an image of an unsightly home. However, building a new home using green techniques doesn’t mean you’ll be transforming your dream home from a beautiful swan to an ugly duckling. In fact, you can incorporate environmentally sound and energy efficient elements into the construction of your new home and still maintain its comfort and good looks.

“Green” is a big trend in home building right now, and it is becoming increasingly popular as more and more people become educated and more energy efficient and environmentally safe building products and materials become more widely available. There are several “shades” of green building. It can include anything from where and how you build to choosing recycled materials from an old building, installing energy efficient light bulbs and cutting wastes at the jobsite. Just one of these ideas or all of them together is a step in the right direction. Everything helps from incorporating just one energy-saving idea to using several green building methods resulting in earth-friendly building practices, lower energy costs and money in your pocket when it comes to paying utility bills.

What Makes a Home Green?
A green home, also known as a sustainable building, is a structure that is designed, built (or renovated) and operated in an earth-friendly, and resource and energy efficient manner. The main objectives of green buildings are to contribute to a safe, healthy indoor environment protecting occupant health, use energy, water and other resources more efficiently, and reduce the overall impact to the environment.

Why Build Green?
There are several reasons to go green when building your new home. First, green homes actually save money. Though the initial construction may cost more up front (the Green Building Council suggests 2-5% more than a regular home if you go all out), you will save more with lower operating costs over the lifetime of the home. For instance, using products that reduce energy consumption such as Energy Star rated appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs will save you money for years to come. Next, green building practices create healthier homes. We spend much of our time at home indoors so it makes sense that we make an effort to create a healthy living environment. Chose paints, drapes and carpets that have zero or low-VOC (volatile organic compounds). Many of these types of items are made with synthetic ingredients which “off-gas” VOCs potentially causing headaches, coughs and even allergic reactions. Finally, be responsible and use green building products as a way of doing your part for the environment. No matter how small the step, it is a significant step in preserving the earth for your children and grandchildren.

What Are the Elements of Green Building?
Building a green home involves everyone from the designer and builder to the interior decorator and even you and the kids. It includes consideration of a wide range of ideas and concepts from where you build to the practices you follow once you move into your new green home. Some of the main building practices and green concepts are listed below.

Home Site

  • Choose a site that is well situated to take advantage of mass transit for long distances and sidewalks for short trips allowing you to walk or ride a bike.
  • Protect and retain existing landscaping and natural features. Preserve as much natural vegetation as possible including many of the site’s trees. Also, refrain from clearing or grading your land during wet weather helping to prevent erosion.

Materials Efficiency

  • Choose materials with high recyclability, durability, longevity and local production.
  • Select materials with zero or low “off-gassing” of harmful air emissions like VOCs or those with zero or low toxicity.
  • Use material efficient strategies such as dimensional planning. For example, plan to have 8-foot ceilings and room dimensions that are at least 8 feet and divisible by two because lumber is manufactured in 2-foot increments. This leaves little or no waste. Or, design rooms with widths and lengths of 4-foot multiples, the standard size of sheets of plywood.
  • Build new while incorporating materials from old building and demolition sites such as lumber from wall and roof systems, wooden beams and flooring. For instance, one builder often uses lumber from old barns for wood flooring and built-in cabinets in new homes. 
  • Plan to recycle any leftover materials or donate them to another building project rather than sending them to the land fill. One remodeler donates his time and left over 2x4s and plywood to area preschools and children’s programs by sanding and cutting the wood remnants into building blocks for the kids to play and build with.

Energy Efficiency

  • Use natural lighting whenever possible. If you plan to do a lot of reading in the study, plan to have a large window filling the room with light and eliminating the need for daytime use of a lamp. In a similar manner, a skylight over the kitchen island offers overhead task lighting without flipping the switch.
  • Use energy efficient, compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Install high-efficiency lighting systems and lighting controls such as dimmer switches and motion sensors.
  • Consult a professional to select a properly sized heating/cooling system for your home. If the system isn’t large enough to suit the size of your home it will run more frequently resulting in inefficiency.
  • Create a thermally efficient building shell using high R-value ceiling and wall insulation.
  • Avoid extensive use of glass on the east and west sides of the home.
  • Install energy efficient windows such as those filled with argon gas or triple-pane windows. Also select vinyl or wood frames instead of the traditional aluminum frames, as these two materials make better insulators against outside air temperatures and.
  • Choose appliances, such as the refrigerator and clothes dryer that are Energy Star rated.

Water Efficiency

  • Install low-flush or dual flush toilets, low flow shower heads and aerators in your faucets to minimize water consumption. 
  • Collect rain water from downspouts for watering the flower or vegetable garden later. 
  • Install a solar powered hot water system allowing the sun to heat 80-100% of your water.
  • Select a dishwasher and a clothes washer that are Energy Star rated.


  • Establish a home recycling center for glass, plastic, paper, aluminum, etc. and take these items to the neighborhood recycling center on a regular basis.
  • Establish good habits at home including turning off lights and unplugging small electronics when not in use, turning the water off while brushing teeth, and taking a five minute shower or less.
  • Turn the thermostat up a few degrees in the summer during the day or during long periods while you are away and turn it down a few degrees in the winter.
  • Start your own compost pile recycling yard waste and food scraps.
  • Only wash full loads of clothes or dishes.
  • Get the kids involved and keep them involved.
  • If you discover a problem in the future such as a leaky faucet or a drafty window seal, get the problem fixed right away.

There is no doubt that there is a growing need to protect the environment for future generations. Building green is a step in the right direction. Whether you incorporate just one or two green techniques or 100 of them when building your new home, rest assured that you are doing something to help the environment and the global warming problem, you will have a healthier more energy efficient home, and you will be keeping a little more green in your wallet when it is time to pay those utility bills.

For more information about building green, please read the following articles, Go Green with Trees and Go Green Outdoors.

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