Buildings are said to be the biggest source of greenhouse gases in North America, not vehicles. Additionally, the building industry has been accused of being the largest contributor to global warming worldwide. With this knowledge firmly entrenched, a growing body of individuals, organizations and governments are taking a down-to-earth (literally) commonsense approach to the design, construction and operation of buildings, from humble cottages to skyscrapers - and encouraging all of us to go green.
Fundamental Reasons to go Green
One assumes that all sensible, well educated people living on the planet acknowledge that one of the most important reasons to build a green built home is to help protect the environment and conserve natural resources. After all, living in an eco-friendly home will be your easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint and help to stop global warming and climate change.
But a green-built home is also one that is energy efficient and has healthy air inside. So it will also be a more comfortable home to live in. Because it is energy efficient and utility services are lower, it will save you money too.
Admittedly you may expect to pay more for a green-built home, although the cost factor has become less significant in recent years. In any case, properly designed and built, a truly green house will be worth any additional expense.
How Going Green Helps to Protect the Environment
The environment is not only the spaces that surround us, it is also:
- the air we breathe,
- the water we drink,
- the plants that grow in the earth,
- the condition of the soil plants and trees have to grow in,
- the state of the oceans and rivers we so often take for granted,
- and all the external surrounding and conditions in which people, animals, fish, insects and plants live.
But how does building a green home help to protect the environment?
Researchers have proven that homes in areas where there is lots of open space and established trees sell more quickly and for considerably more money than those in newly developed areas where there aren't trees. This isn’t necessarily because of a belief in conservation. Rather, it's because trees create a comfortable outdoor environment for us to enjoy.
It's when you consider trees and forests in relation to building materials that conservation comes into play. So by going green and using lumber and prepared wood from sustainable FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council (www.fsc.org) forests you are doing just a little bit towards reducing your carbon footprint.
Of course other materials should also be sustainable, both in terms of where they come from (we really do need to stop plundering non-sustainable natural resources) and where they go when we need to dispose of them. Unless materials can be recycled in some kind of way, they will simply become landfill. This goes hand-in-hand with the durability of materials. For a house to be genuinely sustainable and green, it should be reasonably low maintenance and as long-lasting as possible.
One county in the state of California has discovered that more than 21% of the materials in their current landfills come from building construction debris and demolished buildings. And that is just one example, and in an area where the people are highly sensitive to the issue. In some parts of the world this percentage is probably more than double.
Carpets are but one example of a home product that often ends of in landfill, particularly cheaper types that can't be recycled and won't biodegrade. Happily an increasing number of companies are now sourcing natural, renewable products, including Earth Weave Carpet Mills, Inc (www.earthweave.com) and Merida (www.meridameridian.com). The California-based Interface (www.interfaceglobal.com) is an international leader in the field of carpeting that can be recycled.
Building a House that is Energy Efficient and Healthy
You don't have to be a "green" construction expert to understand the concept. Really all it means is that you focus your efforts on ensuring that materials used for building as well as methods used for heating, cooling, insulating and so on are both eco-friendly and do the job efficiently.
While you can ensure you include solar panels for heating and buy Energy Star rated appliances, you also need to be sure that your house performs in an energy-efficient manner. This relates to what professionals call "the building envelope", as well as systems within the house, air sealing, the use of natural light, and of course insulation.
Another vital issue in all our homes is the quality of air inside. Well built, a green home will provide you with excellent indoor air quality. While it's normally best to have natural ventilation, many energy efficient buildings today are "built tight". This means that there is no natural ventilation. Instead designers make use of high tech ventilation techniques including heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy recovery ventilators (ERV). This will ensure that your home remains well-ventilated, comfortable and healthy all year round.
In addition to using sustainable materials, green homes are also built with materials that aren't treated or painted with toxic products, and aren't manufactured using toxic adhesives. Since toxic products directly affect our health, this is another of the vital reasons to build a green built home. Both Green Paint (www.greenpaint.ca) and Benjamin Moore (www.benjaminmoore.com) produce eco-friendly non-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint products.
For decades we've been building our homes using timber treated with arsenic. This type of wood preservation is now banned in many parts of the world and new technology timber is taking its place. One exciting example is BluWood (www.bluwoodglobal.com) which contains no harmful VOCs and carries a lifetime guarantee.
There are many eco-friendly building products, some of which are listed at www.greatgreenlist.com.
How to Prove Your Home Really is Green
Assuming you choose a good designer and builder, they'll make sure your home is eco-friendly and energy efficient. But what happens when you decide to sell your green-built house? Having possibly spent more money than you wanted to – simply to be green – you are suddenly transferred to another state. Now you're wondering if it really was a good idea to build green.
If you build using an acknowledged and well known green home program, this will go a long way towards a profitable resale. However, while you may have a perfectly "green" home, without recognized certifications and ratings, you won't have proof.
Essentially any green building rating tool will set standards and establish benchmarks for so-called green building. These tools are drawn up such a way to allow objective assessment of designs, materials and building methods. The building is then rated according to a points system, according to what is green and what isn't. While most are aimed at public buildings, there is much merit in utilizing green building tools for home building.
There are various rating systems in different parts of the world; the leading certification system in North America is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – www.leed.net).
At the end of the day, you have a choice between a new home that is going to be healthy and efficient and one that is not. As global energy costs continue to soar, healthy efficiency must surely be top of the list of reasons to build a green built home.