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How To Go Green Around Your Home

What is Green Building?

If years have colors, lately it is green. From Wall Street to Hollywood, from Madison Avenue to Main Street, everyone is talking “green”. “Green”, as in an increasing awareness that what we do effects our environment, often for the worse, and that by changing how we do things we may be able to reduce or even reverse some of that impact.

But what does “green” mean to construction and remodel projects? Simply put it means designing and building in ways that reduce the impact of the building on the environment during the construction or remodel and for its lifetime. “Green building” has been around as long as the modern environmental movement. Recently there has been an explosion of interest in, resources for, products available and media attention paid to green building. It can all be overwhelming. So here is simple overview of some of the key points of green building.

Of paramount importance is energy conservation. The green approach emphasizes building in ways that reduces the amount of energy consumed living in one’s home. We are all aware of such practices as using double pane windows and insulation in walls and ceilings. But there are many other ways of reducing the amount of energy necessary to heat or cool and light a home. Building orientation and roof overhang are two samples of design considerations that can take advantage of the different angles the summer and winter suns to reduce heating and cooling costs. Relying on properly placed windows and skylights can reduce lighting costs. Solar panels to heat water or generate electricity will reduce dependence on public sources of electricity or gas. The list goes of ways to design your home to reduce the amount of energy it consumes is long. But that is only one aspect of conserving energy related to building or remodeling a home. Green builders concern themselves both with techniques to reduce energy costs during the process of construction and with products that have less “embedded” energy – that is that require less energy use in their manufacture & transportation to the site.

Another important factor in green building is conserving natural resources. Alternative building methods, such as rammed earth or straw bale construction, as well as new approaches to traditional techniques, like optimum value engineering and the use of engineered wood products, all help to reduce the amount of lumber used in home construction. Another method is to use recycled building products. Using fly ash (a bi-product of pollution control at coal fired plants) as a substitute for Portland cement in concrete, is an example of a cross over benefit. It not only conserves resources, but it reduces energy consumption at the same time. Many finish materials help reduce the impact of building on our natural resources. These include the use of renewable natural products like bamboo, cork or natural linoleum flooring or recycled content finishes like rubber flooring, tile & carpet. The list of building techniques and products that reduce our reliance on natural resources grows every day.

Hand in glove with resource conservation is the effort to reduce waste. Deconstructing part or all of a building rather than demolishing it is a way of steering the resulting materials to recycling and reuse rather than into the landfill. Much of what we use in building can be recycled and many building departments are beginning to require it. Use of recycled materials such as recycled plastic lumber, recycled content roofing materials, tile, carpet, flooring and so on supports the recycle system as a means of reducing the amount of materials we throw away. Deconstruction allows for the direct reuse of some materials such as Cedar siding or exterior trim materials. There are many sources of directly recycled finish lumber.

Still another major aspect of green building is indoor air quality. How healthy the air we breathe in our homes is depends on how we access and filter the air we bring in as well as how we heat or cool it. It is also important to consider what else we bring into our houses. What kinds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) does the carpeting, upholstery, sheet flooring glue, cabinet walls, etc. give off? What does your vacuum cleaner leave in your carpet? These are all issues of indoor air quality.

Although not new, the subject of green building is constantly changing and improving. The concerns mentioned here – energy conservation, resource conservation, waste reduction and indoor air quality – encompass much of what green building is about, but we have only scratched the surface here. A great resource for learning more about green building is the group Build It Green accessible on the web at www.BuildItGreen.org. Every little bit helps. If we keep it in mind, it often works out that its just as easy to build it green.





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