Say “goodbye” to the green home of the 20th Century – simplistic, ultra modern and cold – and meet the 21st Century green home, a stylish, healthy, high-performance home perfectly suited to any lifestyle.
“Green building” – society’s buzzword that refers to environmentally-sensitive construction – was once the dream of a select few forward-thinking environmentalists. It required compromises – compromises on design, lifestyle and price.
Today, however, green building is gradually becoming a reality, infiltrating every facet of life. Now, building green allows you to build the home of your dreams, and rewards homeowners with a healthier home for both their family and the environment.
Making seemingly small changes to one’s own home may seem inconsequential when the nightly news is flooded with global warming headlines, but small efforts add up. Together, one home at a time, we can keep the Carolinas clean and vibrant for future generations to enjoy as much as we do today.
BENEFITS OF A GREAT HOME
The benefits of building a green home are diverse, but the most widely recognized outcomes are environmental. Reducing the environmental impact of homes is an important step towards fighting global warming and conserving valuable natural resources.
However, there are numerous, less publicized benefits of green homes. The first warms the heart of every American – savings. Cost has long been considered a deterrent to building a green home, initially turning interested homeowners away. Closer inspection, however, reveals that price increases are generally only a few percentage points higher (a statistic decreasing as green practices become increasingly mainstream).
Learning to view these upfront costs as an investment is key. Additional expenses will literally pay for themselves in lower energy and water bills, tax and insurance credits and reduced repair needs.
Carlton Owen, owner of The Upstate House, a green home in Greenville, S.C., attests that anyone buying a home should consider the, “total cost of ownership – the purchase price, plus operating costs, plus maintenance, plus taxes, etc. Often, one will find that the higher purchase price for a better built, more sustainable home has a lower total cost of ownership.”
According to Mr. Owen’s blog, during the summer of 2006, in the midst of above average temperatures, he reaped rewards of below average utility bills: $72.18 in July and $63.22 in August.
In 1983, after years of vacationing in South Carolina, Mrs. Judith Rigg and her husband, Emil, decided to trade their green home in Bethesda, Maryland, for a new one in Hilton Head, S.C. “We planned to live in our new home for only five years,” says Mrs. Rigg, “but that turned out to be 15.” The Riggs, who embraced green building years before it became an industry hot topic, are now a wonderful testament to the benefits of living in a green home.
At that time, their 2,700 square foot green home in Hilton Head cost them an average of $50 a month in electricity bills – the same as their 750 square foot, non-green guest house on the same property. Their solar batch water heater, which utilizes solar panels to heat the water, cost them only about $20 a year to run. “Whereas a normal house our size would require a seven-ton heater, we only needed a half-ton heater,” Mrs. Rigg explains.
The superior energy efficiency of a green home reminds us that it’s truly a high-performance home. Attention to detail and durable, sustainable materials makes a green home far superior to the average home on the market and results in numerous health benefits. Along with drastically improved air quality and reduced exposure to mold, mildew and toxins (of great comfort to allergy sufferers) green homes also maintain consistent temperatures and humidity levels throughout the home.
“My green homes are the most comfortable homes that I have ever lived in,” says Mrs. Rigg, attributing much of her satisfaction to the abundant natural light. “It feels more like we are living outside than indoors.”
As the advantages of green homes become more desirable (and necessary) green elements will likely become standard on homes. Therefore, homes without green attributes may actually lose value. Going green today is a valuable way to protect your investment in your home, regardless of whether you think you will ever put it back on the market.
Mr. Owen agrees. “As energy prices spike again – and they will,” he warns, “those who make modest changes now in energy use in their homes. . . won’t be nearly as impacted as those who don’t.”
- Reduced Material Consumption
- Lower Energy Costs
- Lower Water Bills
- Low maintenance Due to Durability
- Increased Home Value
- Potential Lower Insurance Costs
- Potential Tax Credits & Incentives
GREEN HOME DESIGN
“A lot of horse power and snazzy looks.” This is how Dan Steward, who has been building luxury custom green homes for more than 26 years, describes a green home.
Mr. Steward, who moved, with his wife, Eva, to Asheville from California in 2005, found himself in a rapidly-growing green building industry in the mountains of western North Carolina.
As Mr. Steward has found, contrary to popular belief, homeowners do not have to give up the personal style and luxuries that they have come to expect in order to build a green home. In the past, a green home could be spotted a block away by its simple design and unmistakable bank of solar panels on the roof. The problem was that not everyone is comfortable with this minimalist design. Fortunately, today nearly any architectural style - traditional or modern, Georgian or Tudor – can be built green. The green features are subtle (and often desirable) such as simple awnings and large porches for shade and durable building materials such as copper or steel roofing and brick walls.
“Whether French Country or – you name it – a green home doesn’t have to be contemporary,” says Mr. Steward. “We like to build homes that are green but don’t look green,” he continues, “Any style home can be designed to be efficient.”
With more than two decades of experience, Mr. Steward has come to realize that not everyone looking for a green home realizes it at first. “I see green building as high-performance building,” he explains. “There are a lot of people looking for high-performance homes, and when we get involved we can explain how a high-performance home is really a green home, and then we can show them how they can continue to make improvements and help the bottom line. It’s just the beginning.”
Building a high-performance home, however, does require extensive planning. But this extra attention to detail can really pay off.
In a recent project, Mr. Steward installed a state-of-the-art geothermal heating system for a home. Also called a ground-source heat pump, this system, most simply, pulls heat energy from below ground to maintain a home’s temperature. “Rather than taking in freezing air during the winter and heating it. . . air [from below ground] is an average of 55 degrees,” Mr. Steward explains.
It doesn’t take a scientist to understand that heating a home to a comfortable 72 degrees will require less energy if you start with air that is 55 degrees rather than freezing temperatures. Likewise, in the summer, the system reverses and cools the home using the cooler underground temperatures rather than the outdoor heat. As Mr. Steward foresees, “This is going to radically impact the environment and energy bills.”
GREEN HOME CERTIFICATION
After careful research and consideration, you make the decision to build a green home. Now what?
There are numerous “shades of green” to building a home, which is often initially confusing to homeowners. While working with an experienced green homebuilder can be extremely beneficial, it is not absolutely necessary. One of the most convenient methods in which to guarantee that you are building a green home is to build it to meet a set of criteria designed by a green certification program. The following are the most notable ones in the Carolinas:
LEED for Homes: The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System (commonly known as LEED) is perhaps the most widely recognized standard for building green in the country.
EarthCraft House™: EarthCraft House™, a well-established residential green home rating system, actually served as the model for the new LEED for Homes program.
ENERGY STAR®: In addition to rating the efficiency of individual appliances and products, ENERGY STAR® also affixes its blue star of approval on homes that meet energy efficiency guidelines defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
HealthyBuilt: Across the country there are numerous localized green building certification programs. One example in the Carolinas is the North Carolina HealthyBuilt Homes Program.
To officially receive one of the above green certifications, homes must first pass inspections by certified inspectors. These inspections typically carry a fee that varies by the program, size of the home, rating level pursued and additional factors. However, this is a valuable assurance for the homeowner that their home is as high-performance as was planned and many builders appreciate the double check.
During the inspections, homes receive points for various green attributes, from energy efficient appliances to building products made from recycled materials to how well insulated the home is. The more points the home earns, the more green it is. To provide further clarification for how environmentally friendly a home is, many of the certification programs have certification levels. For instance, the LEED for Home program has four levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum).
To read more in-depth information on certifying your green home, and to learn about other certification programs, read our " Green Home Certification" Article.
GREEN HOME FEATURES
After careful research and consideration, you make the decision to build a green home. Now what?
Innovations in green building technologies are immeasurable, with researchers developing new green products and strategies each day. Consequently, there is a vast array of areas in which a home can be designed to be green.
Sustainable Community: If you desire to be steadfast to the principles of a green home, consider building it within a sustainable community. These forward-thinking neighborhoods strive to strike a balance between the natural systems of the area and the new homes. Every effort is taken to preserve natural resources while creating inviting outdoor spaces, often with pedestrian-friendly tree-lined streets, bike trails and sidewalks. To reduce car trips, some communities (often called New Urban) are designed to live, work and play, incorporating shops and small cafés within walking and biking distance from homes.
Solar Orientation: “Siting” your home on its homesite refers to orienting your home to true south to take advantage of the sun’s natural path across the sky. In winter the southern sun helps to warm your home, and the exposure is particularly important if you have solar panels. Although not every homesite will afford this orientation, attempt to get as close as you can.
Stormwater Management: Stormwater runoff from sidewalks and driveways can be funneled into underground storage tanks where it is filtered and gradually absorbed into the ground, drastically reducing the need for elaborate sprinkler systems. On a simpler scale, rainwater runoff from roofs can be funneled into birdbaths or storage barrels to later be used for watering plants.
Size Matters: As a general rule, less is more ... more green, that is. The larger the home the more energy it requires to operate. Reduce your home’s footprint on its homesite by building up rather than out (if you don’t like climbing the stairs, consider installing an elevator). Small trade-offs, such as building the garage under another part of the house, can make a big impact by leaving more of the homesite untouched.
Recycling: A green home may incorporate a diverse selection of products actually made from recycled materials, and due to modern innovations in production, they may be difficult to spot. Everything from carpet to countertops to hardware can be made from recycled objects. Continue the sequence by recycling construction waste (this is particularly important with home renovations). An easy example: Any trees cut down during construction can be turned into firewood or mulch for landscaping.
Solar Power: If you don’t think that solar panels fit into the architectural design of your home, think again. New breakthroughs in solar panel design offer the option to use a collection of small panels that resemble roofing tiles, seamlessly blending in with your roof.
North Carolina residents who choose to install solar panels to generate electricity even have the option to plug directly into the local power company’s grid (rather than installing expensive batteries to store electricity). With this arrangement, the utility company credits the homeowner for the electricity created as measured by the utility meter. In the event that more electricity is created than the homeowner uses, the utility meter will actually run in reverse.
Home Envelope: A vital step in making a home energy efficient is reducing uncontrolled air leakage. Innovative foundation systems insulate the actual foundation and lower floors of a home, as do state-of-the-art low-E (low emissivity) windows that improve the insulation value of the window itself. For the remaining exterior walls, increasing the R-value (resistance to heat flow) of insulation increases thermal performance and energy efficiency. Spray foam insulation, which is literally sprayed within a wall cavity as foam, expands into every nook and crevice, tightly sealing all corners. (Editor’s Note: When homes are built air-tight, controlled ventilation is typically added to maintain indoor air quality.)
Roofing: Durable roofing systems such as steel or fiber cement rarely need to be replaced in a lifetime (experts refer to this trait as being “sustainable”) and suit a variety of design styles. Incorporating subtle overhangs over windows and doors and covered porches (a most popular Southern home accessory!) further protects your home against the elements.
Landscaping: In order to honor your community’s sustainable design, make your landscaping sustainable as well. Planting drought-resistant varieties (called xeriscaping), as well as minimizing grassy lawn areas reduces irrigation needs, saving water (and money). When thoughtfully planned, tree and shrub selection and placement can also decrease energy usage by protecting the home from sunlight and wind. But remember, plants need breathing room, so don’t overcrowd them – those small plants in the nursery will grow with a little TLC! Finally, don’t forget natural weed and pest control options.
Only the Beginning: There are hundreds of other green products and practices that can be incorporated into your home. Please visit this Website often to read a constantly-growing collection of in-depth articles and resource directories focused on all things green in the Carolinas.
Do you know of a community or idea home that should be included on our Carolina GreenHome Tour™? Are you interested in becoming involved in our expanding Green Programs, either editorially or as an advertiser? Please email email@example.com