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Green - Glossary

TechShield Radiant Barrier
TechShield radiant barrier sheathing can keep almost 97% of the radiant heat in the panel from emitting into a home’s attic, lowering attic temperatures by up to 30° F.
Photo Credit: LP TechShield® |

We know that making sense of the green home building industry can be difficult, especially with all the associated jargon and new technology and programs that you may encounter along the way.

Consequently, we’re on a mission to track down simple definitions for different terms and practices related to going green. Peruse our growing list here! We hope that it will be a helpful reference for you as you “go green.”

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

BluWood® – A green building product recognized by its bright blue color. This lumber is treated with a special coating technology, called the Perfect Barrier System, which helps to protect the lumber from mold and termite infestation. Source:

Certified Green Professional – A designation offered by the NAHB's University of Housing as a way that building professionals can become educated in and involved with green building. The designation requires 24 hours of NAHB-approved training, and additional continuing education every two years. Source:

Conservation Easement – The preservation of green space within a community. Often protected by covenants.

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) – Highly efficient compact fluorescent bulbs are available on the market today. According to Energy Star, they use approximately 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. With improving technology, you can now purchase CFLs compatible for three-way or dimmer switches, and in warm and soft shades.

Compost – Decomposed remnants of organic matter most notably used as a natural fertilizer in landscaping. Compost is produced by microorganisms, such as bacteria, as well as insects and other soil organisms, such as earthworms. The main components of a compost pile include green plant materials, such as grass clippings from mowing the lawn, and brown plant materials, such as fallen leaves. Additional organic wastes from the kitchen can also be added to the pile, further reducing your waste output. Compost activators are available to accelerate the process.

Drip Irrigation - With water being our most valuable natural resource, it is in our best interest to stop wasting it! Sprinkler heads and hosing wastes water and leads to high water bills. On the other hand, drip hoses conserve water and deliver the precious resource directly to plants. Most tree and many shrubs do not receive adequate water from sprinkler heads. Replace heads with drip hoses. Drip can also originate directly from a faucet.

EcoBroker Certified® - The first green educational curriculum and certification for licensed real estate professionals. Realtors with this designation have completed an energy, environmental, and marketing training program, and benefit from on-going tools to help home buyers and sellers to take advantage of energy efficiency and environmentally sensitive design in real estate properties. Source:

ENERGY STAR® – A joint program developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy with the goal of education consumers to save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. In addition to rating the efficiency of individual appliances and products, Energy Star also affixes its blue star of approval on homes that meet efficiency guidelines. Such homes provide $200 to $400 in annual savings. Source:

EarthCraft House™ – EarthCraft, a well-established residential green home rating system, was developed by the Southface Energy Institute and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association.

ecomaginationSM Homebuilder Program – As a joint venture between General Electric (GE) and Masco Contractor Services, this program combines an Environments for Living Certified Green classification with additional green features and energy-efficient GE products. ecomagination Homes are designed to achieve at least 20% household energy, indoor water, and household emissions (CO2, SO2, and Nox) savings. One of the first ecomagination communities is Withers Preserve in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Source:

Environments for Living® – A program designed by Masco Contractor Services, a leading insulation contractor, that treats a home as a “system of systems” that work together. The Environments For Living® Certified Green program includes additional requirements in areas such as indoor air quality and lighting and water efficiency. Every Environments For Living program home is backed by Limited Guarantees for Heating & Cooling Energy Use and Comfort. Source:

Geothermal Power – Power extracted from heat stored in the earth. A home geothermal heating system (also called a ground-source heat pump), most simply, pulls heat energy from below ground to maintain a home’s temperature. The benefit is that during the winter months, rather than taking in cold air from outside and heating it, the heating system draws on air from below ground, which is an average of 55 degrees, and therefore requires less energy to warm to a comfortable 72 degrees. Likewise, in the summer, the system reverses and cools the home using the cooler underground temperatures rather than the outdoor heat. Source: Dan Steward, Majestic Estate Builders, LLC

Green Building Certification – A comprehensive green building certification program outlines criteria against which potential green homes can be checked. Everything from tree preservation to building products to the home’s performance on a variety of tests is taken into consideration, and points are awarded for each component that is met. The most notable programs in the Carolinas include LEED for Homes, EarthCraft House™, NC HealthyBuilt, NAHB National Green Building Program™ and EnergyStar.

GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified® – The GreenGuard Environmental Institute (GEI) offers an indoor air quality certification based on mold and moisture management and the use of low-VOC emitting interior building materials, furnishings, and finish systems. Individual products can also be GREEN GUARD-certified. Source:

Green Home – Definitions vary, but the National Association of Home Builders offers a good explanation of what sets a green home apart, citing that a truly green home incorporates at least three of five environmental considerations: energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water efficiency, resource efficiency and site management.

Green Lease – The definition is still evolving, but in general it is when building owners and managers write “green” operation and management practices into their lease agreement. It outlines the responsibilities of all involved parties. Source: The Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA)

Green Mortgage – A special mortgage offered by some lenders to homeowners of a new or renovated green home. Often features a reduced down payment or other helpful terms.

Home Energy Audit – A review of a home’s energy efficiency. Online audits, which require you to enter information about your home and your current utility usage into online calculators, are convenient and can provide a lot of good information. The best option, however, is to arrange for an onsite consultation in your home. To set up an audit with a professional, check with your local power company or search for local consultants who can perform this service for you. In many cases you may be able to find free inspections, but don't be scared off by a fee – any cost will typically be recouped in energy savings in very little time.

Home Envelope – Encompasses the entire exterior of a home, from the foundation and windows and doors to insulation and the roof. A vital step in making a home energy efficient is reducing uncontrolled air leakage in the home envelope.

Kyoto Protocol – An agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2012 and beyond. Mayors across the United States have pledged to meet or beat the emissions goals set by the Kyoto Protocol for the US (a 7% reduction from 1990 levels) by signing the US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Source:

LEED for Homes – The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System (or LEED for short) is perhaps the most widely recognized standard for building green. A home can qualify for one of four levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum). Source:

Low-E Windows – Short for “low emissivity,” these state-of-the-art windows improve the insulation value of the window itself.

Low Maintenance - Minimize or eliminate lawns, which are high maintenance. Stop over-maintaining: cut the grass less often, prune shrubs less frequently. Hand pull weeds. Remove over-planted vegetation and replace with correctly spaced prune-free plants. Rake leaves instead of mowing them.

NAHB National Green Building Program™ - The National Association of Home Builders launched a new green building certification program in 2008. The NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines include three levels of certification – Bronze, Silver, and Gold – and The National Green Building Standard™ includes an additional level, Emerald. Source:

NC HealthyBuilt – NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program is a collaboration between the North Carolina Solar Center, the State Energy Office, NC Department of Administration, and local building professional organizations. It is a prominent example of a local green building certification program in the Carolinas. Source:

Over-Planting – Positioning plants without enough space to grow into maturity. For example, a tree can be over-planted underneath utility lines or too close to a building, or shrubs and flowers can be over-planted when positioned in large quantities, often to procure an instantly full look for new landscapes.

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modeled on the relationships found in natural ecologies.

  • Permaculture is sustainable land use design. This is based on ecological and biological principles, often using patterns that occur in nature to maximise effect and minimise work.
  • Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants.
  • The ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, climatic factors and weather cycles are all part of the picture. Inhabitants’ needs are provided for using proven technologies for food, energy, shelter and infrastructure.
  • Elements in a system are viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimised, "wastes" become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored.
  • Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire regions.

Pervious Surfaces – A better option than impervious pavements, such as cement and curbs and gutters, pervious surfaces reduce stormwater runoff by allowing water to be naturally absorbed into the ground. A great example is gravel.

Pre-Plumbing – Typically refers to setting up your plumbing systems for a solar hot water heater, even if you do not currently have solar panels. In this way, when you are able to invest in solar technology, your home will already be set up to be able to incorporate it.

Rain Barrel – A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater, often via a home's gutter system, to use later for things like lawn and garden watering. Water collected in a rain barrel would normally flow through your downspout, onto a paved surface, and eventually into a storm drain. You can buy a rain barrel ready-made, or make one yourself. Source: Roger Bannerman

Rain Garden – A rain garden uses native landscaping to soak up rain water from your downspout. The middle part of the garden holds several inches of water, allowing it to slowly infiltrate into the ground instead of being delivered to the stormdrain all at once. Source: Roger Bannerman

R-Value – Typically referring to insulation. Short for “resistance to heat flow.” Increasing the R-value of insulation implies better thermal performance and energy efficiency. An example of a high R-value insulation is spray foam insulation, which is literally sprayed within a wall cavity as foam, and then expands into every nook and crevice, tightly sealing all corners.

Siting – 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.

Solar Panel – An exterior panel, often installed on the roof of a home or building, or in a yard, that is designed to absorb the sun’s rays as a source of energy to generate electricity or heat. Source: Oxford American Dictionary

Sustainable – When something is sustainable, it is able to be maintained/conserved/preserved over time at a constant level without requiring the depletion of natural resources.

Sustainable Development – A comprehensive approach to community planning that views a community as a dynamic, living entity. It integrates green ideas into every aspect of the community and focuses on creating an environment where humans and nature can mutually thrive for generations to come. Therefore, in each and every decision, the interdependent relationships between the two are carefully considered. In Developing Sustainable Planned Communities, a book published by The Urban Land Institute, a group of industry experts explore how sustainable development is the umbrella under which traditional neighborhood development (often called New Urban), conservation development, transit-oriented development, smart growth and green building converge. Another component to consider is landscaping (a viable option whether you live in a truly sustainable development or in your average neighborhood).

Tankless Water Heater – An energy efficient water heater that heats water on demand (rather than traditional heaters, which expend a lot of energy continually heating stored water in a tank). Whether gas or elextric, tankless water heaters can quickly heat water as it is needed. They are sometimes also referred to as Instantaneous or Demand Water Heaters. Source:

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – Harmful, invisible toxins that are normally released by things like paint, varnish and carpeting that are breathed in by humans. Look for low or no-VOC products on the market.

Xeriscaping – The practice of planting drought-resistant varieties of plants in landscapes. This reduces irrigation needs, saving water (and money).

Definitions are intended to be general, easy to understand explanations, and are accurate to the best of our knowledge. For suggested updates, or to request that a new term be added to the glossary, please email:

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