Treehuggers and Hippies, Move Over. Here are 4 common myths about building a green home.
Myth #1: Green homes and solar energy are for hippies
Toronto architect and green design writer, Lloyd Alter, recently explained why he called his popular publication Treehugger:
TreeHugger was founded with the idea of making sustainability sexy. It was all about showing that sustainable design could be beautiful, could be object of desire, breaking away from the hippie poncho and Birkenstock “treehugger” aesthetic, hence the ironic name. All these years later, sustainable design has evolved, new standards have been developed, and it is all coming together at last.
While Millennials seem to get that renewables and environmental activism are just a mainstream part of life now, the middle aged professionals, who finally have enough money to build a new home, may still believe green design is just for hippies. A recent study found 56% of Millennials are looking at installing solar panels within a 5-year time span, nearly double those 55 and over.
There is still a residue of stigma attached to solar for some baby boomers who grew up associating renewable energy with clunky ugly panels and environmentalists with long stringy unwashed hair.
If you are secretly wanting solar on your home, but fear your neighbors might mistake you for a hippie, you are sadly out of fashion, but you are in luck. Through good design, a custom homebuilder can easily hide the panels, so they are not at all visible from below.
Myth #2: Green homes and solar homes cost significantly more
Right after fear of being labeled a hippie, the most common excuse for not doing solar or paying attention to energy efficiency on a new home is the mistaken belief that any unconventional way of approaching a design will cost you a lot more. This may have been true once, but now this is just lazy. While quality design does cost more than mediocre design, if cost is your excuse for not considering high-performance features or solar, it just means you don’t want to figure it out.
The good news is, you don’t have to figure it out if you hire the right design build firm that has experience with permits, knows how to work with your utility, knows what rebates and tax breaks you can get and will do all the legwork for you, from figuring out the best efficient glass to install, to what your ideal overhangs for shading should be, to how many panels you’ll need if you want solar.
Hiring the right builder and incorporating efficiency or solar will save you money on utilities, increase the value of your home and provide peace of mind that you are going to be protected from rising energy costs. Plus, you are doing your part to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Whether you hide that fact or shout it out from your (solar) rooftop, your kids will someday thank you for figuring it out.
Myth # 3: It’s best to add on green features after the design is complete
Your general contractor or builder is the one who handles things like your plumbing and electricity. So, shouldn’t you wait until after your house is designed and the plans are complete and in the hands of your builder before you explore energy efficiency or solar electric systems?
NO. You should not wait until later in the process to add on green features, efficiency, or solar. If you try to design in additional features after the fact, it will definitely cost you more. See myth # 4 for the reason.
Myth #4: The design process for a custom home starts with an architect and ends with a builder
Unless you are building in a development, you’ll be engaging either a custom home design/build firm or you’ll be hiring both an architect and a builder/general contractor. If you hire an architect, nine times out of ten, the architect doesn’t even talk to the GC until the plans are chiseled in stone and stamped by every agency. Therefore, there’s very little wiggle room at that point and redesigning adds cost. As any truly green builder will tell you, good design is an iterative and integrated process.
The mechanical and plumbing systems in your house, the windows and insulation, the lights and electricity (solar or otherwise) are often dealt with as an afterthought once you have a pretty drawing of your home. Many homeowners who follow a linear process of plans from the architect to implementation by a GC miss out on integrating green features. For example, knowing you are going to put on solar can change your roof angle and building orientation. And if the architect designs your walls to a certain thickness, your GC has little choice about how much insulation she/he can include to make your home energy efficient.
It’s rare that the residential designer and the builder collaborate and iterate from the beginning, unless they are part of one company. For a truly integrated design process, where solar and other green features that affect your energy and water use can be designed in from the beginning, it’s best to work with a custom high-performance homebuilder that does both the design and the build. And it’s best, from a cost and quality perspective, to choose one that specializes in incorporating efficiency and solar, or at least has a great deal of experience with it.