Green homes mean different things to different people. It all depends on your own personal view point and idea of what a green home really is.
For some it’s all about living in a healthy environment without a buildup of toxins in the air. For others it’s about durability, low running costs and high energy efficiency. Often, a green home will include all of these factors and more. Below is a brief description of what features green homes commonly include.
1. Healthy indoor air quality
The average newly constructed 2100 square foot home can off-gas as much as 110 pounds of chemicals into the air due to the adhesives used in building the house. New homes are also made tighter than older homes, thereby resulting in trapping those gasses within the home creating a toxic soup that homeowners breathe every day. Considering we spend as much as 90% of our time indoors, that is a lot of toxic air!
- What can you do? Look for new home builders that have paid attention to indoor air quality by using low VOC (volatile organic compounds) adhesives, glues, stains, paints and more. Builders will let you know whether they have used low VOC products or not, but here’s a hint, if they don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s a pretty good indication that they’ve used standard glues, adhesives, paints and stains. All interior finishes including paint, carpets, wood flooring finishes, should also be low to zero VOC.
- Heating and Cooling: Builders concerned with indoor air quality will think beyond the building stage into the occupant stage. They will install radiant heat, a central air system with superior filtration or a combination of the two.
- No gas or combustibles indoors. A builder following strict indoor air quality guidelines will avoid installing natural gas in the house for the HVAC system and the cooktop or stove. In addition, there will be no fireplace or wood stove in order to reduce particulates from the combustion process.
2. Energy efficiency
Another quality people think about when looking for green homes is energy efficiency. In order for a building to use less energy to heat, cool and light the place than its standard counterpart, the building envelope will be tighter and thicker with greater R values (that is, insulation values per inch). In fact, insulation and energy efficiency of green homes is least 30% more efficient than what building code demands. Look for homes that are insulated in the basement (including the foundation), the attic and the walls. In addition, windows should also be well insulated with double or triple glazed (glass panes), filled with an insulating gas such as argon. The best insulated window frames tend to be wood or fiberglass.
- Other energy efficiency features: an efficient HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), such as a condensing boiler furnace with that runs on natural gas has an AFUE (Annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating of 95%. Forced air natural gas furnaces have an even greater efficiency at 98%. What that means is the furnace will convert 95% or 98% of the energy used into heat for the house. Green homes with tight building envelopes require smaller HVAC systems than the one for a home built to code, so not only is the initial cost of the mechanical equipment smaller, but its running costs are as well.
- Energy efficient lighting: LED or compact fluorescent bulbs will be used throughout a green home. Since lighting with halogen and incandescent bulbs can consume up to 20% of your energy bill, energy efficient lighting will help bring costs down. Further, quality LED bulbs last between 75,000-100,000 hours and unlike CFLs, they are dimmable. Finally, they don’t give off excess heat the way traditional bulbs do. A nifty feature being installed in some homes and condos is the “all off” switch, present in the master bedroom and/or beside the front door of the home. It will turn all lights in the house connected to the system off so you’re not running up your lighting bill while you’re out or sleeping.
- Programmable thermostats: programmable thermostats have come a long way in the last few years. Not only are they much easier to use than the first generation, thermostats such as Apple’s Nest can learn your habits and adjust temperatures accordingly, while others such as the Ecobee are programmable directly from your smart phone.
3. Water efficiency
While often overlooked in North America, water efficiency is an issue that will be coming to the fore very soon. In drought-ridden California, it already is a serious issue. There are many water efficient features of green homes from the obvious to the not so obvious. All faucets will be WaterSense approved or low flow. The technology has improved so much that it is difficult to tell a low flow fixture from a regular one. The one area where you may not be thrilled with a low flow faucet is the kitchen, where it can take twice as long to fill a large pot. However, many faucet manufacturers make faucets that allow you to flip from low-flow to high-flow, and the faucet will reset automatically to low-flow once you’ve turned the water off.
- Toilets are another area where the technology has improved since the early days of low-flush toilets. No longer do you need to flush twice to do the job. In fact, low-flow toilets have moved beyond 6 liter toilet and now use 4.8 liters and 3 liters of water per flush. Compared to the old 13 liter toilets, you are saving 2-4 times the amount of water in a single flush. Showerheads have also come along way, and thanks to better technologies that mix air with water, the pressure a low flow showerhead delivers is as good as a regular showerhead.
- Creative green homes may also include such features as rain barrels or underground cisterns that capture rainwater to be reused in the garden or gray water systems that capture shower water to be reused for flushing toilets.
One of the most overlooked features of green homes is its durability. A home built to last for hundreds of years will mean that a new home won’t need to be built in its place. This feature saves money, energy, resources and time. A durable home is one that with a little maintenance will outlive its traditional counterparts. In order for a home to be durable there are two other principles included: it must have a flexible design so that it can easily be adapted to different uses as families come together and grow. It also must be beautiful. An attractive home will stand the test of time and people will want to live in it,
While these are just some of the features of green homes, they are likely the most predominant ones. An energy efficient home with low running costs that is durable, beautiful and pleasant to live in will also be one that stands the test of time. What are the most important features of a green home to you?