There are as many ways to build a custom home as there are people looking to build them. But one specific subset of custom homes that is gaining in popularity is sustainable or green home construction.
Sustainable houses reduce the impact to the environment both during and after construction. There are a host of ways a custom home can be made sustainable, or green.
From appliances to site location, exterior building materials to insulation, just about any house can be constructed with sustainability features.
ENERGY STAR® is a program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that helps individuals save money and protect the environment by providing information and rebates for energy efficient appliances and building elements.
Some of the easiest ways to implement sustainability elements into your home is by choosing energy efficient appliances that use fewer fossil fuels than traditional appliances. Tank-less hot water heaters are one of the most popular and easiest ways to create a big environmental and financial impact. Whole home tank-less water heaters heat water only when it’s needed, cutting the expenses of continually keeping a supply of hot water at the ready. Considering that an estimated one-third of a home’s energy expenses come from using traditional hot water heaters, the relatively higher initial price of a tank-less system will pay for itself. And depending on where you live and which tank-less water heater you choose, you may be eligible for rebates. Check with your electric company for details.
Geothermal heat pumps have been around since the 1940s, but recently there has been a surge in their use in sustainable homes as the money they can save on energy costs and the reduction in the use of fossil fuels associated with them becomes more important to protecting our climate. Geothermal heat pumps have pipes buried about 10 feet below ground, where the earth maintains a steady temperature of about 55 degrees. During the winter, when the temperature below ground is warmer than above, the water cycling through the pipes flows to the house and into a heat pump, where it is heated to the desired temperature. This requires less energy than a traditional furnace because it is starting the heating process already partially warmed. It works the same in the summer to cool a home.
A sustainable home also takes advantage of its building site by using existing trees to provide shade, keeping the home cooler in the summer. Artisans use the trees harvested from the site to produce furniture, flooring or other elements of the house, therefore reducing waste.
Windows and doors are also significant but easy areas in which builders can add sustainability. Energy efficient window and door frames made of wood or fiberglass keep the outdoor elements out. But they require more maintenance than traditional windows. The windows themselves offer three options to conserve energy and lower heating, cooling and electric light costs. Insulated glass features two panes of glass, which offers an extra barrier between inside and out. Windows with low-E glass are coated with a nearly invisible layer of silver that reflects the heat of the sun. Finally, double-paned windows with argon, a colorless, odorless inert gas between them, provides additional insulation in windows that have been treated with the low-E process.
Sustainable doors also provide a barrier between outside and inside temperatures. Their primary benefit to the environment, though, comes from the way they are manufactured. Purchasing your doors from a green company ensures things like the replanting of trees used to during construction with fast-growing trees. These manufacturer also use materials in the cores of the doors that decrease the amount of formaldehyde typically used; producers can’t remove it entirely because wood naturally produces it.
Building a sustainable home also means taking care of the outside. Instead of grass, consider using native plants that don’t require mowing, which uses fossil fuels or significant electricity. Native plants also do not require fertilizers. This eliminates the chemicals leaching into in groundwater and ending up in fields. Scientists are studying the effects of this practice, which are being realized today in the agriculture products we consume. Before planting native plants, check with your homeowner’s association for rules on yard appearance.
Pervious driveways, sidewalks and patios that absorb water are another simple and attractive way to protect your environment. Most poured concrete is impervious to water. Landscaping bricks and tiles, on the other hand, allow water to drain between them at a slower pace. This avoids bombarding aging sewers and flooding culverts with runoff.
Even making sure your insulation is up to par can have big benefits to the energy efficiency home. Fiberglass insulation certainly isn’t new. It’s been used for 80 years. Builders still use it as the best option to help your home maintain its desired temperature and cut down on acoustics.
Contact Fruth Construction
For more information on these and more tips on building a sustainable custom home or work green elements into the design of your home, contact Alex Fruth of Fruth Construction.