- Home Energy Savings Guides
- Water Conservation
- Home Energy Audits
- Buying An Energy-Efficient Home?
- Building a Green Home?
- Green Power Programs
- Income Based Programs
- How To Hire A Contractor
- Industry Certification & Training
BUILDING A “GREEN” HOME: BEAUTIFUL, SUSTAINABLE, AFFORDABLE
Green buildings are sited, designed, constructed and operated to enhance the well being of their occupants and support a healthy community and natural environment.
In practical terms, green building is a whole-systems approach to building that includes:
- Designing for livable communities
- Using sun and site to the building’s advantage for natural heating, cooling and day lighting
- Landscaping with native, drought-resistant plants and water-efficient practices
- Building quality, durable structures
- Reducing and recycling construction and demolition waste
- Insulating well and ventilating appropriately
- Incorporating durable, salvaged, recycled and sustainably harvested materials
- Using healthy products and building practices
- Using energy efficient and water-saving appliances, fixtures and technologies
Certification programs like ENERGY STAR® and LEED are designed to define and support green building and can be a valuable resource to those undertaking environmentally responsible building. Building a green home has many advantages, and both homeowners and homebuilders stand to benefit from increasing the environmental performance of a home.
Homeowners will experience lower utility bills, better indoor air quality and an overall healthier and more comfortable living environment, while homebuilders will see improved market differentiation, enhanced regulatory approvals and home sale premiums.
To learn more about building a “green” home, consult the FAQ below.
Building a “Green” Home FAQ
- What are the benefits of “green” building?
- What are some examples of green building techniques?
- Does “green” building cost more?
- How can I find a green contractor?
- What do I need to know about reusing or recycling construction waste?
- What do I need to know about environmentally responsible paint?
- What do I need to know about environmentally responsible cabinets?
- What do I need to know about environmentally responsible carpets?
- What do I need to know about environmentally responsible flooring?
- What financial incentives exist for building a green home?
- Are there programs that label or certify green homes?
Reduce the environmental impact of construction. According to U.S. Government data, buildings account for 48% of greenhouse gas emissions. Most construction projects result in intense environmental impacts, including energy consumption, the use of chemically treated and toxic substances and the extraction, processing and transportation of materials. By choosing to build in a more environmentally responsible way, you can mitigate some of the negative impact of construction and enjoy lower utility bills and a healthier living environment for the lifetime of your home.
Improve indoor air quality. On average, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, yet the air in new homes can be ten times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A common source of indoor air pollution is the off gassing of chemicals found in kitchen cabinets, shelving, paints and floor finishes. The building products industry is responding to these indoor pollution problems by developing safer products, including low-VOC paints, cleaners and adhesives. These products are now commonly available from most major suppliers at costs comparable to conventional products.
Conserve resources. Conventional building construction and operation consumes large quantities of wood, water, metals, fossil fuels and other natural resources. In fact, according to U.S. Government data, buildings account for 40% of non-industrial solid waste, 65% of electricity consumption and 12% of potable water consumption. Building an average 2,000-sq. ft. house produces about 7,000 pounds of waste. Much of this waste is avoidable. There are many well-established homebuilding practices that help protect natural resources. For example, advanced framing techniques substantially reduce lumber requirements without compromising structural integrity and using engineered lumber and wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council can help protect old-growth forests. Additionally, using recycled-content products helps put waste to good use.
Ways to improve energy efficiency:
- Passive solar heating, overhangs on south windows and deciduous trees on west- and south-facing exteriors
- Upgraded insulation, SIPs, advanced air infiltration reduction practices (air sealing) and Low-E double-pane windows
- Compact fluorescent lighting; low energy-using major appliances
- High-efficiency furnace or zoned, hydronic radiant heat; tankless water heater
- Whole house fan; solar attic fan
- Solar water heating, photovoltaic system (solar panels) or wind turbines
Ways to improve indoor air quality:
- Low or no-VOC paint, wood finishes and adhesives; no added formaldehyde
- Mechanical ventilation system, heat recovery ventilation unit, sealed-combustion furnace and water heater
- Range hood and bath fans vent to outside, bath fans automatically controlled with a timer or humidistat
- No wood-burning fireplace (or retrofitted wood-burning fireplace with EPA certified wood stoves/inserts)
Ways to improve resource conservation:
- Reuse/recycling of C&D (construction & demolition) waste
- High-volume recycled fly ash in concrete (min. 25%)
- Reclaimed lumber, flooring, millwork and other reused or salvaged materials
- FSC-certified wood, engineered lumber and advanced framing techniques
- Recycled-content decking, ceramic tiles, glass tiles or counters, carpet, etc.
- Rapidly renewable flooring: cork, linoleum, bamboo, natural fiber carpet
Ways to improve water conservation:
- Ultra-low flush or dual-flush toilets, fixtures with below standard flow rates (showers<2.5gpm, faucets<2.2gpm)
- Grey water system, rainwater harvesting system, low-water landscaping, native landscaping, high-efficiency irrigation system, smart irrigation control or no irrigation
- Living “green” roof, storm water management (e.g. bio-swales, permeable paving)
For more information:
Find green products for your home.
Colorado New Home Choices, developed by the City of Fort Collins and E-Star Colorado, offers resources for new homebuyers on a range of energy efficiency, healthy home and sustainability features.
The Energy and Environmental Building Association (EEBA) provides building professional resources on a variety of topics dealing with new home construction or retrofitting an existing home.
Visit the U.S. Green Building Council website.
Contrary to popular belief, building an energy-efficient, durable, high-performance home doesn’t have to be expensive. Because green building seeks to minimize waste while maximizing efficiency, builders who use a “whole-house” green building approach often find that the added cost of some high-performance systems can be offset by downsizing in other areas. In general, building a “green” home costs close to or less than 8% more than the cost of a home built with traditional construction approaches. This investment will pay for itself many times over in lower operating costs for the life of the building.
Green contractors are available through a few sources. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide has a “Find a Pro” listing where you can find builders and contractors as well as architects, consultants, green program services and interior designers.
The Center for ReSource Conservation (CRC) provides contractor information as a service to the community. The CRC offers this information as a guide to help residents make informed decisions. The CRC and its staff do not endorse any company.
For more information:
To search a list of contractors in your area provided by the Better Business Bureau, visit the Energy Action Planner, right on this site.
Use the “Find a Pro” feature at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Website.
Find green builders through the following organizations:
Find green architects through the Center for ReSource Conservation (CRC).
Reducing, reusing and recycling C&D debris can cut overall project expenses by:
- Avoiding disposal and purchasing costs
- Generating revenue from the sale of materials
- Creating opportunities for tax breaks through material donations
- Conserving landfill space
- Avoiding the environmental effects of manufacturing new building products
- Helping improve markets for recyclables
There are many resources available to help minimize the waste generated during the construction process.
ReSource is an innovative program of the Center for ReSource Conservation that makes it possible to reuse building materials. ReSource salvages used building materials and resells them to the public. ReSource can transform demolition projects into deconstruction, reducing waste and turning the materials into a tax-deductible commodity.
The Construction Waste Management Database contains information on companies that haul, collect and process recyclable debris from construction projects. Created in 2002 by the U.S. General Services Administration’s Environmental Strategies and Safety Division to promote responsible waste disposal, the database is a free online service for those seeking companies that recycle construction debris in their area. The database is searchable by state, zip code or materials recycled.
The Construction Industry Compliance Assistance (CICA) Center offers a “C&D Materials State Resource Locator” where contractors can find state and municipal recycling programs. Many state and local environmental agencies have lists of facilities that reuse or recycle C&D materials.
Visit the “Find a Recycler” section on the Construction Materials Recycling Association’s (CMRA) website to review a list of member C&D materials recyclers. CMRA is a 501(c)(3) organization that promotes the recycling of construction and demolition materials.
The Building Materials Reuse Association facilitates building deconstruction and the reuse/recycling of recovered building materials. The website offers a searchable directory of places to donate or buy reusable building materials, plus news and events.
The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI), an industry association that promotes and sustains the recycling of all steel products, can help find locations for recycling steel. The SRI educates the solid waste industry, government, business, and ultimately the consumer, about the benefits of steel’s infinite recycling cycle. For more information, call 1-800-YES-1-CAN (937-1226).
Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is a joint industry-government effort to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going to landfills.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paints, stains and other architectural coatings produce about 9% of the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from consumer and commercial products, making them the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles.
VOCs are the fumes that you smell while you paint or when you walk into a recently painted room. The use of VOCs in paints and coatings is often intended to achieve smoother application or quicker drying. But VOCs are toxic and are a major factor in the overall indoor air quality of a home. For this reason, those with chemical sensitivities or a desire to build “green” should select paints and coatings that have low or no VOC.
In conventional paints, the EPA requires a VOC content of less than 380 g/L of VOCs. In low-VOC paints, VOC concentrations are further limited. Green Seal, a nonprofit organization, sets comprehensive environmental requirements for low-VOC, low-toxin paints. To be certified by Green Seal, flat paints cannot contain more than 50 g/L of VOCs, and non-flat paints cannot contain more than 100 g/L of VOCs.
“Natural” paints are another option. Made mostly of renewable or abundant naturally occurring materials such as citrus oil, lime, clay, linseed oil, casein and chalk, these paints can create a vibrant, nicely textured, “old world” or “wash” look (particularly lime plaster paints) or a look similar to traditional even-toned paints. Because natural paints do not contain petroleum products, they emit few if any of the VOCs the EPA regulates for smog, though they may contain significant amounts of other VOCs from ingredients like citrus-based solvents. Overall, natural paints are healthier and more environmentally sound than latex or oil paints.
For more information:
See a list of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints that have been certified by Green Seal.
Typically, the glues that bind a conventional cabinet together release urea-formaldehyde, as does the particleboard (or fiberboard) that makes up the cabinet box. Formaldehyde may cause chemical sensitivity in some individuals simply by being exposed to it. Use of only hard or soft woods, metal or formaldehyde-free materials in new cabinets will alleviate any potential indoor air quality problems.
The finishing you use on your cabinets is another potential source of poor indoor air quality. Consider refinishing current cabinets with low- and no-VOC materials.
Most petrochemical-based carpets can include as many as 120 chemicals and be a primary source of indoor air quality problems. Fortunately, today there are wonderful, environmentally responsible alternatives.
Recycled carpet is a great example of the success of recycling. When you choose recycled carpeting, you get less indoor air pollution and reduce your contribution to the landfill—all at the same price as conventional carpeting.
Wool carpet is another great choice. Not only is wool renewable and very durable, but it can also be low toxic and biodegradable. Natural wool is one of the most durable carpet materials, lasting 25 to 50 years.
For more information:
Find carpets that have been tested and certified as low-emitting products at The Green Label Plus website.
No flooring product has zero impact on our planet, but some materials are better than others.
This buyer’s guide will help you choose the most environmentally sound and healthy floor that meets your needs.
Another option to consider is an exposed concrete floor. Concrete can be poured with integrated pigments or it can be painted, if color is desired.
Find low-emitting resilient flooring (e.g., linoleum, rubber, cork) products.
Review products that have received Forest Certification.
To search for financial incentives, begin with the Energy Action Planner, right on this site.
Find local incentives for LEED building projects, including homes, at the U.S. Green Building Council’s searchable database.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency links to many of the sources of funding for green building that are available nationally and at the state and local levels for homeowners, industry, government organizations and nonprofits in the form of grants, tax credits, loans and other sources.
The U.S. Government’s ENERGY STAR® website connects consumers, homebuilders and others to federal tax credits for using energy-efficient products.
Some areas have local programs that rate and “certify” new homes as green, such as the Denver area’s Built Green program. Some jurisdictions, such as Boulder, have incorporated stringent green building standards into their required building codes.
In addition to local programs, there are several national green and energy efficient building labels you can consider.
ENERGY STAR® certification requires that certain specific standards set by the EPA are met. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes build to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy savings features that typically make them 20-30% more efficient than standard homes. To achieve ENERGY STAR® certification, a home must pass inspection by an independent Home Energy Rater who is responsible for conducting an onsite review.
Like ENERGY STAR®, LEED for Homes is a rating system that promotes the design and construction of high performance green homes. LEED certified homes use less energy, water and natural resources, create less waste and are more durable and comfortable for occupants.
- For more information:The ENERGY STAR® New Homes Program.
- The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes Program.