Whether you're looking for how to build a green home or for information on how to retro-fit your current home with a sustainable awareness, there are many things to take into account. How do you know what is considered green? What should you look for? This checklist will help you identify what truly defines a green home: one that's better for your family's health, costs less to operate and has a smaller environmental footprint.
New green homes and neighborhoods must not be built on environmentally sensitive sites like prime farmland, wetlands and endangered species habitats. The greenest development sites are in-fill properties like former parking lots, rail yards, shopping malls and factories. Look for compact development where the average housing density is at least six units per acre. Your home should also be within easy walking distance of public transportation, like bus lines and light rail, so you can leave your car at home. Ideally, the home would be within walking distance of parks, schools and stores. See how many errands you could complete on a bicycle. That's healthier for you, your wallet and the environment.
The home should be oriented on its site to bring abundant natural daylight into the interior to reduce lighting requirements and to take advantage of any prevailing breezes. Windows, clerestories, skylights, light monitors, light shelves and other strategies should be used to bring daylight to the interior of the house. The exterior should have shading devices (sunshades, canopies, green screens and best of all deciduous trees), particularly on the southern and western facades and over windows and doors, to block hot summer sun. Dual-glaze windows reduce heat gain in summer and heat loss during cold winter months. The roof should be a light-colored, heat-reflecting Energy STAR roof, or a green (landscaped) roof, to reduce heat absorption.
A green home will have been constructed or renovated with healthy, nontoxic building materials and furnishings, like low- and zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and sealants and nontoxic materials like strawboard for the subflooring. Wood-based features should come from rapidly renewable sources like bamboo, but if tropical hardwoods are used, they must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. A green home uses salvaged materials like kitchen tiles and materials with significant recycled content.
A nontoxic insulation, derived from materials like soy or cotton, with a high R (resistance) factor in a home's walls and roof will help prevent cool air leakage in the summer and warm air leakage in the winter.
Windows and exterior doors should be Energy STAR rated and they should seal tightly to avoid heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter.
A green home has energy-efficient lighting, heating, cooling, and water-heating systems. Appliances should be Energy STAR rated.
Ideally, the home would generate some of its own energy from renewable sources using technologies like photovoltaic systems.
A green home has a water-conserving irrigation system and water-efficient kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Look for a rainwater collection and storage system, particularly in drier areas where water is increasingly scarce and expensive.
Natural daylight should reach at least 75 percent of the home's interior. Natural ventilation (via building orientation, operable windows, fans, wind chimneys and other strategies) should bring plentiful fresh air inside the house. The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system should filter incoming air and vent stale air outside. The garage should not have any air-intake equipment or return ducts; it should have an exhaust fan.
Vine-covered green screens, large canopy trees, and other landscaping should shade exterior walls, as well as the driveway, patio and other "hardscape" features, to minimize heat islands. The yard should be landscaped with drought-tolerant plants in most areas, rather than water-guzzling plants and grass.
CFLs can be a huge energy saver and typically have a much longer life than other bulbs. Replace some (or all) of your incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs and enjoy reductions in heat production and energy use. Changing five of the most frequently used bulbs in your home can save you $100 per year on electric bills.
When you are at home, keep the thermostat at 78° F or higher in the summer and 62° F or lower in the winter. Programmable thermostats allow you to preset the system to reduce output when it's not needed, like when no one is home during the day or when everyone is sleeping at night.
This simple step can go a long way toward keeping your home at the temperature you desire while also saving money on heating and air conditioning bills. Common leaks occur around windows, doors and other wall penetrations. Plugging those leaks with weather stripping and caulk is an easy and inexpensive task.
Have a checkup for your HVAC system every two years to make sure it is running efficiently. Be sure to clean the filter monthly during times of peak usage; a dirty filter can significantly reduce the system's efficiency.
Energy STAR qualified products meet a high level of energy efficiency, which can translate into savings on electric bills. So when it's time to replace that old refrigerator, microwave, clothes washer or other appliance, remember that even if an Energy STAR appliance costs more, you could reduce your energy bill by $50 a year for each appliance. Also, check with your electric utility company; some offer incentives for replacing old appliances with more efficient ones.
Inside, install aerators, available for a few dollars at your local home supply store, to your sink faucets and change to low-flow showerheads. Outside, landscape with native plants and minimize high-maintenance landscaping such as turf grass.
Green power is an optional utility service for customers who want to help expand the production and distribution of renewable energy technologies. With green power, you do not have to change your electricity provider. Instead, customers choose to pay a premium on their electricity bills to cover the extra cost of purchasing clean, sustainable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy has more information.
Photovoltaics, technology that uses solar cells or arrays to convert light from the sun directly into electricity or heat, is increasingly available for residential use. Solar power can be harnessed to create electricity for your home, to heat water and to improve indoor lighting. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy can help you find the right solar solutions for you.
Switch to products that don't give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Low or zero-VOC products greatly improve your indoor air quality and protect your health. Look for low-VOC paints and cleaning products, or you can make your own cleaning products using simple household materials like baking soda, vinegar and borax.
This simple step can help you save money on heating and air conditioning bills while providing beautiful views around your home.
Native plants have been growing and evolving in your area for thousands of years and, as a result, have adapted to the local soils and climate. They are more likely to thrive with minimal care, unlike exotic plants. That can mean less need for water, fertilizer and pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has additional information on green landscaping techniques.