Building new homes is the key to replenishing America’s housing supply. In fact, 60% of Americans want a newly built home, and we’re likely to see residential construction continue to gain steam in response to this demand. This means more new homes for people to live in, which leads to more demand for materials, a stronger economy overall and an opportunity to prioritize sustainability in the home building process.
Traditional construction methods are known for leaving a heavy environmental footprint, from using toxic building materials to producing significant amounts of waste. Whether you are a homeowner or an aspiring preservationist, the time has come to consider new construction methods that can help keep our communities clean while also improving the quality of life for present and future generations. The time has come for us to consider using alternative methods of construction.
In the last few years, the attention toward green building materials and practices has increased. With more houses being built on sustainable materials, the time has never been riper for considerations when choosing material for your new home. Construction materials have made a noticeable change in recent years; they’re becoming more aesthetically pleasing as well as making a positive impact on our environment. A recent survey found that one-third of home builders use green building methods for more than half of their projects, and 21% are committed to building green for more than 90% of their projects. That number has grown in recent years as builders and consumers are recognizing the need for homes that are better for the planet and the people who live in them.
Benefits of Building Green
Create a Healthier Living Environment. Living in an eco-friendly home reduces one’s chance of developing asthma or lung problems. We spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, where the concentration of certain pollutants is about 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors. An eco-friendly home improves air quality and limits exposure to toxins and pollutants that cause health issues.
Conserve Energy and Reduce Emissions. Energy conservation is one way to improve the climate challenge. Buildings account for nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Every year, we waste an astounding amount of energy — about 790 billion kilowatt-hours — which is enough to light up the Earth eight times. Prioritizing energy efficiency and choosing renewable energy sources over non-renewable ones helps protect our natural resources and minimizes overall energy consumption.
Reduce Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste. C&D materials are considered construction debris, junk, or obsolete by builders. In 2018, the U.S. generated 600 million tons of C&D materials — the debris that results from constructing, renovating, or demolishing a building. Construction materials disposal and recovery are major contributors to environmental problems such as pollution of air and water, landfills, and the destruction of natural habitats. Sustainable practices allow builders to reduce, reuse, recycle, and rebuy C&D materials to keep them out of landfills.
Save Money and Increase Value. Sustainable homes offer many benefits to an investor, homeowner, or the environment at large. Their construction is more energy efficient, requiring little or no energy to cool off the home during the hottest days offering you savings on monthly utility bills. While they may require a higher cost upfront, they can reap an estimated 8% premium in resale value compared to conventional homes.7
Characteristics of a Sustainable Home
Home sustainability has become an increasing concern for consumers in recent years. As the population grows and climate change continues to affect our planet, there is an increasing demand for sustainable housing.
But what makes a house green and sustainable? There’s no universal standard that determines what makes a home green. Different certifications and rating systems, such as LEED or the National Green Building Standard, use different definitions and levels of ranking to determine how sustainable a home is.
The factors that influence how a home is considered green are many and complex. To simplify things, we will focus on three main areas: the construction process, materials used and their effectiveness in reducing emissions, and the natural surroundings of the building. Ultimately, your overall impact on the environment will depend on how well you implement these measures — from the way you plan your building, to the way you live in it. As you begin to incorporate more sustainable practices into your home — whether these are things you as a homeowner already do or things you discover as you explore green building materials — you will see your home begin to measure up to the higher standards that have been set for green structures across the country.
Generally, the more you can incorporate the following design features into your home, the healthier and more environmentally friendly it will be.
Tight envelope. Energy-efficiency is the hallmark of a sustainable home, and the first step in achieving this is to have a tight building envelope. The envelope is made up of the foundation, walls, and roof, which work together to create a tight seal for your home. This tight seal is what keeps your home safe from the elements and prevents moisture from building up or air from seeping out. Combined with sufficient insulation and ventilation, a properly sealed home improves indoor air quality and comfort. Making these simple changes helps boost your energy efficiency score, which not only helps you save money but also improves the quality of your life.
Efficient and renewable energy. According to the EPA, most of the electricity in the U.S. is generated using fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, so each time you plug something in, it’s likely using non-renewable resources to power it. The idea is to make your home as efficient as possible while using as little energy as possible. A green home addresses this in a few ways:
- Uses features and appliances that require less energy to operate, such as programmable thermostats, Energy Star appliances, and LED lighting.
- Utilizes more natural light and high-efficiency windows to minimize electricity consumption.
- Incorporates renewable energy sources, such as solar power or geothermal energy, to reduce the amount of fossil fuels it takes to run the home. There are several benefits of using solar power or geothermal heating, including lower monthly utility bills, no environmental impact, providing a clean energy source for your home, and peace of mind knowing that you are being environmentally responsible.
Water-saving features. Water conservation begins with personal responsibility and small adjustments can have large impacts on our environment. The use of water-conserving plumbing fixtures, such as low-flow faucets, toilets, and showerheads, helps reduce water consumption by about 20%. Outdoors, the use of drought-tolerant and permeable landscaping helps prevent excess water usage and water runoff, which can pollute our waterways. Well-designed rainwater catchment and efficient irrigation can reduce permeability problems and save water for future use. For example, rainwater harvesting systems divert rainwater away from the storm drain and back into a tank, which can then be reused for watering plants or directed back to non-potable fixtures such as toilets and washing machines.
Sustainable building methods. As we continue to embrace a greener, more efficient world, we must ensure that our communities have access to materials and supplies as locally sourced as possible. Construction requires the sourcing of new, raw materials that are typically transported from around the world. Locally sourced materials reduce the carbon footprint of the build by limiting transportation needs; plus, it provides the added benefit of supporting your local economy. In addition, sourcing sustainable materials, such as salvaged or reclaimed items, reduces the need for new raw materials to be created in the first place. Efficient building techniques, such as Advanced House Framing, can be utilized to reduce the amount of materials required to build, thereby lowering overall material and labor costs and reducing C&D waste.
Eco-friendly building materials. Many common building supplies and substances contain VOCs, including resin flooring, conventional cabinetry, paint, carpeting, and more. These chemicals can cause symptoms such as itching eyes and skin, headaches, rashes, respiratory issues, and nausea in the short or long-term. By choosing products with low or no VOCs, you can minimize your household’s exposure to these harmful chemicals, enhancing air quality.
There is no doubt that home building activity will continue to ramp up as we work to replenish America’s housing supply, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of our health or the environment. Adopting green building initiatives will help ensure we’re building a future that’s sustainable and improves our quality of life. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take today to start helping the environment and your health while helping yourself build a dream home.
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