“Building green is no longer just a luxury, it’s a necessity!”

Green building is becoming more and more popular among homebuyers. This means fewer materials, less pollution and more eco-friendly habits.

I recently had a couple come to me wanting to build a home that could support their growing family as well as being efficient and planet friendly.

The husband, Joe, said this.

“It has to work for us in the 21st century: Energy efficient, healthy, local and cost effective. It’s time to focus on what a home should do for us as a family, community, nation and globe.”

This experience is similar to so many other homeowners who are looking to not only improve their home for themselves but the community and world around them.

So what is green building and why should you do it?

Green building is a method of building that goes beyond the looks and square footage of the project and takes into account energy efficiency, environmental impacts of building and much more advanced design ideas

There are many different reasons to incorporate green building from personal budget to health issues to climate change. Green can mean something different to every person and comes in many shades, so part of the process is deciding your priorities. Many elements of the process don’t have to add to the cost; they just need to be thought of in different ways and incorporated into the process earlier.

1. INTEGRATED DESIGN: By designing a project with a focus on the customer’s needs, building a home that is modest in size and has a multi-purpose room is a big benefit. By bringing in subcontractors and suppliers early on and having them give green efficiency suggestions, a more integrated, effective and livable building can be put together. Integration also incorporates the concept of community. How does the project fit into the neighborhood, local transportation, and natural resources? This process does require time and some cost in design, but that cost can usually be recouped during construction. This is true for both new construction and for renovation projects.

2. SITE/BUILDING ORIENTATION: When designing a layout onsite, be sure to factor in solar energy. Sometimes this can be free heat, and other times it can translate to cooling costs. The same can be said about rain and runoff on the site. By designing a building that can respond to these elements, performance can be enhanced and long term costs are reduced. Roof orientation can lead to the opportunity for energy production as well.

3. ENVELOPE: The physical parts of the exterior of the building also come into play. The shape of the building, how the walls, floors and roof are built, the size and position of the windows as well as roof overhangs and insulation, all come into play and have a significant impact on the building’s energy needs. A heavy timber structure can help disentangle the insulation system from the structural components, thereby improving the performance and enhancing the natural beauty of the space.

4. ENERGY, WATER and SYSTEMS: By designing a more efficient shell, the demand for heating and cooling should be greatly reduced. This leads to…
Smaller heating and cooling systems, which will reduce upfront costs and lower operating costs. Keeping the heating system within the insulated envelope can save 15-20% of heat.
Lighting can be designed to use less electricity lowering the electrical bill.
On a nationwide level the average person uses 70 gallons of water per day. By careful selection of fixtures, showers, toilets, washing machines and landscaping, this can be reduced by up to 50%, reducing the costs of buying and disposing of water. On a more detailed level, managing water vapor in the building and walls is extremely important to the health of the family as well as to the long term durability of the home.

Reducing the needs of a household can save money. Right now there are tax incentives for energy efficient homes and components; some federal programs offer up to $2000.00, and there are others that can recoup 30% of some costs. There are state incentives for power generation, between 12 cents to over 50 cents per KWH.

5. MATERIALS: What to use, where products come from and how much is needed are very important parts of the process. Many of my clients ask me “Should we use recycled building materials?” Recycled materials are in ample supply, but the answer will vary from project to project, depending on the goals of the project. Local products require less shipping and can be maintained easier. Make sure to ask yourself “What are these materials made of?” “Do they contain ingredients that may or may not be healthy for a family or the environment?” Buying local materials can impact the economy and financial health of the region. By purchasing products through locally owned companies, approximately 45% of the money stays local, not to mention reduced transportation costs and shipping times. By going through a national chain store, about 15%-20% of the sale stays local. The durability of the materials selected can also have an impact on the long term costs of the building. Lesser quality materials need to be replaced sooner, even before the mortgage is paid off. Using high quality materials reduces maintenance costs, saving time and money.

6. WASTE MANAGEMENT: Disposing of waste materials is becoming more difficult as well as less necessary. There is a fairly strong market for building with salvage materials, which means little to no cost when needing to clean up the job site.

7. HEALTH AND SAFETY: The family’s physical health is always top priority. This is harder to put a monetary value on because of the wide range of impacts. Asthma and allergies are common issues specific to this area as well as many other health issues determined by your family’s needs. If a home is built with healthy materials and air quality is maintained, many issues can be reduced. If physical barriers can also be reduced, the home has a much wider range of use, both for temporary issues and lifestyle factors.

Demand for green homes will continue to climb in the future. They are already becoming more prevalent in real estate listings here in the Pacific Northwest. A greener home helps reduce the impact of our lifestyles, both environmentally and financially.

An integrated design process is where the greatest leverage point is. Bringing all these points together in the beginning and coming up with a combined strategy is where the most money can be saved.

The topics of discussion can get deeper: True energy costs, energy supplies, carbon footprints, greenhouse gases, international trade, local economies, indoor air quality, transportation, water supplies, etc. All of these affect a home building or improvement project.

Joe and Karen, our couple from before, really liked the neighborhood they were in and wanted to take advantage of the large lot size, so they decided to add a timber framed back patio to their existing home. It should provide a healthy and cost efficient home to raise their family in, be less of an impact on the globe, and future families should benefit from the reduced impacts of the project.

©2008 Chuck Dougherty / Synergy Design Group. Synergy Design Group, based in Vancouver, Wa, is dedicated to environmentally and client sensitive design projects with 24 years of timber frame projects.

– Bert Sarkkinen

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