“Green design,” “sustainable design” or “eco-friendly home design” may be the new buzzwords to describe design methods that are sustainable and lead to less of an impact to the environment, but the foundation of designing green has been around as long as classic architecture.
Whether you are building from the ground up or renovating your existing home, the initial design is arguably the most important phase to a green home.
The impact of design
The US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) estimate by the time 3% of the design budget for a new house has been spent, 70% of the energy use over its lifetime has been set in stone. That means that even seemingly small decisions made in the design process of a green home make a huge impact on how much energy will be required to operate and live in the house.
Solar orientation is a discussion for any green home design. In cold and temperate climates, longer walls facing the winter sun are excellent solutions in terms of energy efficiency. In hot and tropical climates, avoid direct sun-exposure whenever possible. In hot and humid climates, the long axis of the house should be oriented for cross-ventilation, as well as for sun-protection.
Survey data from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Better Homes and Gardens indicates that builders and consumers are thinking smaller. Average single family home sizes declined from 2,520 square feet in 2008 to 2,480 square feet in 2009, breaking nearly 30 years of uninterrupted growth. The reason? Budget, as well as raised awareness of environmental impact.
Upgraded attic insulation can be a relatively inexpensive way to improve the energy efficiency of a home. Fiberglass insulation can be rolled out, or cellulose insulation can be blown in. While fiberglass insulation is not considered a carcinogen, it can still irritate respiratory systems, so be sure that it is properly sealed in wall cavities. Cellulose insulation is cheaper and greener, but is also more labor intensive.
When choosing new or replacing windows, find out what it would cost to upgrade to a high-performance window. Chances are it will be well worth the expense. At minimum, look for a low-E coating, argon-fill and two layers of insulated glass.
Avoid kitchen or bathroom cabinets made of ureaformaldehyde. Ureaform emits high levels of formaldehyde into the air. Most of the national mass retailers and resellers are already switching to either solid wood or a plywood product.