Shades of Green
With so many shades of "green," homeowners need to identify which green building products truly make a home healthier and more energy efficient.
"Green" is one of the hottest buzzwords in the home building and improvement world. A survey by the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) Research Center and Icynene Inc. found nearly half (46%) of people buying a new home or making major renovations are considering green products. The GreenSpec Directory, for example, lists information on more than 1,850 green building products - everything from kitchen countertops and cabinets to insulation and roof shingles. With so many options, it's important to distinguish which green products are the best fit for your home and family.
Why so much interest in green?
As the name suggests, green building helps reduce the impact of our homes on the environment. Yet, homeowners and homebuilders are realizing that greener homes can cost less to build and operate, last longer, are healthier to live in, use less water and energy and often have a higher re-sale value (Source: U.S. Green Building Council). In 2004 alone, more than 14,000 homes were constructed nationwide according to local green building guidelines (Source: National Association of Home Builders).
Green building is much more than an environmental initiative. The financial benefits of building green are also a major benefit. In fact, the NAHB Research Center/Icynene survey found homeowners consider cost savings to be far more important than environmental benefits when evaluating building materials.
Greener homes make sense for many reasons. The challenge is deciding what products and practices are truly green? Dozens of building products call themselves green, but there's no one universally accepted definition of what green actually means, even among building experts.
Green for Life
Green building organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council and the Rocky Mountain Institute say green-building products should have a lower environmental impact, from the day they're produced through the end of their useful life. They should help reduce our reliance on natural resources, reduce waste and contribute to a healthier, more durable home. Based on what homeowners are saying, they should also help save us money.
Green products and practices should offer long-term environmental and cost benefits. For example, insulation made from renewable or recycled resources (plants, recycled fabrics, newspapers, etc.) might use less raw material to manufacture and even cost less to install, but will it reduce monthly energy consumption? Will it contribute to a home that is healthier and has fewer maintenance problems? Will it help a home last longer and stay out of landfill?
If you're discussing green options with a builder, contractor or a building product supplier, the following questions can help you evaluate their level of green building knowledge, as well as their green products and practices:
How green is your home?
(save this checklist for reference)
Does it include building materials that:
- have a longer life span compared to conventional products?
- help the home be more durable and last longer?
- can be easily dismantled and reused or recycled at the end of their useful life?
- are non-toxic?
- are moisture and mold resistant?
- don't emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), HCFCs, HFAs, CFCs, formaldehyde?
- can be easily maintained/cleaned without chemicals?
Was a high-performance insulation and air barrier system product used to help you save up to 50% in energy consumption & costs?
- Do you know how quickly the insulation will pay for itself? (Tip: if you're financing the purchase, compare the monthly energy cost savings to the monthly cost of borrowing)
What products are used to protect your family from the instrusion of outdoor pollutants and allergens?
- insulation that acts as an air barrier to improve indoor air quality combined with proper mechanical ventilation
Does your home feature any energy and water conserving appliances/fixtures?
- low energy lighting
- low-flush toilets
- appliances or water heaters with the Energy Star label
- energy-efficient windows/doors
What practices and materials do you use to reduce the incidence of mold and other moisture-related building problems?
- air barrier
- vapor barrier
- rain screen
- proper flashing and water-shedding details on roofs
- foundation drainage to prevent ground water from seeping inside
- proper detailing of the thermal envelope to prevent condensation on building surfaces