If you’re designing your dream home and you’re trying to keep an eye on your carbon footprint, you might be concerned about the impact of all your construction plans. But don’t despair! There are steps that you can take to limit your emissions and minimise the effect that your new home has on the environment.
One way to do this is to use eco-conscious companies whenever you contract work out to a third party. From the architects through to the builders, choosing to give your business to those professionals who have a good green policy will limit your impact as well as sending a message to the industry as a whole.
Identifying Green Building Materials
Because of the importance of sustainability in building, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory has created a free, downloadable software called BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability). This tool will evaluate not only the initial cost of any efficient material in comparison with traditional options, but it will also take into account the savings the efficiency will generate over the lifespan of the building, which is often overlooked by those who are resistant to the green movement.
It is important to start thinking about efficiency as early in the process as possible, as even site selection can impact consumption. Choosing a location that is near public transit routes and easily accessible for work crews will reduce waste, and building in an area without strict Home Owners’ Association rules about landscaping will offer the freedom to be as efficient as possible.
When designing the layout of a building, bear in mind that materials such as drywall and plywood are sold in 4 foot wide sheets. Sizing rooms in multiples of 4 feet will reduce waste, making it possible to use whole sheets rather than cutting and discarding trimmings.
Design buildings with the sun in mind to further lessen long term energy consumption. Whether or not the building is intended to house solar panels at this stage, remember that this is only the beginning of the green movement, and future innovations will likely lead to future renovations. Keep the possibilities in mind. Try to ensure that each room will get a lot of natural light throughout the day to keep lighting costs down once the building is occupied.
Choose the right materials
There are several criteria by which building materials are evaluated to determine their efficiency. First and foremost, the product itself must come from a renewable resource or process. For example, recycled materials from demolished buildings, bamboo or straw, which are plentiful and rapidly renewable, or linoleum, which is inexpensive to manufacture.
In order to be considered green, building materials must also have a low toxicity and chemical emissions rate and be easy to maintain without the use of harsh chemicals. The reason for this is that efficiency ratings also take into account indoor air quality, and items that meet these requirements will either improve or not impact this. High and ultra-high performance concrete, adobe, and wood fiber plates are other examples of excellent materials.
Other factors that are considered when rating efficiency are indoor air quality, water conservation, and energy efficiency. Finding a balance between all of these elements can be difficult, but a broader understanding of them can guide decision making. For example, the process of making glass is not an environmentally friendly one, but adding multiple panes to windows and treating and installing them properly will improve the thermal envelope of a building, thus drastically reducing energy consumption over the long term.
To get you started, here’s a list of 5 eco-friendly materials that you could incorporate into your plans.
1. Composite Decking
Standard decking has moved on dramatically over the years and composite decking can now provide a green choice for your garden. Made from reclaimed and recycled materials, composite decking does not use any new timber so it leaves our forests intact. Composite decking is low maintenance and resistant to stains and mould, so it doesn’t require chemical cleaners or lots of on-going resources to help it reach its impressive life expectancy.
Bamboo is an extremely versatile material that can be used in a variety of ways both inside and outside your home. With a high strength to weight ratio, bamboo can be used for solid structures as well as furniture and cabinets. Since bamboo is the fastest growing grass in the world, it is an easily renewable source of material and has the added bonus of being biodegradable too. While it is growing, bamboo releases a higher concentration of oxygen into the atmosphere than hardwood forests, and helps to prevent erosion and landslides by holding soil in its roots.
3. Reclaimed Lumber
If you do decide to use wood in your home designs, using reclaimed lumber rather than freshly felled trees will help to minimise the impact of your plans. This timber is reworked from wood that has been salvaged from structures and products that have been demolished elsewhere. Reclaimed lumber is just another form of recycling that is utilised by construction companies that are interested in sustainability.
4. Recycled Glass
Post-industrial and domestic glass scraps can be transformed into new materials for your home. Whether you have a counter top made from old beer bottles, a beautiful piece of recycled jewellery or a set of reformed wine glasses, you might be surprised by the range of options that are available to save old glass from the landfill.
Most domestic paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are slowly released into the atmosphere as the paint dries. These compounds are harmful to the ozone layer and create an unpleasant smell for you, but they are no longer our only option. It is now possible to buy low-VOC paints in a range of hues that are inspired by the natural world. These paints allow you to improve the air quality of your home while you reduce your effect on the environment at the same time.
Other Green Building Considerations
One of the things that makes a home more energy efficient is its ability to hold its temperature, regardless of summer heat or winter cold. One way to do this is to choose Low Emissivity (Low-E) windows. These windows will require more of an upfront investment. They normally cost 10-15% more than standard glass storm windows, however with energy costs lowered up to 20% it won’t take long before you’ve earned back your money and helped the environment at the same time.
Radiant Floor Heat
Another consideration is how you are going to provide heat to your home, especially if you live in an area with cold winters. This form of heat rises from out of the floor and can be fueled by heated air, electricity, or hot water. In residential homes, hot water or hydronic systems are used most often because they are the most cost effective. Tubing is laid under the floor, and hot water runs through from the boiler.