Green Construction Techniques

When constructing a new home, consider using a sustainable design, renewable materials, and energy efficient practices to save money and diminish negative impact on the environment.

Green Construction Techniques
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Overview
Green construction techniques are used to create homes and buildings that use resources in an environmentally-friendly way. Historically, green building has been focused primarily on pollution and waste reduction. Today, the concept of green construction has expanded to reflect a building's sustainability, as well as its impact on occupants' health, productivity and energy bills. There is a multitude of choices available for those interested in green building, and many are fairly inexpensive and easy to implement.
Tight Building Envelope
A building's envelope is the exterior skin of the building, and includes roofing, walls, insulation, doors and windows. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 30 percent of heating and cooling costs can be attributed to air leakage through this envelope. To cut energy use and associated costs, the building envelope should be tightly sealed. In a new home, this means using sufficient air barriers (building paper), caulking around doors and windows, and using foam or filler at through-wall penetrations. Proper insulation can also dramatically impact air leakage and infiltration, especially in attics, crawl spaces, and basements. In existing homes, spray foam insulation can be installed without damaging walls.
Green Materials
Another popular green construction technique is the selection of earth-friendly materials. Products with high recycled content are a popular choice, with steel, glass, concrete and wood products among the easiest to find. Reclaimed materials are another option to consider. These are products salvaged from construction sites or other homes, and may include wood flooring, doors, millwork and a large variety of specialty materials. By choosing recycled or reclaimed materials, you're helping to reduce the amount of new materials being created, as well as associated energy and transportation impacts.
Solar Energy
In areas exposed to long periods of direct sunlight, solar energy panels can provide natural, clean energy without the use of fossil fuels. Solar panels are installed on the roof of the home, or on special racks mounted on the ground. Sunlight is collected on the panels and converted into energy that can be used to heat the home. Photovoltaic panels are another type of solar panel. Rather than simply producing heat, photovoltaics can provide electricity to power an entire house. Excess energy gathered by either of these panels can often be sold back to municipal power companies in a process known as "net metering."
Efficient Water Use
With the world's water supply becoming a growing concern, many green builders are focused on using water efficiently. In the home, you can install low-flow sinks, showers and toilets, which use much less water than typical fixtures. Rather than watering lawns, organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council emphasize the use of native plants. These are plants, grasses, and trees that are native to a particular region, and can survive and thrive in that region by relying on rainfall, with minimal watering needed. Homeowners may choose to install water recycling systems--greywater systems--which reuse water from sinks or showers.
Air Quality
Another green concern is indoor air quality, which can effect the health and well-being of occupants. To maintain a healthy air, balance ventilation needs with the energy-saving benefits of a tight building envelope. This means installing outside air intakes away from streets or pollution sources. Ventilation fans and filters should be added to HVAC systems, with fresh air delivered to all occupied spaces. Use of green materials--paints, adhesives and stains--can help. Look for materials marked "Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound)," to reduce risks from off-gassing.
Resources
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California Energy Center
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US Department of Energy
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Energy Star
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US Green Building Council

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