Thousands of years ago, these ancient cultures from various continents, learned to work with the earth’s natural resources, to harness the power of water, sun, wind and so much more. It is mind boggling to consider the feats of ingenuity and engineering marvels they accomplished over time without the benefit of our modern equipment, transportation and technology. The desire of the Ancients to harness the goodness of the earth, in order to improve their daily lives is awe inspiring, at the very least! The principles that they discovered have changed little since they were discovered by these great ancient peoples although we now have more technologically advanced and more reliable ways of implementing these very same principles. All of this is profound food for thought…as we consider several wonders of green design and technology not from the present, but from thousands of years ago. They are as relevant today as they were then.
The Wind Power of the Ancient Persians
The power of the wind was first utilized by the ancient Persians as the earliest known windmill design, over 3000 years ago! These early windmills were used to automate and mechanize the grinding of grains and the pumping of water. Bundles of reeds were tied together and placed on large rectangular frames creating large upright wind catching panels. These panels were fairly lightweight due to the reeds and were suspended from and fastened to a balanced circular frame. The panels would then catch the wind— forcing the “windmill” to rotate around a fully operational axis. This axis would turn the gears—that turned the stones— that milled the grain. The same process was used to pump water from wells deep beneath the ground. We often think of the Dutch and other Germanic cultures as the main creators and users of wind power, but surprisingly it was the Persians who first utilized the windmill for these purposes.
The ancient Persians also utilized the wind for cooling and heating. Over 2000 years ago they created one of the most intriguing and architecturally beautiful ventilation and cooling systems ever known. Even by today’s standards, this system was a true engineering marvel! Imagine what these ancient geniuses could have accomplished, had they known then what we know now! Being “passive,” this ancient system had no moving parts. The simple, yet intriguing design of this temperature regulating system relied on the wind towers and a central domed structure to make the lives of these desert people more comfortable, in a very hostile climate. This was the very first HVAC system known to have been utilized in the ancient world.
Ancient “State of the Art” Water Collecting Systems —The Fascinating Step-Well Buildings of India
When we think of the country of India, we think of hot dry climates, very poor water supplies and poverty. However, the ancient people of modern day India were known for their highly advanced water collection systems. These were brilliant people who knew how to conserve water for use throughout the entire year. The step-dwellings of India are some of the most beautiful and massive structures on the earth. They are a study in ordered engineering, majesty, symmetry and elegance. Truly these intriguing step-dwellings of ancient India are an amazing marvel of engineering and architectural perfection, in any age. These buildings were designed and built in the semi-arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. They utilized in their design multiple stepped levels and collecting pools, sometimes nine stories deep into the ground like an inverted pyramid. These structures reached the peak of their use, from the fifth to the nineteenth century.
Characteristically (due to their extreme importance) these structures were built to last and had beautifully carved walls, massive columns and towers. These step-well buildings were created to catch and store water from the monsoon rains that came to this part of the world every year. The wells would hold the water for drinking, washing and bathing and were designated for use throughout the dry season. Although neglected and overlooked in India since the nineteenth century, these buildings are once again getting the attention they deserve as not only engineering marvels but safe and effective collectors for rain water. Conservation efforts are now underway to preserve these grand and glorious surviving buildings. The National Geographic Network recently aired a program on these amazing, functional and beautiful structures.
Hydraulic Power and Water Usage of the Ancient Romans
No matter where you were raised in the civilized world, it would be impossible to get through school without learning about the many engineering and architectural feats and landmarks of Ancient Rome. Indeed the remains of this ancient civilization are well known by students of history and tourists alike. Landmarks aside, it is the ingenious gravity fed aqueduct water distribution system and the waste evacuating aqueducts that tell just how advanced the Romans were in their municipal planning. Amazingly, some of these ancient aqueducts are still in use today, combined with modern water treatment facilities. How many of our underground civil and waterworks systems in this country would stand this test of time and use? Not only were these aqueducts a form of ancient municipal plumbing but other aqueduct systems were utilized as a functioning and renewable water source that was utilized in ancient mining operations, forges, mills and of course…the famous roman baths. The engineering and skill required to build these aqueducts is truly a marvel
in any age.
Ancient Geo-thermal Heat in Italy
The ancient Romans also used geo-thermal sources for heating their water. Their thermal energy usage and water works projects were limited by location, such as the ancient city of Pompeii, which used geo-thermal energy to heat their baths and homes.
Ancient Passive Solar Usage—The Architecture of Ancient Greece
Everyone is familiar with the colossal architecture of ancient Greece. The Greeks were subject to fuel shortages and other heating / cooling related issues that we ourselves deal with. The Grecian ruling authorities, being the civilized and forward thinking people that they were, decided to have buildings designed that maximized the use of heat gain from the sun. They also developed ways of retaining that heat, through the use of the building mass itself. These awe inspiring buildings of Ancient Greece were undoubtedly designed to inspire and continue to inspire us—even today!
To further the energy efficiency of these ancient edifices entire cities and towns were oriented using a grid system. The result of this was that houses were then sited so they could take advantage of more southern exposures. As the sun is lower in the sky during the coldest part of the year, the warming sun could then penetrate deep into the structure itself. The ancient Romans expanded on this Grecian idea by eventually adding glass to their windows to help magnify and retain the heat that came as a natural result of sunlight. The buildings were also designed to prevent the hottest part of the sun from entering into the building during the Mediterranean summers, when the sun was higher in the sky. There is no doubt that these massive structures were wonderfully cool during the hot summer.
The Ancient Cliff Dwelling Cultures of the Southwestern United States
Another ancient culture that utilized passive solar heating and passive cooling were the ancient cliff dwellers of the Mesa Verde Cliffs in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Some call this a palace, others a village. Amazingly it was painstakingly and literally carved into a mountain and is the largest cliff dwelling / village of its kind in North America; although there are others, such as the ancient cliff dwellings in the Gila Wilderness in Northern New Mexico. These dwellings are literally cities and houses carved into the side of a mountain. These ancient cliff dwellers were protected from the hot summer sun and from other harsh weather by being recessed into a mountain, with a massive overhang that deflected wind, rain, snow and the heat of the sun in the summertime. There must have been innumerable benefits to living in such a solid, remote fortress.
The interior structures of these cliff dwellings were ingeniously sited to allow the entrance of the warming winter sun. The sheer mass of the mountain would retain the heat from the penetrating winter sun that entered at a lower angle and was not blocked by the gigantic overhang. These native peoples also burned wood and other fuels for supplemental heat during the winter. The fact that the village was actually carved from a mountain, ensured that the village could not burn.
Ancient Gray-Water Usage and Recycling
The ancient city of Jerusalem has a mystical, intriguing and complicated history, from the Ancient King of Salem to the present day. For thousands of years, this city of extreme importance to so many has relied on water from underground rivers and other underground sources. For those of us who have read the Bible, we are familiar with the many stories that are centered around wells, like “Jacob’s well,” the “pool of Siloam” and the story of the “Woman at the well.” Some of the remaining well tunnels in use today also date back to the twelfth century before Christ.
As the city of Jerusalem grew, it also evolved and instituted methods for water use and re-use through the recycling of “gray-water.” Water used in basins for washing was also used to flush waste in a manner that was similar to our modern day sewer systems. The water was flushed and saved to water gardens. Waste products were filtered and used to provide fertilizer for surrounding fields. This brings to mind the current use of recycled / processed modern day municipal waste on local farm fields and the utilization of gray household water for use in our gardens.
These ancient remaining structures that we have discussed were built by the ancients to last. They had learned from centuries of trial and error what worked and what did not. In our instant gratification culture, it is hard for us to imagine the courage, determination and vision of these early green technology pioneers. These few examples from antiquity demonstrate that green technologies and many of the building principles of the past have stood the test of time. “Green” trailblazers and innovators today are merely revisiting and rediscovering many of the design elements discovered by our forbearers, so long ago. The possibilities are endless as we marry the technology and still relevant discoveries of the past with new materials, modern conveniences and the innovative thinking of today’s “green” pioneers. Now that we have covered the past, let’s move on to the present day.
What Constitutes a “Green” Home Today?
A green home incorporates energy efficient design technology, quality construction and ease of maintenance to significantly lessen the negative impact of the home on the environment. A green home will also, as a by-product of living more thoughtfully, actually improve the health of the people who live inside. No matter your location or living situation, the opportunities for living and enjoying a greener life, at home, are limited only by your ingenuity and commitment. You do not have to spend a lot of money to begin living a more thoughtful, greener life.
Green homes maximize energy usage, water and natural resources. They create less waste due to recycling and more efficient appliances. They utilize interior building and finishing materials that can create a handsome, functional and healthy interior by the use of low or no VOC paints, renewable flooring resources such as cork, bamboo or natural linoleum flooring. There are even new carpets on the market made from recycled fibers with low VOCs. Energy efficient appliances and high quality insulated windows can also add to the beauty of your home and simultaneously save energy. This translates to more money in your pocket! We could all use more of that these days. Appliances, building materials, windows, lighting, plumbing fixtures, etc. that carry the Energy Star© rating, will be the products that you look for to build your dream “green” home or “re-green” your existing home.
A well built “green” or “re-greened” home, that utilizes EnergyStar© appliances and building materials can cost up to 40% LESS to operate than a traditional home built before 1994. A “green” home can cost a little bit more to build on the front end, but in the end the energy savings and health benefits outweigh the initial investment in the home. That’s why green homes are expected to make up at least 10% of new home construction by 2010. This figure is up from 2% in 2005, according to the 2006 McGraw-Hill Construction Residential Green Building Smart Market Report. Owning or renting a green home is good for your health, your wallet and your outdoor environment.
Beyond the health and environmental benefits of living in a green home, many state governments, utility companies and other entities across the state offer rebates, tax breaks and other incentives for adding eco-friendly elements to your life. Earth Craft Virginia and other third party verifying organizations provide a certification process for new, residential construction that serves as a blueprint for healthy, comfortable homes that reduce utility bills and protect the environment. Earth Craft Virginia is actually a partner-ship between South Face Energy Institute and the Home Builders Association of Virginia.
If you are considering “re-greening” your home, you might first want to begin with an energy audit. This will give you a blueprint and help you to prioritize the energy saving choices you will want to make and also help you decide first priority items and how they fit into
Home Energy Audits—What Are They and How Can You Get One?
Audits are important in all sorts of ways. We audit our spending by reviewing our bank statements and other statements we receive. Likewise, we can review our power usage by ordering an energy audit of our home. Many utility providers in our area, like REC, Dominion Power, NNEC and others will help you by providing a free home energy audit. A home energy audit is a site visit that will examine your home insulation, heating and cooling systems, windows, water heaters, lighting, appliances, water heaters, exterior landscaping and many other factors that will identify the energy monsters in your home. They will offer you suggestions on power conservation and implementing greener household appliances, etc. There are also online resources, questionnaires and checklists that can help you to save energy, reduce your “carbon footprint” and minimize the carbon emissions from your home. There are a myriad of ways to neutralize the impact of your home on the environment.
There are also companies that you can hire to conduct a full house energy / green audit. A “green” general contractor is also a good source, if you are interested in hiring someone to build your green home or assist you with “re-greening” your existing home. Always ask around for recommendations if you are considering hiring someone to perform an energy audit or make alterations to your home.
The appliances that we use in our daily lives provide us with a myriad of conveniences and services that make our hectic, overly busy lives, more productive. They can also be major energy guzzlers adding significantly to our monthly power bills. It is estimated that about one-half of our electric bill comes from the use of major appliances, electronic equipment and home office equipment.
Another twenty-percent of our power bill is due to lighting, HVAC systems and kitchen usage. With this being the predominant breakdown in power usage, it makes the most sense from the outset to utilize “green” appliances that carry the EPA’s Energy Star© rating. Although this program initially considered home electronics, televisions and some appliances, it has expanded to now apply to major and minor household appliances like washers, dryers, microwaves, kitchen appliances, cook tops, refrigerators, hot water heaters, DVD players, telephones, battery chargers, light bulbs, insulation, windows and so much more. There are also now many tax credits available beginning in 2009 through 2016 for “green” homes and the purchase of Energy Star© appliances. We will discuss those tax incentives later. For now we will consider the Big 3 Kitchen / Laundry guzzlers.
Refrigerators — are the largest energy users in our home simply because they are used without ceasing. Older refrigerators are not energy efficient and can add significantly to your monthly electric bill. If you cannot invest at this time in a new EnergyStar© rated refrigerator/freezer, then you should set your refrigerator thermostat to around 40°F. The condenser coils on your refrigerator/freezer should also be vacuumed two times per year for maximum energy efficiency. Why? Because dusty/dirty coils have to work harder.
- Freezers — are also big time consumers. Like refrigerators, EnergyStar© freezers are much more efficient. Top and bottom freezers on a refrigerator/freezer combination are much more energy efficient than a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer. Dedicated freezers are more energy efficient than refrigerator / freezer combinations. Freezers should be kept in a cool place like a cool porch. They should not be placed in a garage or any location where heat collects.
- Washers and Dryers — An EnergyStar© rating once again is so important. Front loading washers and dryers surprisingly use less water and energy by 40%–50%. The next time you need to purchase a new washer and dryer, you will definitely want to invest in the front loading option. Additionally, you should utilize cold water washes and full loads for maximum savings.
- Dishwashers — should have the EnergyStar© rating and will save you money on your electric bill if you fill it up before you use it.
- Microwaves, cook tops and other appliances — should have the EnergyStar© rating as well. When possible, unplug your smaller kitchen appliances when not in use.
Interior Plumbing Fixtures and Water Usage
All new or replacement fixtures should have the EnergyStar© or EPA Water Sense sticker, as they are always the best choice, however there are other alternatives as well to achieving a “greener” home.
Composting Toilets — use very little water, depending on the model. These toilets use the model of ancient Jerusalem by decomposing solid waste into fertilizer. No septic system or sewage system is required. There are many odorless models available. You will need to check with your local zoning / health department office to see if they will allow the use of a composting toilet. Many parts of the country with water issues are utilizing these toilets.
Low-flow, Dual Flush Toilets — use more water than the composting toilet but considerably less than traditional toilets. Most toilets available today are low flow dual flush toilets.
• Remember to never, ever for any reason flush hazardous materials, over-the-counter drugs, or prescription drugs down your toilet. These will contaminate the water supply for your town and city, as they will find their way into the water treatment system. Over time, they will eventually find their way into our rivers and even the bay, which can be hazardous to our already stressed marine environments. Do not flush them either down your toilet if you have a septic system as they will filter directly into the environment. Unused prescription drugs should be returned to the pharmacy where you purchased them. Your pharmacist will know the correct way to dispose of these items. Many landfills also have places for discarded paints, solvents and used motor oil.
Sinks and Showers:
Low Flow Aerators — screw right on to your faucet head and significantly reduce water flow while not sacrificing the pressure we love when we take a shower. They accomplish this by mixing air pressure with the water.
Low-flow Shower Heads — low flow technologies can actually increase water pressure.
Sensor Faucets — offer more sanitary hands free operation. They automatically turn on and off by the use of sensors. In addition to saving on water and energy, this can come in very handy if you have a young child in the house. There is no more forgetting to turn off the water! Those of you with small children or grandchildren can really appreciate this added benefit.
Tankless and instantaneous water heaters provide hot water immediately when you need it. This eliminates the energy wasted by traditional hot water heaters that keep water heated in a tank to ready it for usage.
Point of use hot water heaters — these are smaller heaters that are installed where you want hot water. They are energy efficient and cost saving as well.
These types of water heaters not only use less power, but they also take up less square footage. There are no stand by energy losses and no sitting water that can wreak havoc in your home if for some reason your hot water heater should leak or worse.
The typical tankless hot water heater is 35% to 40% more energy efficient than the traditional hot water storage tank. If the tankless heater is installed in a strategic location, the energy savings can be even greater. Over 15% of our total energy costs each month for a typical traditional home goes to heating water.
Solar hot water heaters are for the eco-conscious person who can afford to spend significant dollars on their hot water heater. Solar hot water heating is the best option for the truly “green” home.
The next best option to the solar tankless heater is going tankless with an electric or propane powered water heater. Before you run out and purchase a “tankless” hot water heater, you should understand how they work and find out what type of tankless system will work best for the needs of your household
How do tankless heaters work?
The on-demand tankless hot water heater is exactly that! There is no waiting required for hot water to be produced. Generally, gas powered tank free heaters produce a higher flow rate of water as compared to their electric counter parts. The only drawback to the propane or gas powered hot water heater is that some gas powered pilot lights on the heaters actually waste energy, thereby cancelling the energy saving intentions of the homeowners. You can by-pass this energy liability by purchasing pilot lights that can be turned off. Install models that have an intermittent ignition device, which is similar to the spark ignition devices that we use on gas ovens and on our gas logs. These gas powered tankless heaters also require stainless steel venting accessories. For electric heaters you should consult with a knowledgeable Electrical Contractor or Electrician. They can help you to determine installation locations, voltage, etc.
A good tankless heater can pump up to 5 gallons per minute of hot water throughout your house. Depending on usage requirements you may need to install different heaters to work with different appliances and baths. Multiple appliances requiring hot water simultaneously will be a problem when utilizing these tankless heaters. As long as you space out usage, the adequate amount of heaters and times of use, there should be no hot water supply problems.
Finally, with regard to hot water heaters, climate is very important to the efficiency of your tankless water heater. Cooler temperatures are more taxing on your tankless heater than warmer ones.
A tankless heater is an investment, but for people who wish to incorporate greener principles into their home operating and building systems—they usually opt for the tankless unit. Energy savings will amount to about $100.00 per year for the average family and the tankless heater can be expected to last about 20 years. As always, make sure the tankless heater you choose has the energy star and blue water seals of the EPA.
Home Irrigation Systems:
Home irrigation systems work by utilizing rain sensors that shut off the irrigation system, when the “smart” system detects that enough rain has fallen to provide adequate water to the plants. “Smart Irrigation” systems save on water by adjusting to the current weather conditions. Plants will be watered when and where they need it by the use of well-placed watering devices and soaker hoses. This type of system is for the gardener who is rarely home or has everything else for the garden. It is best to utilize greener water delivery systems for home landscaping needs, instead of the ago old oscillating sprinklers from yesteryear.
A green home utilizes natural native plantings that require less water and a luxurious overhead canopy of trees or covered patios and arbors to help with cooling in the summer and protection from harsh winds in the winter.
A home can be built green, or made into a green home later on. A green makeover can happen all at once, or it can be a gradual process. But what it all comes down to is a new way of thinking — and a new way of living that really doesn’t take a lot of effort at all. Studies have proven that it takes twenty-one days to create new habits. If we can practice something for twenty-one days, it usually becomes a lifetime habit. We can create green habits that will improve our lives, our environment and ensure that our children have something to pass on to their children.
From a more energy-efficient kitchen to a backyard sanctuary, your home can be “green” top to bottom, and inside and out. There are a myriad of things that anyone can do to enhance their lives and the lives of their family by greening up our homes.
How Do You Know a House is Truly Green?
There are lots of gimmicks on the market today. A truly green home is one that gives you a high-performance, cost-efficient home that is healthy to live in, thoughtfully designed and has as little impact on the environment as possible. A well-built green or re-greened home that utilizes energy star appliances and building materials can cost up to 40% less to operate than a traditional home. This results in not only owning and enjoying a “green” home but it also gives you a little extra “green” back in your pocket every month. A green home can cost a little bit more to build on the front end, but in the end the energy savings and health benefits far outweigh any initial investment in the home.
Some Green Home Suggestions
If at all possible, a green home should not be built on an environmentally sensitive site, such as prime farmland, wetlands or endangered species habitats. Building a new home on the site of an older one that has been razed is optimal as it does not create a new houseprint. (Historic Homes are the exception and should be preserved and protected whenever possible.)
Your “green” home site should be oriented to utilize and make the most of exterior sunlight and natural prevailing breezes. A well-sited home will reduce daytime interior lighting requirements and also provide a great view of the outdoors.
Windows, skylights, transoms and clerestory windows can be used to bring and distribute daylight throughout the interior of our home. An added benefit is that they add lovely architectural elements and perceived height to the inside of your home. These were common elements seen in the great homes and buildings of yesteryear and were em-ployed for the same use that we have rediscovered them for today. Natural daylight should reach at least 75% of the home’s interior via the use of well-placed windows and transoms.
Natural ventilation is even more effective when fans, wind chimneys and other green technologies are used to facilitate the introduction of fresh air inside the house. The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system should filter all incoming air and vent stale air outside. The garage should not be attached to the house but be located nearby. A breezeway between the house and garage allows access to the garage but ensures that the garage is not part of the house. No part of the household HVAC system should run through the garage, nor should any air handling units be located in the garage. The garage should be equipped with an exhaust fan and windows for air intake.
Exterior shading devices such as awnings, covered arbors, sun-shades, canopies and the best and most natural of all—trees can be used to provide cover from the summer sun. Shading devices and natural shade when utilized on the southern and western side of a house will block the hottest summer sun. Interestingly, the angle of the sun in summer is different than it is in the winter. Well-planned shading devices will block the summer sun on the south side of the house because the sun is higher in the summer. Likewise it will allow the wintertime sun to penetrate into the house, because the winter sun is at a “lower” angle. This is an element of passive solar design that has been utilized successfully for centuries.
Size Does Matter!
The trend in green home building today is geared toward smaller homes that utilize luxurious finishes and well appointed interiors. Utilizing green elements in your home is smart no matter what size it is. You don’t have to be a “rocket scientist” to know that a 4,500 square-foot green home will consume more energy and costs much more to operate and maintain than a 2,000 square-foot green home. The old cliché, “less is more,” certainly applies to building a truly “green” home, when it comes to size.
Green homes are constructed or reno-vated with non-toxic and EnergyStar© rated building materials. Additionally, the green home builder/homeowner should utilize low or no VOC products.
Use Interior Products With Low VOCs
Interior paints are one of the biggest irritants and pollutants in our home. They can irritate our lungs, linger within our homes and pollute our landfills and groundwater. With that being said, we love paint and desire beautifully decorated homes, inside and out. How can we get what we want with regard to opulent wall finishes, paints and papers, when VOCs are a concern? Fortunately, there are several outstanding paint and finishing manufacturers that have been producing world-class paints, decorative plasters and glazes for some time now. Before using any paint you must read the label to determine if the paint has low VOCs or if it is toxic or not. This is particularly important for pregnant women, women who wish to become pregnant and when using in children’s areas. Paint cans will also contain a statement of hazards and the standards to which it is made. Some paints are downright hazardous. Solvents, household cleaners and even carpeting can be major irritants and pollutants inside of our homes.
Years ago, I made a commitment to myself to use only low or no VOC products, even before it was popular to do so. There are amazing and wonderful products out there that are actually less expensive in some cases and superior in quality to many of the mass produced and mass marketed paints and finishes. As a result of this, the market has dictated that the large paint manufacturers also must begin providing the same standard of low VOCs emissions and lower toxicity levels in their paints, solvents, finishes and sealers. Capitalism does work when given the chance!
What Are VOCs?
VOC is the abbreviation for Volatile Organic Compound. These compounds are commonly found in paints, carpets, rugs, fabrics, vinyl flooring, wallpapers, inks, cleaning agents, glues, solvents, varnishes, sealants, all sorts of plastics and a host of other products.
To avoid decorating your home with products containing VOCs you can opt for reclaimed heart pine or other reclaimed hardwood flooring. Cork or bamboo flooring is both durable and striking. An added benefit is that they are a constantly renewable resource! Concrete flooring is great when used in a passive solar home, as it holds onto heat that is collected in the slab during the day and releases it throughout the night. If you opt for a tropical hardwood, be sure to use only tropical hardwoods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The same goes for outdoor furniture made from teak.
All wool or cotton rugs such as Persian, oriental, dhurrie, needlepoint and hand-hooked rugs are a great no VOC option as long as they do not contain synthetic fibers.
More and more rug manufacturers are making area rugs and wall to wall carpeting utilizing lower VOC fibers and even beautiful patterned rugs made from recycled fibers and plastics. These new rugs will just blow your mind, if you have the time to seek them out.
Recycling is Best as “One Person’s Trash Really is Another Person’s Treasure!”
Materials that have been salvaged from older homes and estates can be recycled, with absolutely stunning results! This includes old doors, flooring, door knobs and a host of other architectural elements that will “knock your socks off.” You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to utilizing some of these amazing finds that can be found locally, regionally and online. These items will find new life and inventive usefulness as striking and dramatic focal points in your home.
Whenever possible, try to place your household trash, such as cans, bottles, plastics and newspapers, into separate bins for recycling. Once you get used to doing it, you’ll be surprised at the diminished trash pile-up at home.
Insulate your home with healthy and Effective Elements
Most people equate home insulation with fiberglass and synthetic compounds, but cotton and soybean crops are finding new uses as elements in non-toxic insulation. Soy and cotton based insulation has a high R (heat resistance) factor when used in a home’s walls and roof spaces. A high quality insulation will help prevent heat loss in the winter and the loss of cool air in the summer. The newer “green” insulation benefits the homebuilder, the homeowner, the farmer and is an all around win-win for everyone.
Windows and exterior doors should have the Energy Star© rating, as should all appliances, fixtures, heating and cooling systems used in your green home. The federal government website www.energystar.gov will give you the low-down on what elements, fixtures, appliances, flooring, windows, etc. that you should use for maximum “greening.”
Making your home a greener one is a commitment to learning, as new products and technologies are continually emerging on the market, like the soy and cotton based insulation, mentioned above. Educating yourself on how to build and maintain a green home, as well as why a greener home is important to your family, is the best way to ensure “green” home success.
What are Some of the Benefits of Living in a Greener Home?
There are many tangible benefits to living in a green home. As we have already stated, “green” homes are healthier, more durable and more cost effective to operate. There are many certification processes out there for new residential construction that serve as a blueprint for building healthy, comfortable homes that reduce their energy usage and waste. The Home Builders Association of Virginia has a program that is being utilized all over the state, known as the Earth Craft Program. There are many wonderful “green” homebuilders in our area who participate in this or other equally recognized third-party programs.
How Does Third-Party Certification Work?
Builders are guided through a design review to identify site planning and construction decisions. A holistic, point-based worksheet is adopted addressing all aspects of energy efficiency, durability, indoor air quality, resource efficiency, waste management, and water conservation. The worksheet provides an array of options that can be combined in various formulas to make projects certifiably green. An energy analysis confirms that each home will meet a higher standard and prove a 15% reduction in energy consumption over 2004 IECC. Ongoing third-party verification ensures quality, throughout the entire building process—from site prep to occupancy by the homeowners.
These programs promote diligent air sealing of the building envelope (exterior) and its mechanical systems, while still allowing for fresh air intake, at various points in the HVAC system. Air sealing can be accomplished at little additional cost and ensures a tighter home. This in turn ensures that the homeowner can enjoy a home that is more energy efficient and less costly to occupy.
Non-Profit Groups That Can Help You With Information
“The Virginia Sustainable Building Network (vsbn.org) is the only statewide organization that brings together a diverse leadership with the mission of promoting environmentally sound building practices in Virginia.” The VSBN was incorporated in 1995, as a non-profit 501-C-3 to change the way homes, buildings and communities are built in the Commonwealth of Virginia. They provide workshops, information, technical training, information and a host of other services to homeowners and builders alike.
The IRS website includes information on tax incentives and credits available for those wishing to build a green home or re-green their homes. The Green Building Initiative at www.thegbi.org and The United States Green Building Council at www.usgbc.org can also offer great information and support. Beginning in 2009 the Tax incentives shown at right are being offered by the IRS.
The Impact of Green Landscaping!
Finally, we should not overlook the impact that landscaping has on our homes. We often think of green homes and green architecture and completely neglect the impact of how these additions to our yard not only make it more aesthetically appealing but also can make it more energy efficient. As case in point:
A few well placed trees or covered arbors can significantly help to cool a home and reduce the amount of air conditioning required in the summer. The following suggestions will help you to create a more beautiful yard and more eco-friendly “green” home and garden.
Use plants that are native to our area or plants that are not water guzzlers. These plants will also be more resistant to pests and diseases. This will reduce the need for insecticides, fungicides and other destructive chemicals. Native wildflowers and plants will attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife to our garden, making it alive and green.
If you love roses, opt for old garden roses, shrub roses and disease resistant varieties. They are hardier as they grow on their own roots, they are much more beautiful with their natural habits and they will be more resistant to blights and the modern rose diseases. Avoid grafted roses whenever possible.
Plant deciduous shade trees, which drop their leaves in the fall. If you are already blessed with an abundant canopy, count your blessings and leave it in tact. These trees will help keep your home cooler and save on air conditioning in the summer. Likewise in the fall and winter they will allow the warming rays of the sun to warm your home. This saves heating dollars by allowing the accumulated heat to work with your heating system. Optimally, shade trees should flank the east and west sides of your home. This will shade you during the hottest part of the summer. Planting shade trees or leaving them near the south facing side of your home will help to shade your roof from the hot summer sun.
Planting evergreen trees will help with your energy costs by blocking those cold harsh winter winds. You should pin-point the dominant direction that the winter wind hits your home from and plant upwind of our home. Your local VPI extension agent can help with determining where you should plant your evergreen trees and what type of trees do well in our area. This is a great resource that is free, so we might as well take advantage of it.
- Use efficient watering systems to irrigate your yard and garden as already discussed in this article.
- You might want to go back to the old timey reel lawn mowers or an electric mower. These are cleaner ways to cut the lawn and they offer great exercise.
- Use solar powered outdoor lighting in your landscaping. These lights can be found at all major home improvement stores, specialty catalogs and home lighting centers. They come in all price ranges and a myriad of styles. They offer a pleasing and green form of lighting for outdoor living.
- Use a rain barrel or cistern to collect rainwater for use in irrigation and gardening.
- Start a compost pile! Compost is a natural by-product of decomposition in nature and it keeps nutrients and food going back into the soil to keep it healthy and fed. Use your kitchen refuse like fruit and vegetable peels, paper products, coffee grounds, grass clippings, raked leaves and garden cuttings to make BLACK GOLD for your garden. It will significantly reduce your trips to the landfill or transfer station, boost the immune system of your garden, improve the ability of your soil to retain moisture and almost eliminate the need for fertilizer. Healthier plants can also fend off pests and diseases because they are healthier.
- Use organic or natural products for fertilizing if you must. Use organic homemade remedies if you have a pest problem, such as deer, rabbits or destructive insects. You can mix a really awesome deer repellant by utilizing hard boiled eggs, cayenne pepper, vegetable oil, lemon dish soap, vegetable oil, water and garlic. It works better than anything you can imagine. Pie plates tied and strung will also scare away deer. Hot pepper and garlic mixtures in water will fend off rabbits from your garden. The ways of controlling nature’s pests with natural ingredients are endless and they won’t effect the taste of your vegetables. Get creative as there are many online sources for homemade pest control that works!
- Grow your own herbs, vegetables and fruits. There is nothing like a kitchen garden for the quality of the food and the good it will do for your soul. Gardening is therapy!
In closing…We have learned that “green” technologies have been around for thousands of years. We have only just begun to realize the quality that we can add to our lives by living more thoughtfully. We can improve our indoor environments and our lives by learning more about green living and green products. May we all live healthier, happier, greener lives as we center more and more of our lives around our home and our families. May you and yours enjoy living and building greener homes and lives.
Article By Karin Andrews