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Homes, Green Projects

Innovative Housing Ideas That Might Inspire

by John Livingstone, Founder,

The need for homebuilders to build green has been made abundantly clear. "Ride the Green Wave or be Swept Away'" was one of the many environmental sessions offered at the last National Association of Home Builders convention.

There are many great ideas and resources for going green in home construction. Recently the San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E), invited the public to an open house to view an experiment on a 35 year old house. This 2500 square-foot, four bedroom home, had over $90,000 worth of upgrades. The company called this an "Xtreme Energy Makeover." The homeowners were chosen on the basis of a 2006 essay contest. Company officials described the new systems, individually, as being as much as 90% more efficient than older ones. They expect the greatest payback to come from the photovoltaic system that is expected to reduce this family's energy bill to zero.

San Diego Gas and Electric Co. provided the following information on energy systems and fixtures, along with the retail cost, including installation, and the estimated percentage savings over standard products.

  • Lighting: LED and compact florescent bulbs (various manufacturers), $12,000, 50%
  • Heating and Air Conditioning: Trane XV95, 60,000 - BTU Furnace, Trane XL 19I, 2.5 ton air conditioning condensor, $18,000, 20-25 %

  • Water Heating: dual system Trendsetter Solar Products solar water heating system (25-tube panel) and 100-gallon storage tank and Noritz tankless water heating booster, $11,000
  • Photovoltaic cells: Akeena Solar 3-kilowatt system, 18 panels, $26,000, 100% reduction in energy cost
  • Appliances: Jenn-Air 22.9 cubic foot refrigerator, duel-fuel 5 gas-burner stove top and 2 electric convection ovens, 1.6 cubic foot undercounter microwave and ultraquiet diswasher, and Whirlpool Duet-HT washer and dryer, $8,000, 15 %
  • Pool pump and Controls: Pentair Water Pool and Spa variable speed, $3,000
  • Windows and Doors: 11 Jeld-Wen 600 series Windowmaster gas-filled double-pane windows and 5 doors, $14,000

    There are these and many other ideas used in other types of homes, both new and remodeled. Some of these ideas are:

  • in some areas, multi-story buildings are offering a separate recycling chute next to the garbage chute so materials are automatically separated in the basement
  • "Green Streets" are being created for pedestrians to enjoy with vehicle access in the rear only
  • gas fireplaces are being lighted electronically to eliminate wasteful pilot lights
  • stormwater systems are directly storm water into the ground rather than down the city system and possibly into the oceans or rivers
  • bio-remediation channels are ensuring food and nutrients in the water are returned to creeks and streams to sustain marine life
  • builders are designing homes for those that can "telework," thereby saving energy compared to traveling to work
  • civic planners are trying harder than ever to locate homes near mass transit, even directly over a train route...known as tramdominiums
  • individual geo-thermal heating and cooling systems are becoming more prevalent
  • recycled glass countertops are being used in bathrooms
  • new low-maintenance, high design ecological kitchen cabinets are now available
  • window and door frames are being manufactured with recycled glass and aluminum
  • lumber is being created from sustainably-harvested trees, usually according to FSC standards
  • very attractive LED lighting is now available
  • check out some of the latest interesting designs using compact fluorescent tubing

    Homebuilders will be more successful than their competitors only if they communicate their message more effectively. Marketing personnel should be well informed as to what the company is doing so they can create enthusiasm among buyers.
    Check out this message on Morningstar Homes' web site:

    Why "Built Green™"?

    At Morningstar, we not only build attractive and affordable homes, we've gone much further. Our Built Green(TM) homes are designed and built to embrace healthy living, promote energy savings and protect the environment.
    Built Green™ homes are, quite simply, built better. From energy-saving, high-efficiency furnaces and appliances to top-of-the-line UV-ray resistant windows and low off-gassing paint and flooring--and much more--Morningstar homes will prove that homeowners can enjoy healthy living without compromising on style--or their budget.

    It's really a no-brainer: beautiful comfortable homes that are healthier and more comfortable to live in, less expensive to operate and maintain, and more sensitive to the local environment. Why wouldn't you choose a Built Green™home?

    Builders, "Are there some inexpensive features that you could use to stage your homes?"
    Possibly hemp shower curtains or kitchen composters, identified of course to enhance the image of your houses as Green Homes.

    The resources for going green are greater now than ever.

    Framing a Green Home

    by John Livingstone, Founder,

    Sustainable development requires that one explore the social, environmental and economic impact of the decision when we apply these principles to construction materials. We ask ourselves: What is more sustainable, baked adobe block indigenous to the region, which generates local jobs, or lumber imported from the Pacific Northwest, which produces less costly point-of-purchase homes? Do we use 2" by 4" wood studs which come from younger trees or 2" x 6" framing from old-growth trees that, because of the width, allows for more insulation to be put into the walls? Like many questions when building in an in an environmentally friendly manner, there isn't a perfect answer. What we can strive for is both affordability and a responsible use of resources. We must take it upon ourselves to reduce construction waste, recycle as many building materials as possible and to introduce new framing techniques to save both money and lumber.

    For instance, advanced framing techniques allow a homebuilder to line up the studs of the wood-framed wall with the roof trusses above. By doing this, you can construct a house with 24" on-center walls instead of 16" on-center walls, thereby reducing your wood stud requirements by 25% to 30%. This simple technique, done properly, saves money and trees, while maintaining the structural integrity of the building envelope. As with all new building techniques, you must talk to your designer and/or local building department authorities to find out if local regulations allow "green" techniques.

    The National Association of Realtors in a July 2007 article entitled "What's New on the Green Scene" explained:

    Timber framing requires significantly less lumber than the traditional "stick-built" housing and almost always incorporates [structural] insulating panels (SIPS), which keeps heat and air conditioning from escaping the house. There's less waste when large timbers are used, compared with conventional construction that produces sawdust and waste every time a 2-by-4 stud is planed, says Frank Baker, president of Insulspan and Riverbend Framing, part of PFB Corp. in Calgary, Canada. In addition, less energy is needed to power machines and kiln dry wood because timber framing uses freshly cut wood, he says. Timbers are prefabricated and arrive at the building site ready to be assembled, paring construction waste. Costs vary according to finishes selected, just as they do with stick-built housing.”

    The Role of a Solar Distiller in Providing Heated Water

    by John Livingstone, Founder,

    A solar distiller that provides two to three gallons of pure, sun-distilled water every day may be an option for your home.

    A solar water heating system might also be a possible major feature in your new home. A passive solar system is so named, as there are no moving parts. Water is preheated in the solar collector through an arrangement of 4 inch diameter copper tubes painted black and placed in a box covered by a double glazed, low-iron glass, before it goes into the standard water heater.

    The low-iron glass allows more sunlight to pass through the double-glazing that insulates the tubes at night. The hot water system is looped and insulated, and activated with a re-circulating pump, so that you don't lose water while waiting for hot water to come to the tap. These hot water heating systems have a quick payback on the investment.

    Additional water saving features might include plumbing to accommodate a gray water system and a rainwater harvesting system for landscaping purposes.

    Building a "True" Green Home for the First Time?

    by John Livingstone, Founder,

    There are many beautiful homes being built these days, incorporating features that qualify them as being green. These may include energy efficient windows, insulation, heating and air-conditioning systems, and more.

    However, there are some exciting concepts and resources for going green that can be used to build, or renovate, what some would call a "true" green home. Some of these concepts include.

  • Straw bale - the residual product of wheat harvest, straw is used for its insulating quality and beauty and can be harvested annually unlike wood. Using straw avoids the need to burn it and pollute air. It is highly energy efficient, with an insulation rating between R-25 and R-30. The bale receives a stucco finish and a plaster interior wall coating. The two foot thick walls have softened, rounded corners - a truly charming appearance.
  • Passive solar - solar design takes into account, sun, wind and shade. Solar energy is the cleanest energy options available today. Its contribution to global warming is smaller than any other energy source. Solar energy is renewable; we will never run out. It is reliable; you won't experience widespread blackouts. Solar devices add to the value of your home and save your money every month.

    The smartest way to start using solar energy in your home is by using the sun to heat your water. Solar collectors on your roof use heat from the sun to directly heat water. This "pre-heated" water, then goes through your electric or gas water heater. This reduces the energy used by your electric or gas heater by 60 to 90%. Your solar water heater will pay for itself, long before its useful life is over, putting money in your pocket every month.

    The most widely used and well-known device used to generate electricity from the sun is photovoltaics or PV. Photo, as a photograph, meaning light, and voltaic as and volts of electricity. PV is silicon semiconductor technology similar to that used in computers.

    Using electricity generated with solar takes a whole system, not just PV. PV modules convert sunlight into electricity in the direct current (DC) form. This electricity can be stored in a battery or goes directly to the inverter. The inverter is an electronic device that can convert DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity. AC is the form of electricity that most power companies provide to your home. The inverter also provides system protection and automation.

  • Water harvesting - this is where water from the roof is collected and stored in underground sisterns for xeriscape landscaping and cooling.
  • Recycled materials - this concept involves making a special effort to find and utilize recycled construction materials, including, but not limited to, wood, stone and bricks.
  • Active solar - this concept uses solar photovoltaic panels, and hot water systems that are usually found on roof tops.
  • Cooling tower - depending upon your geographic location, a cooling tower might be used whereby water travels over baffled filters, cooling moving air that drops into the space below.
  • Thermal mass - the mass of the walls, for example using brick, helps moderate heat extremes by slowing penetration or loss.
  • Windows-there are many beautiful new windows available on the market that have a high level of energy efficiency. However, if possible, using frames that are resistant to heat transfer, possibly made of recycled wood waste with environmentally friendly glue.

    Speak with your architect and find out if any of these concepts can be incorporated into your home.

    Upscale Goes Green: Homeowners Focus Increasingly on Sustainable Energy, Renewable Building Materials

    By Aldene Fredenburg

    A quiet revolution is going on in the real estate sector. Many successful professionals are putting considerable money into building their own dream homes, and many of those professionals are choosing to build according to green principles.

    Perhaps the first decision these new homeowners face is how to heat and cool their homes. Before even considering what sort of heating and cooling system they will choose, they need to decide on a design and materials for the exterior structure. Alternative building methods including rammed earth, straw bale, and flying concrete construction feature thick walls, often over a foot thick, which conserve heat in the winter and keep the home cool in the summer. Some homeowners are even opting for subterranean dwellings, using the natural insulating quality of the earth to lessen their need for additional heating. Even when opting for conventional wood structures, homeowners are choosing the latest insulation materials, which offer optimal heat conservation with little to no outgassing of toxic fumes.

    Energy-conserving heating systems, some of which create radiant heat from hot water pumped through pipes beneath the floors, save on energy; passive solar construction - homes with south-facing exposure and large windows - allows the sun to warm the home. Solar panels provide electricity for lights and electrical appliances, and gray water systems recycle used water for additional use in the home. Some homeowners in colder climates opt for wood- or wood-pellet-burning furnaces rather than the conventional oil furnace, installing modern furnaces designed to minimize emissions.

    Green-building homeowners and more and more developers opt for natural and sometimes man-
    made materials created from renewable resources, materials which do not expose residents to health risks. Vinyl, which is infamous for outgassing toxic fumes, is rejected in favor of safer materials; hardwood flooring, much of it harvested from old-growth forests, is replaced with materials like bamboo, and cork, two renewable materials providing two very different, attractive looks in flooring.

    Those not in the position to design and build their own home still have the option of “greening” an existing home, using a wealth of safe, nontoxic natural materials. Conventional plywood, which is manufactured using urea formaldehyde, can be replaced with a number of new, safer materials, including “Plyboo,” created from bamboo. Kiln-fired clay tiles, wood from sustainable forests, natural, safe interior and exterior paints, and a host of other materials help create a clean, healthy home environment.

    Building and renovating green currently costs more than using conventional materials; some green builders estimate the difference at about 15 percent. However, recently wood prices have soared, and increasing transportation costs due to the rising cost of gasoline and diesel has impacted the price of building materials, so the difference in cost between conventional and green building may well even out. As it stands now, increasing numbers of prospective homeowners are willing to pay a premium for a home made of attractive, sustainable, and healthy building materials.

    About the Author

    Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has published numerous articles in local and regional publications. She may be reached at

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