When used relative to real estate, the term “green” has differing connotations; however most consumers seeking a “green” home are hoping to reduce their impact on the environment with homes that are healthy to live in, sensitive to the environment and cost effective to operate.
The greatest opportunity to find a truly green home is by way of new construction, however there are still many opportunities to make existing homes “greener” by choosing eco-sensitive materials and energy efficient systems when renovations are desired.
Builders constructing green homes seek to make these homes healthier by the use of materials that have low or no “V.O.C.’s” (volatile organic compounds). Products containing V.O.C’s have the tendency to “off-gas”, creating an unhealthy environment, especially for those with allergies. When you think about off-gassing, imagine the odor of a new carpet, a room that has been freshly painted, or a floor that has just been varnished. These noxious odors can be truly harmful. Green builders seek to utilize products such as carpeting made from recycled fibers and low VOC paints (such as Sherwin Williams Harmony paints). Other methods to make a healthier home include the use of “daylighting”, which entails not only designing homes with larger windows, but also studying the way that light bounces and reflects into each space. Studies prove that we are healthier and perform better when we have sunlight.
Bamboo flooring is often seen in green homes, because it grows quickly and is rapidly renewable. Natural materials such as stone or granite, solid wood and recycled materials are the most eco-sensitive choices. Many newer options for green building materials are currently available, such as “paper stone” for countertops…a rock-hard surface made from layers of recycled compressed paper. Linoleum, made from linseed oil and renewable materials, is typically used in place of vinyl, which is made from petroleum products. Products made from cork, soy and hemp are seen in furnishings, fabric and more. The use of “sustainable” materials is paramount…that is, not taking more from the environment than that which can be readily replenished.
There are a number of ways that homes can be created or retro-fitted to use less energy. The use of Energy Star rated appliances is one thing that almost anyone can do, a well as taking steps to ensure that energy is not lost through doors and windows. See www.energystar.gov for details on the Energy Star designation.
Builders of green homes have numerous options for energy efficiency open to them. They begin by creating a tight “thermal envelope”…a shell with as little room for energy loss as possible. The use of ICF building forms, foam insulation and fully sealed ductwork are just a few of the alternatives that might be employed. High efficiency furnaces, geo-thermal heating options, and solar panels are some methods that may be considered to reduce or even eliminate energy use altogether.
When searching for a green builder, look for one that is LEED certified, that is ‘Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design”. Builders who have this designation are committed to constructing according to nationally recognized standards for green building. Go to www.usgbc.org/leed for additional information.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need assistance locating a green builder in the Pittsburgh area.
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