Published on October 21st, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans1
Green Building and Sustainable Designs
It’s easy to visualize the perfect eco-friendly, green home. Maybe it’s open and spacious, utilizing the sun’s rays for indoor lighting and heating. You might envision your new place off the beaten track, off-grid and overlooking fields of wild berries.
Every decision you make during your home building or remodeling project — from the type of lumber used to the type of toilet installed — will have an impact on both your pocketbook and the environment. As a result, it’s important that you be sure to choose wisely.
For many people, designing an eco-friendly roof is one of the hardest tasks in green home building. While you want something aesthetically pleasing, it’s also important to consider the longevity and the environmental impact of the product. Thatched roofs are covered with vegetation such as straw, water reed, sedge, rushes and heather. A thatched roof has an R-value of 40, presuming the roof is installed by a professional thatcher, and can last anywhere from 30 to 50 years, depending on the quality of materials used.
An eco-friendly roofing option gaining popularity in larger urban areas is a living roof. These flat roofing systems are built on a thin membrane of soil that can sustain plant development. The plants absorb and deflect excessive daytime heat away from the building, resulting in less energy expenditure. At night, when temperatures drop, a living roof helps insulate the building.
While you’re saving money and reducing carbon emissions through your choice of roofing materials, why not consider the amount of water you’re conserving? Did you know that toilets account for almost 30 percent of all indoor water use? These days, toilets run the gamut from traditional low-flow models that can be purchased at any regular hardware store to self-contained composting toilets suitable for residential use. If you opt for the no-water composting toilet system, you won’t need to hire a plumber for installation, although you will have to install the venting system that comes with it. There are a variety of things to consider when choosing a toilet like this. For homes built off-grid, choose a composting toilet that uses either a wind turbine or 12-volt DC battery system. Remember, these toilets work best when used by only one or two adults on a regular basis. For a larger family, you may have to consider purchasing more than one system. For residential use, 120 VAC electric units are generally recommended for higher capacity applications.
Okay, the walls are up, the bathroom is in place, but the place looks bare. Time to paint, but beware. VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) produce a breathable gas when applied, diminish air quality and may be detrimental to your health, especially for people with allergies and chemical sensitivities. New products on the market deemed as “low” or “no” VOC paints are water-based, emit no hazardous fumes and are not considered hazardous waste, making cleanup and disposal much easier. Innovative companies in the United States have developed clay-based paint that can be used on any interior surface where traditional paints would normally be applied. These soy-based paints are durable, washable and are not processed from petrochemical sources.
Wouldn’t it be great to get out of bed every morning and feel fresh grass beneath your feet? Well, maybe. Most of us are probably looking for something a little more traditional in the way of flooring. Experts recommend a variety of eco-friendly options including bamboo, recycled glass tile, reclaimed wood flooring and linoleum (not to be confused with vinyl flooring). Linoleum, made from solidified linseed oil and backed with burlap or canvas, is actually an excellent eco-friendly choice when considering flooring options.
A good deck can be the heart of any home, providing a place to entertain while enjoying the outdoors. Although difficult to find, salvaged or reclaimed wood is one eco-friendly option available. Research has shown that wood products use less fossil fuel to make, produce less water and air pollution and result in far lower emissions of greenhouse gases than either steel or concrete. Rest assured that lumber or plywood purchased in North America are sold under a multitude of forestry and conservation laws designed to protect the long-term health of the resource.
Research has shown that wood products use less fossil fuel to make, produce less water and air pollution and result in far lower emissions of greenhouse gases than either steel or concrete.
Wood composite and plastic lumber are both made from recycled materials such as wood fibers, recycled grocery bags and milk containers. Experts advise seeking professional assistance when building with these types of material. Unlike traditional wood products, wood composite and lumber react much differently to heat, moisture and weight.
Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning
Your geographical climate is going to affect the type of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system you’ll need to use. Natural Resources Canada highly recommends ground source heat pumps as one viable, eco-friendly solution. Heat pumps collect and transfer heat from the earth through a series of fluid-filled, buried pipes running to a building, where the heat is then concentrated for inside use. Ground-source heat pumps do not create heat through combustion – they simply move heat from one place to another.
Wondering about air-conditioning? This system also works in reverse, cooling your home during warmer months, thereby eliminating the need for an expensive, energy-guzzling air conditioning unit. Other heating options include wood pellet stoves, in-floor radiant heat and active solar heating.
These are just a few options to get you started on your green house plans. The more you research, the more you’ll find. Just remember, the effort you put into your green home today will impact the environment for generations to come.