Ask what makes a green home, and the common response is solar or energy efficiency.
In order for a home to be green, it must address six key environmental impact areas. If a house does not address all six, then it is simply a house with green features.
The question becomes, what are the six categories a home must meet before qualifying as a green home.
Energy efficiency is the most obvious response when asked what makes a home green. Energy efficiency is simple to achieve, when done right. The first step is to hire a RESNET approved energy rater to do a simple analysis of the home, and asses the most practical improvements based on budget and necessity. Many utilities offer incentives, which allow a homeowner the benefit of a $99 evaluation. From there, decisions may be made in regard to tuning up or replacing the HVAC, tightening ducts, improving insulation, caulking and/or replacing windows, weather stripping, replacing the hot water heater, programmable thermostats, appliances, shading, daylighting, or lighting.
(Solar should not be considered until the energy analysis is addressed. And, a solar system should not be installed until a home is made energy efficient or achieves a HERS Index of 85 or better.)
When speaking about efficiency, energy is the obvious response, but often forgotten is water efficiency. Water efficiency is achieved with strategies that include non-invasive plants, drip irrigation, landscape timers, limited turf, WaterSense fixtures, and low flush toilets.
Additional water efficiency strategies include grey water or rain capture.
People like to see green features and often point to materials used. Materials are difficult to measure. LEED states that a material can be green if it meets certain requirements based on manufacturing location, environmentally preferred, or emission specs. But, a product must be market proven, meaning it must look good and fit ones budget. The latter will always win out over the former.
Lastly, the durability of a material must be considered.
A positive outcome of addressing energy efficiency, is improved indoor air quality. 50% of a homes energy consumption is related to mechanical. When improving the mechanical system, ventilation and filtration systems are also improved. When improving indoor air quality, special attention should be given to limiting formaldehyde in materials. lower VOC adhesives, and environmentally preferred cleaning products.
Design is a key area to consider when labeling a home green. The environmental impact of a large home usually means more materials used to build and more energy used to heat and cool. Smaller, well-designed spaces are ‘greener’ than large homes. People have different needs and desires. With that being said, whether smaller or larger spaces, the home needs to be as efficient as possible in order for the design to be considered green, with an environmental preference toward smaller well-designed spaces.
The final category that must be addressed before labeling a home green is, location. A home that is well-designed, energy and water efficient, has healthy indoor air quality, and good green materials, is not green if it is located miles from community services or ones workplace. A well located home is one that limits the need for the occupant to rely on driving or consuming petroleum.
If a home does not meet or exceed all of the above six environmental impact areas, then it is simply, ‘a home with green features,’ and not a green home. The term ‘green’ has been diluted by loosely labeling a home with green features as being ‘green.’
The only time a home should be truly labeled green, is when it is energy and water efficient, has healthy indoor quality, uses environmentally preferred materials, is well designed and preferably not with excessive square footage, and is centrally located.