So, you want to build a green home but aren't sure where to begin? Well, perhaps one of the best places to start is the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Better known as LEED for Homes, the system was developed to promote energy savings and water efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and waste sent to landfills, improve indoor air quality, protect of natural resources, and help homeowners choose environmentally and socially responsible sites to build on [source: Natural Resources Defense Council]. LEED has different levels of certification depending on how "green" a home is built, so you can go as eco-friendly as your budget allows. And there are hundreds of LEED-endorsed strategies you can employ; the more you incorporate, the greener your home will generally be. And even if you don't want to aim for LEED certification for your abode, simply following the guidelines can still help you create a greener, healthier, more energy efficient place to live. Here are 10 to consider as you build or renovate your home.
Work with a Team of Pros
Planning and design are critical components when it comes to making a home as green as it can be -- and all the details involved with earning LEED certification points are complicated. So make sure you work with experienced professionals who are intimately familiar with LEED requirements, energy efficient and sustainable design, and green building practices. Ideally, if you want your home to earn LEED certification, at least one member of the project team should have official LEED for Homes credentials.
Choose Your Site Wisely
Don't build a new home in an environmentally sensitive location. Avoid locations at or below the floodplain level or within 100 feet of water or wetlands. Stay away from land that's been designated a habitat for threatened or endangered species or that was public park land prior to your acquisition. Also, try to build your home in or near an existing community, near existing infrastructure (such as sewers and a water supply), and with access to good walking and biking routes and public transportation [source: Natural Resources Defense Council].
Because large homes consume more energy and require more material resources than smaller homes, LEED for Homes rewards smaller homes with lower point thresholds to achieve certification. So remember that size matters, and skip the McMansion if you want your house to be a green one. Try to design the smallest home possible to meet your needs, and maximize the efficiency of the space rather than the amount of space.
Beat the Heat (Island)
When the sun pounds on dark pavement (like the kind you see in most driveways and parking lots) and roofs, the temperature in the surrounding environment goes up, creating what's known as a "heat island effect." The effect is greatest in urban areas with high concentrations of buildings and roads. Cool off your slice of the planet by planting trees to shade at least 50 percent of sidewalks, patios and driveways within 50 feet of your house [U.S. EPA]. When selecting trees and other plants for your property, opt for species native to your region that will require fewer or no pesticides and fertilizers to thrive. And when installing patios and driveways, use white or gray concrete or other materials that reflect rather than absorb radiation.
Waste Less Water
Rather than let rainwater and gray water (water collected after being used in the washing machine, shower or sink) go to waste, install a system or systems to capture some or all of it for landscape irrigation or indoor water use. Install low-flow faucets and showerheads, and toilets that are low-flow (optimally, less than 1.1 gallons per flush), too.
Insulate, Insulate, Insulate
There are many LEED guidelines for insulating your home, but the general idea is that the better the insulation, the more energy efficient the home. So you need prime insulation in your walls, in floors between interior and exterior spaces (such as the floor above the garage), in shafts, in the attic and ceilings, and in common walls between dwelling units (in the case of a multi-unit building).
Take Care of the Air Inside
You should also take steps to minimize air leakage. Install top-notch windows and glass doors. Choose those that are rated by the National Fenestration Rating Council -- yes, there is such an organization -- or that meet or exceed the EPA's ENERGY STAR requirements. Also check ducts and seams for leakage, and seal any you find.
Minimize Your Heating and Cooling Needs
Heating and cooling is another huge LEED topic. Be sure to install heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment that meets or exceeds ENERGY STAR standards. Install a high-efficiency hot water distribution system, insulate hot water pipes, and insulate your hot water heater, as well.
Turn Down the Lights
No, you don't need to live in the dark, but you can seriously reduce the energy wattage needed to light up your home by installing ENERGY STAR-labeled lighting fixtures and using ENERGY STAR-labeled compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of conventional incandescent light bulbs. Remember that CFLs are most effective in high-use rooms, such as the kitchen or living room, where the lights on are on for hours at a time.
Make Your Materials Matter
Give careful thought to all the materials used to build (and decorate) your home. Use reclaimed wood whenever possible, and make sure any new wood is FSC-certified. Use recycled materials as much as you can. Choose products that emit few or no toxic gases, including low-VOC or VOC-free paints, primers, sealants, stains, and carpet and flooring adhesives, to improve indoor air quality.
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- National Fenestration Rating Council. (Dec. 27, 2010)http://nfrc.org/
- Natural Resources Defense Council. "LEED Certification Information." (Dec. 22, 2010)http://www.nrdc.org/buildinggreen/leed.asp
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Heat Island Effect." February 9, 2009. (Dec. 27, 2010)http://www.epa.gov/hiri/about/index.htm
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Energy Star." (Dec. 27, 2010)http://www.energystar.gov/
- U.S. Green Building Council. "Green Home Guide LEED for Homes Certification Program." (Dec. 21, 2010)http://greenhomeguide.com/program/leed-for-homes
- U.S. Green Building Council. "LEED for Homes Rating System." Jan. 2008. (Dec. 22, 2010)http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=3638
- U.S. Green Building Council. "Scope and Eligibility Guidelines LEED for Homes." Jan. 11, 2011. (Jan. 12, 2011)http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=5482
- U.S. Green Building Council. "LEED Frequently Asked Questions." (Dec. 21, 2010)http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1819#Govt