Top 10 Ways to Make Your New Home Green

Building a new home is the perfect time to add green features that can lower your energy costs. See more home construction pictures.
Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

Decisions, decisions, decisions. If you're building a house, that's what your life is all about -- choosing the features of your new home. Although it was probably exciting at first, by now it's likely lost its luster. But try not to get so bogged down that you overlook your home's energy efficiency. Building a new home is the perfect time to add green features that will help you take advantage of lower energy costs, and make the house more marketable when it's time to sell in the future. If your builder hasn't already suggested a few ideas on how to green your new home, we've compiled 10 ways to help make the decision process a bit easier. Although adding green features may seem a little pricey up front, green upgrades will save you money in the long run through reduced energy bills. Plus, they help you contribute to energy and water conservation, which allows you to do your small part to protect the environment for future generations. We'll lay out the pros and cons of each green feature and leave the decision to you.

10

Programmable Thermostats

Green your home and cut your utility bills with a programmable thermostat.
Green your home and cut your utility bills with a programmable thermostat.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

One of the simplest ways to green your home, save energy and cut utility bills is to install programmable thermostats. After all, half of your energy bill goes toward heating and cooling your home [source: Archer]. Most energy companies suggest you set your thermostat to 68 degrees in cold weather and 78 degrees in warm weather. You can easily program your thermostat to stay at these temps automatically. Your HVAC system will only kick on when it reaches the designated temperatures in your house. You won't have to think about adjusting the thermostat again; it does it all for you. Plus, you can shave and additional 3 to 5 percent off of your energy bill for every degree you set your thermostat below 68 in the winter and above 78 in the summer [source: Archer].

You can also program your temps around your schedule to save even more on your energy bill. It's simple with a 5-1-1 thermostat, which allows you to set a separate program for weekdays, Saturday and Sunday. A 5-2 model lets you set a weekday program and a weekend program. If your schedule is particularly finicky, you can purchase a seven-day model that allows for a unique program each day of the week. You can purchase a seven-day programmable thermostat for as little as $40.

9

LED and CFL Lighting

LED and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) offer incredible energy and cost savings over regular incandescent bulbs. Both options do cost more upfront, but they produce less heat, use less energy and last significantly longer than traditional light bulbs, so they're ideal green lighting options for your new home. CFLs cost only about $2 more per bulb than the incandescent variety, but offer an overall cost savings (including reduced energy bills) of more than $60 per bulb when compared to a 100-watt incandescent bulb [source: Sachs]. However, CFLs do have drawbacks: Some consider the light too harsh and unflattering to be worth the savings. And CFLs must also be properly disposed of, which some consider a hassle.

If CFLs aren't for you, you may want to consider LED lights. In 2010, Philips unveiled an LED bulb designed to replace the 60-watt incandescent bulb. The LED bulb is 80 percent more energy-efficient and lasts 25 times longer than a traditional 60-watt light bulb [source: Lombardi]. Philips claims the new LED bulb offers a very similar color to the light from an incandescent bulb, and LEDs don't have the disposal requirements that CFLs do. Obviously, you could replace the type of lighting you use at any time in your current home. However, it's best to start this green trend during construction, so you always see your home in the same color light. That way, any bothersome changes in color temperature will be less noticeable.

8

Low-flow Plumbing Fixtures

There are many low-flow features you can add to your new home to conserve water and cut down on your water bill costs, including faucets, showerheads and toilets. Toilets are the most obvious starting point because they use 26 percent of the water in your home. Today's industry standard for toilets is 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). If you were updating an old home, you would see significant savings compared to older toilets that use as much as 3.5 gpf. But there is still room for more water savings when installing toilets in a new home. Many high-efficiency toilets on the market use as little as 1.28 gpf, which can add up to a savings of 3,000 gallons of water per toilet, per year [source: Kohler].

So, what's the downside to low-flow toilets? Many consumers complain that less water per flush means more cleaning. However, manufacturers are listening to customer complaints, and are continuing to add new features to their water-efficient toilets. For example, American Standard's EverClean surface is silver based and inhibits bacteria, mold and mildew growth so it doesn't need to be cleaned as often as a regular toilet surface [source: American Standard]. Also, many eco toilets can be more expensive than standard models, but if you go with last year's high-efficiency model, you can usually snag one at a discount.

7

ENERGY STAR Appliances

ENERGY STAR is becoming a well-known symbol for energy-efficient appliances. While you probably are familiar with the symbol, you may not know ENERGY STAR is a government program that was started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The result has been a well-trusted, easily identifiable system to help consumers choose the most energy-efficient appliances for their homes. ENERGY STAR appliances earn the label by meeting a certain list of criteria set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These appliances offer significant energy and water savings (usually 10 to 50 percent) without compromising performance [source: Archer].

ENERGY STAR appliances are often priced comparably to other less efficient products. One of the criteria for receiving the ENERGY STAR label involves pricing. If the ENERGY STAR product is more expensive upfront than a standard product offering the same features, the ENERGY STAR rating is only awarded if a consumer would make up the extra cost in their energy or water bill savings "within a reasonable period of time" [source: ENERGY STAR].

6

Energy-efficient Windows

Replacing windows on an existing home isn't always a good idea because it can be quite expensive and only offers an energy bill savings of 7 to 15 percent [source: ENERGY STAR]. But if you're building a house, choosing energy-efficient windows during construction provides enough energy savings to cover the added cost per window (usually $15 more than a generic window) [source: Sachs]. If you decide to find a greener window option for your home, there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, you need to understand thermal transmission (or U-factor, as it is commonly known) and solar heat gain ratings. These ratings measure the amount of heat that is lost in the winter months and gained in the summer months, respectively. The lower the rating for each, the more energy efficient your window will be. If these ratings are making your head spin, don't worry. ENERGY STAR has a rating system for windows as well. Generally speaking, if you look for the ENERGY STAR label, you'll find a good, eco-friendly product. They even break windows down by climate zones to help you find the perfect window for your area. Remember that ENERGY STAR products should be at the same price point as other standard windows, or at least make up for the extra upfront money in energy savings in a relatively short period of time.

5

Sustainable Materials

Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, so it's ideal for flooring.
Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, so it's ideal for flooring.
©iStockphoto.com/Lacy Rane

A huge benefit to building a new home is you get to make everything custom to your tastes. If greening your home is important to you, you should consider this as you pick your design features as well. You don't have to compromise your tastes to be green. Beautiful flooring and countertop options can be chosen with Mother Nature in mind. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, so it would be a very green choice for your floors. If you're not crazy about the color and look of bamboo, take a look at woven bamboo. Not only is it often stained in interesting colors and looks more like a grained wood, it's also much harder and more durable than traditional bamboo. And for a flooring option, it's quite affordable.

For countertops, you could go with recycled glass surface like Vetrazzo instead of granite or another stone that is not renewable. The flecks of recycled glass in a product like Vetrazzo come in a variety of colors and will really add a statement to your kitchen [source: Vetrazzo]. It's a little pricey, but the cost should continue to come down as it catches on, as is the case with most green building options. Several large home improvement stores now carry the product, too. Compared to granite, it is a much more sustainable option for around the same price point. And it doesn't stop with Vetrazzo. There are many more sustainable and green options available. Ask your contractor or an expert at your local home improvement store for more suggestions.

4

HVAC System Upgrades

Heating and cooling your home costs an average of more than $1,000 a year [source: ENERGY STAR]. So, it's clear that choosing an upgraded HVAC system will help you save energy and money. Choosing an ENERGY STAR-rated HVAC over a generic system could increase your home's energy efficiency by 9 percent [source: ENERGY STAR]. But even if you buy the most efficient HVAC system, it won't perform to its full potential unless it is properly installed. ENERGY STAR to the rescue again. They have developed Quality Installation (QI) guidelines to help ensure your HVAC system reduces your energy costs by up to 30 percent over non-QI installations by considering things like whether the size of the unit is correct for your home [source: ENERGY STAR]. You can also save money by dividing your heating and cooling system into multiple zones throughout your home. You'll have to purchase more than one HVAC system, but in a larger home it makes sense, because you can control the temperatures of each zone individually, rather than from a single-point censor.

3

Landscaping

The EPA suggests planting trees that lose their leaves on the western and southern sides of your home.
The EPA suggests planting trees that lose their leaves on the western and southern sides of your home.
Comstock/Thinkstock

Believe it or not, proper landscaping can add to the energy efficiency of your home by providing shade in the summer months and insulation in the winter months. The EPA suggests planting trees that lose their leaves on the western and southern sides of your home to support this phenomenon. In the summer, the trees will provide shade and block infrared radiation, keeping your house cooler. In the winter, when the trees lose their leaves, they will allow more sunlight to reach the windows and warm your home. Planting native trees is best, because they will thrive in your city's environment. Additionally, the plants and other landscaping can help support the environment and wildlife around your home. With a focus on the natural landscape and plants native to the area, you can actually save money on the cost of taking care of your lawn, as most natural landscaping requires less water and maintenance, which can add up to an average of $700 a year [source: EPA].

2

Tankless Water Heater

We've all done the little dance on a particularly cold morning waiting for the shower water to heat up. And, while you're waiting for the hot water, you're paying for all of that cold water escaping down the drain. You're also paying for your water heater to store, heat and reheat a supply of water in the tank. But imagine having instant hot water. You can with a tankless water heater. They heat only the water that is needed as it passes through an electric coil. This eliminates excess energy costs and wasted energy associated with a tank, often saving a reported 50 percent on your energy bill [source: Consumer Reports]. And as an added bonus, eliminating the hot water tank can free up valuable storage space. Sound too good to be true? Well, it might be for your home. Tankless water heaters are quite expensive and have limited hot-water flow rates, which means they may not perform to your liking, especially if you have a larger home that often has multiple showers running, or during the winter months when the water passing through the electric coil is particularly cold.

1

Proper Insulation

Proper insulation ensures that energy isn't escaping through the attic.
Proper insulation ensures that energy isn't escaping through the attic.
©iStockphoto.com/Glenn Bo

Probably the most important green home upgrade to consider when building a home is proper insulation. Insulation can cost a considerable amount if you wait to install it at a later date, so it's best to take care of it during initial construction. As we've mentioned several times, heating and cooling account for nearly half of your home's energy consumption [source: Archer]. Proper insulation will ensure that expensive energy that's heating and cooling your home isn't escaping out the windows or through the roof. Unfortunately, there isn't anything you can do to completely prevent heat from escaping from your house in the cool months, or entering the home in the warm months, but properly insulating the walls and attics can slow the rate significantly.

While there are many different types of insulation to choose from -- fiberglass, foam and cellulose -- nothing is as important as choosing the right person to do the installation. The best contractors will use an infrared camera once installation is complete to ensure there aren't any gaps or holes where heat is escaping [source: Sachs]. To make your home even more of an insulated fortress, you may also consider upgrading your weather stripping and sealant around the doors and windows.

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