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Finding Your Shade of “Green”

Randy Sherman speaks to New Urbanism Club

“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”

― General George S. Patton Jr. (from a lecture given to officers on Mechanized Forces in 1933)

The lure of lower monthly utility costs and tax incentives have helped fuel the demand for “green” homebuilding in recent years.

New homebuyers are now more versed in the basic functions of the building envelope – comprised of the basement, walls, attic, doors and windows - as it affects air quality and energy use throughout the home. Along with providing structural integrity, the building envelope also controls moisture and humidity, regulates temperature and controls air pressure changes.

Plus, they also know to look for energy-efficient heating and cooling, appliances and lighting as well as water heating and conservation. Some buyers are also asking questions about building materials and off gassing. Certain paints, stains, varnishes, carpet, insulation, flooring, kitchen cabinets, countertops, plywood, particleboard and paint strippers release volatile chemicals into the air through evaporation for years after they are installed.

Beyond that, there are also those who are weighing the pros and cons of sustainable energy sources such as geothermal heating and cooling systems, solar panels and windmills.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “green” building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability and comfort. “Green” building is also known as sustainable or high-performance building.

A study by McGraw-Hill Construction and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) projects that “green” building will comprise as much as 38% of the US residential market by 2016, up sharply in just five years, from 17% in 2011.

As a result, spending on green home technologies such as energy-efficient windows, foam insulation and on-site renewable energy generation is estimated to rise near $114 billion from $17 billion.

With research that continually identifies and clarifies the specific environmental, economic and social benefits along with the comparative costs of “green” building, a big challenge for both builders and homebuyers is determining how to achieve the greatest benefits for the lowest possible costs.

Beyond that, homeowners need to carefully choose “green” products they are comfortable with so they will use them – otherwise many of the potential benefits will never be realized.

Most experts agree that going “green” should involve a combination of “green” products and “green” behavior. This unified effort will result in the biggest gains for both your monthly cash flow and the environment.

For example, incandescent light bulbs have been shown to cost roughly 10 times more to operate on an annual basis than LEDs. So, if the energy utilized by incandescent bulbs costs you approximately $150 per year, switching to LED lighting would cost only about $15. By comparison, it’s tough to provide an average estimate of how much money habitually switching off lights can save you, but there should be a notable difference.

When it comes to conserving water, behavior is also very important, especially if you have an older shower head. By cutting a 10-minute shower down to five minutes, you can save about 25 gallons of water. If you continue this behavior every day, you can conserve about $180 per year. However, if you install a new low-flow shower head, you can save about 30 gallon of water per shower or $220 annually.

Like many builders who are incorporating more environmentally-friendly products and materials in their new homes, seriously “green-minded” homeowners can also make an impact with a few quick fixes, no matter when their home was built.

“Green” products can do a lot to protect the environment, but some “green” products can be cost-prohibitive. On the other hand, changes in behavior usually cost nothing and can also save money. Once people start seeing even a slight savings on utility and/or water bills through reduced consumption, the incentive will be there to take the next step in making the transition to “green” living.

Since 2008, the US Department of Energy Builders Challenge has established a framework for continuous improvement that will help propel the residential home building industry toward zero-energy performance. The ultimate vision is for consumers to have the opportunity to buy a cost-neutral, net-zero energy home (NZEH) – a grid connected home that, over the course of a year, produces as much energy as it uses - anywhere in the US by 2030. The solutions from this ongoing research will continue to lead the way in making new and existing homes more efficient.

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