January 25, 2019

Keeping up with the latest green building trends can be a little overwhelming, even for us green building professionals! Here are what we see as the smartest and most cost-effective ways to ramp up your energy and water savings while creating a safer and healthier new or renovated home in 2019.

 1. Central Casting. Think of your next project like a human body with skin, lungs, nervous and digestive systems. Your house has similar systems including the insulation and weather barriers, HVAC, plumbing, and electrical.  Instead of plopping the water heater(s) wherever you can eke out a spare couple of square feet – try to design the “organs” of the home into a core central to the floor plan. A centrally located water heater can reduce the distance, to plumbing fixtures, getting hot water faster, resulting in water and energy savings.

This concept applies to HVAC as well. With more efficient walls and windows, you don’t need to run supply ducts all the way to the outside walls. Talk to your HVAC contractor about designing a system with shorter duct runs. By reducing ductwork, you reduce opportunities for conditioned air to leak out before reaching its intended destination. This is the first and last example I give of a behind the scenes design choice. The remainder are all intentionally forward facing. Read on!

 2. Protective Pitches. Roof overhangs can be an elegant exterior feature that serve an aesthetic purpose in addition to sustainability benefits. Homes with beefy roof overhangs protect the windows, doors and siding from exposure to rain and sun. Protection walls from rain means a more durable home and adds longevity to the exterior cladding. Overhangs providing shade for windows reduces the heat a home gains during the day. In Georgia, this will reduce the air conditioning needed to do to keep the house comfortable. In colder climates, overhangs can be used strategically to allow the sun to naturally warm up interior space during cold seasons.

3. Materials Matter. Most of us spend about 90% of our time indoors. Selecting building materials, finishes and products that minimize our exposure to harmful chemicals is important. This is not a novel idea. The materials science world has been hard at work to develop cleaner products with fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other off-gassing elements. In the same vein, plenty of work has been dedicated to creating mysterious new chemicals that perform like the old ones with new, less recognizable names. Greenwashing is a real deterrent for people trying to do the right thing and dilutes the hard work of the former group of chemists and designers. Educate yourself and look to source products from businesses that value transparency, and products that have third party verified certifications. Make a conscious choice to source from suppliers that are regional (within 500 miles). Bonus points if you opt for products with pre- and post-consumer recycled content or renewable, bio-based alternatives.

4. Intelligent Irrigation. Exterior water use (irrigation and pools) are easily the largest water hogs in the single-family residential pie chart. Adjustment-irrigation needs equates to significant water savings. Install native plant species and turf grass. Native plants are a win, win, win, WIN. They come pre-wired for the climate, soil conditions, and rainfall. They are more resilient, require fewer additives AND they aren’t invasive. That last point may sound redundant, but it is surprising how commonplace invasive plants are in our landscapes. Reducing turfed areas and replacing those with a variety of plantings, trees or even mulch reduces the need for watering as well. As an added bonus you may notice a richer diversity of wildlife gracing your backyard oasis. I will make the research easy for you. In Georgia, the most common native turfgrasses are Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides),Blue Grama (B. gracilis)and Curly Mesquite Grass (Hilaira belangeri). This information was sourced from the University of Texas’ Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. For other states, I recommend using your local extension office for specie recommendations.

5. Bigger Isn’t Better. This last point speaks to excess. I won’t mention oversizing HVAC equipment because that could be a freestanding textbook. Efficiency suggests slim margins of waste or excess. We want our homes to be “green,” used synonymously with energy and water efficiency. Then why install 75 can lights in a 200 square foot living room? I have heard on too many occasions that the market demands there to be more than one shower head in the master bathroom, and that may be true to an extent. However, I have spoken to homeowners with the complete setup: the handheld, plus the rainfall head and the body sprays. The consensus is: they don’t use them. I have seen speculative and custom home builders construct gorgeous master bathrooms – with only one shower head. If builders are convinced the general public demands a car wash, change that message!

Finally, commercial kitchen exhaust hoods in residential homes are a tad ridiculous. They are flashy and trendy now, but buyer beware! They suck a massive amount of air out of your living space, as they were designed for commercial applications. By itself this would put your house under negative pressure (another conversation for another day). In those cases, building code requires that make up air be brought into the house when to prevent the house getting sucked into negative pressure. This means an additional system to maintain, an additional hole in your building, and the air you paid to conditioned zooming right out the window. You can still achieve the glamorous kitchen look with smaller models that pull less than 400 cfm.

Cheers to a more conscientious year!