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Wednesday, July 18, 2007 02:41 pm

Build an eco-home

Even a modest residence can incorporate green features

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According to the U.S. Green Building Council, a “green home” uses less energy, water, and natural resources; creates less waste; and is healthier and more comfortable for the occupants.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
Untitled Document How does one build a residence that is sensitive to the environment?
There are many ideas as to what constitutes an “eco-home,” depending on how pure one wants to be, but certain common elements — such as energy efficiency, responsible materials sourcing, and minimal landscape disruption — must be in place to meet most environmentalists’ criteria. And with technologies improving and prices coming down, eco-homes are no longer the domain of the wealthy, because even a modest building can incorporate green features. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit network of practitioners of environmentally friendly construction, a green home “uses less energy, water and natural resources; creates less waste; and is healthier and more comfortable for the occupants.” The organization is continually updating its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines, which help real-estate agents, developers, architects, and builders create high-performance green buildings of every stripe. The council recently launched a special set of benchmarks — LEED for Homes — devoted specifically to the design and construction of residential buildings. Builders or owners can evaluate every step of the home design and construction process against standards set forth under these guidelines, which aim for sustainably sourced materials, lower energy and water use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and less exposure to mold and other indoor toxins. Research indicates that the net cost of owning a LEED home is comparable to that of owning a conventional home. Since LEED for Homes was launched, in 2005, more than 375 builders representing 6,000 homes across the United States have built in accordance with its standards.
Other organizations have weighed in on what constitutes an “eco-home.” Juliet Cuming, of the Vermont-based nonprofit Earth Sweet Home Institute, lays out several criteria that anyone can use when planning the design and construction of an environmentally friendly home: Does the home plan reduce energy and resources? Does it reuse existing resources? Are materials used recyclable or biodegradable once they’re no longer usable? Is the home healthy to producers and occupants and also to the installers of the materials? Is the plan affordable and available? Will the resulting home be durable?
“The ideal eco-home would be built in a place where it will have as little negative impact as possible on the plants, wildlife, and humans in the area,” Cuming says. “The home will be sited and designed to take advantage of shade in the summer and sun in the winter.” She adds that a true eco-home should be crafted of materials derived from local sources. Those looking to learn more about eco-homes have lots of information to wade through online and in print. A good place to start is Environmental Building News, a monthly newsletter on green design and construction published by Building Green Inc. It features comprehensive, practical information on a wide range of topics — from renewable energy and recycled materials to land-use planning and indoor-air quality.
For more information: LEED for Homes, www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=147; Earth Sweet Home Institute, www.earthsweethome.com; Environmental Building News; www.buildinggreen.com.

Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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