Improvements in modern home-building methods are helping to reduce the impact humans have on the environment. Eco-friendly building techniques include using materials that take less energy or require fewer resources to produce; designing homes to be more energy-efficient; and incorporating alternative energy and waste water management into home designs.
Green Building Materials
Recycled lumber can be used for studs. Insulation made of recycled jean material may be used for walls. Many of the plastic wood products are made from recycled material. Materials that last a lifetime reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills -- and save resources that would otherwise be used to replace them. These products include cement board siding, stone and brick, and stand and seam metal roofing. It is also important to use materials that don't release toxins (labeled LOW-VOC for paints and formaldehyde-free for particleboard).
One of the most important features of eco-friendly houses is that they are designed for energy efficiency. Of course, it is essential to use high-efficiency appliances, heating and cooling equipment and water heaters. But green design can also include windows placed to allow ventilation throughout the house, south-facing windows that take advantage of the sun's warmth, and shade trees and awnings for summer (see References 1 and 2). Skylights in interior rooms reduce electricity use during the day.
Alternative energy sources are becoming more common in private homes. Some systems generate electricity directly, like photovoltaic (PV or solar electric) and wind power systems. Other systems, such as geothermal and solar hot water, use the sun to heat or pre-heat water for domestic use or for space heating and cooling. Usually, the PV and solar hot water systems can be mounted on a roof, while wind systems have land requirements.
Managing water is an often overlooked component in an eco-friendly house project. It is important to reduce rainwater runoff, which can carry too many nutrients to nearby watersheds. Minimize impervious surfaces and use rain barrels to catch water running off the roof. Water can then be directed to gardens and lawns. Gray-water systems recycle water from sinks and showers for use in gardens. Installing low-flow toilets conserves water and reduces waste, while composting toilets go a step further by not using water at all. (See References 3)
A former science writer for the Smithsonian Institution, Kimbra Cutlip is a writer and children's book author whose articles have appeared in numerous national publications. A certified group fitness instructor and emergency medical technician, she worked for five years as scientific diving officer and dive instructor for the Smithsonian Institution and was a board member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. She co-owns a remodeling company specializing in energy-efficient sustainable building and solar hot water systems. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in magazine journalism and anthropology.