There are some big organizations promoting the education on concept of green home building. The first one that comes to mind is the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) with their National Green Building Program. Another is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program for remodeling and new home construction. The US Green Building Council is another wealth of information and it’s administration of using LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building designs.
There are also many local or regional organizations that promote green home building practices through hosting workshops, maintaining websites, and publishing papers and books on green and sustainable building practices. The big one in my area of the country is the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. Other groups you might find interesting are:
- The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association
- The North Carolina Energy Association
- The Colorado Renewable Energy Society
- The Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Organization
- The Sierra Green Building Association
Two Flavors of Green Home Building
There seems to be two kinds of thought schools when it comes to discussing green home building…
- Building a home with relatively traditional materials (dimensional lumber, concrete, etc.) that are produced (hopefully) in a more sustainable way, ie. with less energy input. This may also include sourcing materials from as close to the building site as possible.
- Using natural materials like rocks, sod, strawbales, native soil, and wood harvested directly from the property. This tends to include a distaste for concrete, rebar, fiberglass insulation, and asphalt shingles, etc.
Granted, there can be a lot of overlap in this two areas of thinking in terms of constructing a green home. So when you start discussing some of these green building practices don’t assume the other party is in your camp. You could have beautiful visions of a cute cob cottage, but your partner is actually dreaming of a fairly conventional home (with a well and septic system) using reclaimed timbers, papercrete foundation, soy-based insulation, a “forever” metal roof, and solar panels for electricity and hot water.
One resource that will limit the kind of green home you’ll be able to build is the home construction people in your area. Do they have any experience with strawbale construction, clay floors, or rubble trench foundations? Building a home is a VERY labor intensive project for which you’re going to have to hire help. Even though you’ve read volumes and attended workshops on alternative construction will you be able to find qualified people to help you build such a house in the area you live?
Personally, I love the charm and artistry of cob houses, but I doubt I’d ever be able to build and live in one. There’s nobody in my area that has any experience (or willingness) to build in this material. And cob is one of the most labor-intensive building materials, so your cost of hiring help is going to be higher than for construction of a typical stub-framed house.
Videos on Green Home Building
Green Home Standards by the EPA
There are several factors that are considered by the EPA’s Energy Star program to assess green home building:
- Site Design – Integrating a house into a lot or piece of land should be done with a goal of least disruption. Use of as little power equipment might be a good integrated goal is site excavation.
- Resource Conservation – Use recycled materials, lumber that’s been sustainably harvested, engineered products that make use of materials that were previously thrown away, and incorporate more durable materials that will need maintaining or replacing a lot less frequently (eg. asphalt roofing vs. metal roofing).
- Water Conservation – Install appliances that use less water than standard fixtures, as well as growing a landscape around the house that requires less, or no water to maintain.
- Energy Efficiency – Minimizing heating and cooling through good design and superior insulation.
- Homeowner Education – Knowing how to take care of a home when small things need fixing before they become large and expensive.
- Indoor Air Quality – Using materials that are low in volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and other irritating substances is best to respiratory health. Also maintaining a low moisture environment to prevent the growth of molds and mildews.
- Green Business Practices – Using efficient, safe, and ethical building practices in regards to workers and other site crew.
Resources for Green Home Building
5 Surprising Materials Used in Building Green Homes – Rodale Press
Build It Green – Washington State
EPA – Green Home Building
FineHomebuilding – Green Building Guide
Small House Building, Green Building Materials
Image of earthship home from Wikipedia.