What’s Does It Mean, Being Green?
By Scott Wolf
“I’m interested in green homes.” “Well, you can paint them any color you like.”
So went a conversation between my mother and a real-estate agent in her Tennessee neighborhood several years back. Much has happened in the interim to put green homes on the map. We’ve had an energy crisis, another oil war in the Middle East, a hurricane that tore into the belly of our fossil-fuel infrastructure, and ever more evidence of human-caused global warming.
Many are coming to see green homes as essential in weaning us from our unhealthy energy addictions. Although discussion about green homes centers largely on their energy-efficient qualities, “green homes” can mean even more than that. I’ll suggest the following description: Homes that are healthier for those who live in them, more resource-efficient, and/or better for the environment than their conventional counterparts are “green homes.” Let’s look at these components one at a time.
With much press about “sick building syndrome” in the last decade, there has been increasing emphasis within wellness and green-building circles on minimizing or eliminating unhealthy chemicals from building materials. People are questioning the wisdom of using toxic materials that “offgas,” or release, these toxins into a house through time. Chemically sensitive people have long known that the materials causing them headaches, watery eyes, and runny noses couldn’t be good for anyone. In fact, many of the gases, such as some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde, are carcinogenic. Toxic substances may be found in insulation, adhesives, caulking, paints, plywood, and a variety of other materials, but increasingly, nontoxic alternatives are becoming more widespread and competitive in price.
The “resource-efficient” part of green homes consists of a) getting energy renewably and/or b) using resources efficiently. Some homes possess “active” renewable energy systems—such as solar panels, solar hot-water heaters, or wind systems—while others use “passive” solar design, which means the homes are oriented to allow winter sun to warm them through lots of south-facing windows. When the sun is higher in the summer, roof eaves and trees shield the house, keeping the home from baking in July. Green homes are best known for being stingy with energy.
These houses are generally well insulated, have high-efficiency windows, and are well sealed, so there aren’t drafts though the house. They may have high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners, and alternatives to air conditioning, such as a whole-house fan and ceiling fans. Water heaters may be on-demand (also known as “tankless”) or superinsulated. Saving water might be accomplished with drip irrigation in the garden and low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads.
Some green homes further reduce their impact on the environment by using local, natural, reclaimed (reused), or recycled materials. It has been estimated that the amount of straw burned in California annually is enough to build 1 million straw-bale homes per year (local, natural). Reclaimed materials can be found in Chico at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore at 2288 Park Avenue. In addition to diverting materials from the landfill, you can leave knowing you’ve helped in the building of low-income housing for Chico’s neediest citizens. Recycled materials, which also divert more stuff from landfills, can be found in everything from carpet to Trex decking to insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for building the walls of houses.
Being green just takes a little research and a bit of extra effort. To investigate green building materials, check out www.builditgreen.org and click on the “Materials Database” link. The store locations are very Bay Area–heavy, but if you are gathering information about the broad range of products out there, it’s a good place to start, and the “References & Links” page is a fantastic resource. If you’ve got questions or need help finding something, feel free to contact me—even if what you need is green paint.
Are you looking for a Green Home that’s in harmony with your values? Contact me to find out more about sustainable housing and property. 530-345-6111 or email me at email@example.com