Green Building Notes – A Primer
Green Building, in its new and sometimes abused persona, is not really a new concept. It has always been important to use resources wisely, to build with the materials at hand, and to conserve energy. New technology has helped us to achieve some of these goals, but if we look back, we see that many before us have built green, without all the hype. Adobe homes protected Native Americans in the Southwest from sweltering heat, wattle and daub homes used materials at hand to build shelters, skyscrapers built in the late 1800’s made use of urban space. Buildings across Europe and Asia were built with materials at hand and still provide shelter today. So while architects, designers, and builders today would like to take credit for this movement, they are truly just making the public more aware of the importance of building green.
Building green today is more difficult than ever. Choices are many and often confusing. Whether you choose to build a home that is certified by one of the many certification programs, (LEED, NAHB, many local and regional options), or to build a home using best practices without certification, is a very personal and budgetary decision.
TimberStead’s timber frame home plans and hybrid home plans are designed to be efficient and sustainable. These house plans have been designed to fit well with lifestyles and with budgets. Timber frame home plans allow clients to live larger than the square footage would indicate while not overbuilding. Space is used wisely. Our material and energy efficient homes sit quietly nationwide, enjoyed by families of all ages and economies.
Your site will be all important as you move forward with your project. Whether you own your land or you are just beginning the search for a site for your new home, you need to consider how the land lays, how your home will be sited, and the impact of building on the site. If you are building in the mountains, The Mountain Home Guide, a booklet created by professionals in North Carolina is a good place to start. (http://www.themountainhomeguide.org)
If you are looking at land, consider how you will live in your new home. Are you a “house mouse” or a “field mouse”? Will you spend much time outdoors or do you prefer to spend your time inside? This will impact everything from how your home is sited to how it is designed. Don’t hurry this process. Changes after the fact are time consuming and expensive.
The smallest footprint will have the smallest impact. This is critical to your new home and should be taken very seriously. But, just as you shouldn’t build too much home for your lifestyle, don’t under build either. Your home won’t serve you well if you have to add on to live comfortably. There is a perfect fit for everyone.
Designing your home to work for you and to fit on the land will take time and energy. You will need to walk the land, visit with local builders who are familiar with not only building, but with the regional landscape, have a local excavator out and discuss the impact of building on the site and how the landscape will change in order to accommodate your new home. If you are building for a view, take a ladder to the site, climb up and look around. This will likely be your first floor view. If the site is challenging, consider renting a lull or bucket to get an even higher view. Take your time. If you have the luxury of visiting the site during all four seasons, you are far ahead of the game.
Building green encompasses every aspect of designing and building your home. As you move forward, you will have to make many choices. We’ve listed some of these choices and offered some suggestions. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of books and other resources available on green building. It is a touch phrase and has become a hot topic.
One of the first things you should do as you begin your design/build process is make a decision as to whether you will build a “green certified” home. If you decide to do this later in the process, you may have to take steps backwards and redo some things in the construction process. Certification is widely believed to add value, so if you are going to sell the home, this may be a wise option. It also requires oversight and a decision about the class of certification you wish to achieve. As the trend to build homes to meet higher green standards moves forward, certification may or may not have a large impact on the economic value of the home. What will continue to be important is the quality of the home and the measures taken to ensure that the home is built to the highest standards.
For those wanting to have their home certified as “green”, our plans include a checklist of issues that should be addressed in the green design/build process whether you choose to have your home certified or not. Also included is a comparison of two green building standards. Both LEED and NAHB Green Building certifications require builders who are registered within the programs. You must determine which, if either, certification you are seeking early in your design/build process. They both offer extensive documentation. Nationwide there are local and regional certifications that offer similar certifications. They also provide documentation and lists of inspectors who can help you meet their requirements.
Our goal is to provide a list of best practices for building your new timber frame or hybrid home that are important whether or not you decide to build a green certified home. We will to provide a direction and to help you as you wade through the seemingly overwhelming “green building” books, articles, and websites. These guidelines are not meant to meet requirements for any certification program. They will help you to build a green home.
Once you have selected the items on which you will focus and include in your building process, documentation is important. Copies of invoices and inspections, photos, drawings, and any notes you make should be logged faithfully. Start a notebook and be diligent in your documentation.
The location of your new home will be the first step in building your green home. The value of your green home begins with the land on which it sits. Careful site evaluation early in the project will guide your design process in the right direction.
* Will you be building in a rural or an urban area?
* Will your site require extensive site development?
* Will your site allow for your home to be situated for active or passive solar energy or
* Will local or subdivision building requirements allow you to build a home in the size
and style you wish?
* Are there important natural features that need to be preserved.
Site the home to minimize the impact on the land. By keeping roads and utility access short you less your impact on the land and save money. Try your best to utilize previously used or degraded areas for the building, parking, and roads.
More local building departments are requiring onsite water management. Working to make sure that storm water is managed, preventing runoff that will carry topsoil away and will pollute streams, and using a reservoir system to capture rainwater to use for irrigation are all ways to be a responsible landholder.
Protect trees during construction. Fence the trees at the drip line to avoid construction traffic and debris.
Landscaping will play an important part in the energy efficiency of your new home. Trees to protect the home from the glaring sun will significantly reduce cooling costs.
The design of your home will determine how well you live in it and how much you enjoy it. Size does matter and with careful planning, a smaller home can provide more appropriate and more livable space than a much larger home. There is much to be said of the “human scale”. We all live more comfortably in space that fits our scale.
The style of your new home will be your next critical decision. The style should fit with the local vernacular. It should look and feel like it belongs in the area. If you are building in an area of eclectic homes, many styles built over many years, you have lots of options. If you are building in an area where the homes are more similar than dissimilar, think about a home that will blend in. Mistakes, such as building a log home in an area of very traditional homes, will decrease the value of your home. Keep colors and finishes in mind as you work on the design of your home. While we each want our homes to be unique and charming, we don’t want to own the home that everyone means when they say “oh, yes, that house”. Timeless architecture will serve you much better than a trendy style. By building a home with fewer corners and using simple geometry you maximize your budget and minimize building materials.
The size of your home should be determined by the needs of your family. If your family visits twice a year and there are sixteen people in your home for three days, do you need to build to accommodate sixteen people for the other three hundred and sixty two days of the year? A timber frame, hybrid, or panelized home will feel larger than a conventionally framed or modular home. There are fewer structural wall requirements, fewer halls, higher ceilings with more volume. Open spaces accommodate groups of people more easily than smaller, enclosed rooms. Think seriously about the long term issues of energy usage and maintenance and about the shorter term costs to build and the extra materials required to construct your home. Smaller requires fewer resources to build and fewer resources to maintain. Careful planning as you design your home will pay off long term.
Energy efficiency will be designed into your home. Design a well insulated home with high performance windows. Design for sustainable energy with passive solar, daylighting, and natural ventilation.
The materials you will use in building and finishing your home will be a critical next step. Using high quality, environmentally responsible materials is key to building a green home. Sustainability, energy efficiency, and the impact of the products you use on the health of the home’s occupants are the key elements in building your new home.
High performance products that are produced by companies committed to the environment have been and continue to be developed. Building with regional materials is a responsible way to build with lower embodied energy. Products that have increased durability and reduced maintenance will continue to pay off long term. Energy efficiency is important in all decisions from appliances to windows. Be sure to use Energy Star rated components whenever possible.
Most of TimberStead’s home plans are either timber framed homes wrapped in R-24 wall and R-40 polyurethane structural insulated panels, hybrid homes consisting of some timber framed areas and other areas built with the same structural insulated panels with timber roof support, or panelized homes built with structural insulated panels with timber roof support. Any of these options have given you a head start on building your home in a green, responsible fashion.
Explore the options for finishing your new home carefully. Take your time in making these decisions. Even when you are looking for a cost effective option, you will have many choices.
* Durability is key to the materials and products you use. Durable products are less likely to end up in the landfill in a few years. The manufacturing process is very energy intensive. The more durable, longer lasting a product is and the less maintenance it requires, the more energy it saves.
* Gather samples so you can compare the color and quality of your choices.
* While it is comforting to buy from companies with a responsible track record and with names that we’ve heard for years, don’t rule out a newer company who is offering a product that is comparable and is getting good reviews.
* Buying a product that is available regionally can help keep your project timeline on target. Waiting for a special order product that has to be shipped from another country or region can cause delays. Transportation is costly and polluting. Locally or regionally produces materials save money and are more responsible.
* Keep in mind the long term maintenance and longevity of the products you choose. No matter how much you like a product, research how much time and money will be required to keep it looking good. Will the product need to be replaced in a few years? Will the maintenance be a drain on time and resources?
* Recycled and salvaged building materials can add charm to your home and reduce landfill use. Sacrificing energy and water efficiency by reusing windows and plumbing fixtures isn’t a good idea, but interior doors, moldings, cabinets, hardware, and lumber are all good choices.
* High efficiency heating and cooling equipment, properly sized for your home and insulation values, save money and produce less pollution. Mechanical ventilation is necessary in today’s tight homes. Energy or heat recovery ventilators will ensure healthy indoor air.
* Water efficient plumbing fixtures (water conserving showerheads, toilets, and faucets) save water and reduce the demand on septic systems and sewage systems. Reducing water usage saves on the water system and reduces energy costs to heat the water.
* Listen carefully to your own voice as you make decisions. The input of the professionals is critical, but you and your family will live in your home. Accept their suggestions and advice, but use only what works for you and your family.
The above items are the big picture. The harder decisions will be smaller, more detailed, but every bit as critical to building a sustainable, energy efficient home. Your home as a whole is the end result of many, many smaller pieces. Your construction project will include many, if not all, of the preceding. We will start defining energy efficient and sustainable building products and practices using this list as you make choices.