Go "Green" and Save
If your job is large enough to require the services of a professional architect, he/she will be able to provide guidance on how to make your project more environmentally friendly and energy efficient. Most of today’s design pros are schooled in the latest techniques, equipment, and finishes that can satisfy the most stringent environmental criteria.
However, if you are like most, and you’re only upgrading a bathroom, kitchen, or other project that requires only a skilled contractor, then you and your contractor will be responsible for the environmental and energy-saving considerations. We have a few tips that may be helpful.
In this section we’ll discuss structural wood panels, insulation, doors and windows, passive solar, lighting, roofing, exterior finishes, water-saving fixtures, energy-saving appliances, heating and cooling, and other topics related to “green building.” Unfortunately, we’ll only hit the high spots. An in-depth discussion is a book within itself, and there are some good books that you can find at your local library that will provide you with specific and detailed information on most any topic related to “green” living.
Structural insulated panels – Replaces traditional wall framing, reducing wood consumption and is more energy efficient than traditional framing. Structural panels are both strong and more resistant to air infiltration than are walls built with standard 2 x 4 studs, have higher “R” ratings, and more resistant to outside noise.
Insulation – Many new types of insulation offer advantages over the conventional materials used just a few years ago, and new materials are being introduced every year. Some of the new products are more environmentally friendly and less toxic than those with which you may be familiar. Icynene, the only spray-foam insulation certified by the Envirodesic air quality improvement certification program, is a great insulation and also reduces sound transmission. The advantages of some of the new materials are: less susceptibility to settling, higher “R” value, fire resistance, elimination of infiltration, and reduction of convective heat loss. Check with your contractor to see what is available in your area.
Doors and windows – Replacement doors and windows are available that can dramatically reduce both infiltration and passive energy loss. In many cases doors and windows can be replaced without replacing the existing frame, thus reducing installation costs. Check with your contractor.
Roofing – A new breed of roofing materials are more durable, long-lasting, and energy efficient, and some are even made from recycled materials. If you are planning to use asphalt shingles, a common choice in most regions, look for shingles made from recycled content. There are also fiber cement shingles, those made from plastic or rubber, and roofing made from various metals such as aluminum. If you are planning a new roof, you should also consider installing a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof. This will dramatically reduce attic heat and infiltration into the living space below.
Passive solar – Often overlooked, taking advantage of passive solar can add to both comfort and energy savings. Discuss orientation, window placement, and wall and floor materials with your architect or builder to reap the free benefits of the sun’s energy.
Exterior materials – The choice of exterior finish materials is much more than just appearance; certain materials are more energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and aesthetically pleasing. Your contractor and local building supply house can show you a number of options including fiber cement, artificial stone, natural cedar, recycled plastic, locally produced brick, or natural stucco.
Lighting – The first step in creating energy efficient lighting is to take advantage of the available natural light, to use windows and light tubes or channels to allow the sun’s light in. Be cautious when using traditional skylights, however, as they often are energy wasters; and improper installation can result in leaking which may be difficult to resolve. In warmer regions, skylights can also generate too much heat in the living space. Also, try to use as many fixtures as possible that will accept LEDs or compact fluorescent light bulbs. When using recessed fixtures make certain they are “IC” rated, which means they can be covered with insulation, reducing infiltration.
Flooring – There are many new flooring materials that are environmentally friendly, attractive, and less expensive than some of the more traditional materials. Flooring such as bamboo, which is actually a grass, is both renewable and beautiful. Harder than traditional oak flooring, prefinished bamboo is durable and comes in a variety of shades. For those who choose carpet, there are several options made from recycled material that offer the look and feel of traditional carpet. Other options are cork, recycled content tile, and natural linoleum. A good flooring contractor can discuss your flooring options.
High-efficiency plumbing fixtures – Sometimes referred to as “low-flow,” the new breed of plumbing fixtures are hardly that. Technological advances incorporate air to boost the flow of water, allowing faucets, shower heads, and toilets to function with more force than their water-wasting cousins. Specify products that carry the WaterSense certification, a designation of the EPA. Such fixtures will save you both water and money.
EnergyStar® appliances – When replacing appliances or mechanical equipment, look for those with the EnergyStar® logo. You’ll be helping the environment and your energy budget.
Plastic Plumbing Pipe – New innovations in plastic plumbing pipe can save both money and help protect the environment and may be superior to their more expensive, resource depleting counterparts. Long the standard for water supply, the cost of copper pipe has encouraged manufacturers to develop less expensive alternatives, such as Pex; and some of the new materials offer advantages in addition to cost. Check with your plumber and get a recommendation for your project.