Choosing "Green" House Plans

by Sallie Folwell

Environmental and health concerns are the top news topics in our country these days.  As a society, we are more aware than ever that our choices dictate the quality not only of our own lives, but also possible the lives of those who come after us.  On a national level, we practice efforts to reduce the amount of pollution in the air and increase the amount of commercial recycling, and we spend billions of dollars each year in researching ways to minimize our exhaustion of natural resources. 

However, on a personal level, few people make any more effort than household recycling.  In truth, we can be environmentally aware in a multitude of ways; we can reduce our “footprint” as much or as little as we like. All it takes is a willingness to go the extra distance.  This is never truer than when building a home.  Taking these extra steps might not seem convenient at first glance, but they will leave you with a lifetime of comfort, better health and clear conscience.  You might have several goals in mind when building a green home: the home’s energy performance or efficiency, your own improved personal health, improved air quality and water conservation would likely be at the top of the list.  

To improve your health, the priority would likely be to limit exposure to chemicals often found in traditional insulation, flooring, paint, adhesive and pesticide.  Without the great amount of space available indoors that is available outdoors, the effect that these chemicals have on the inside air quality is radically greater than its effect outdoors. Asthma and other respiratory diseases, while clinically proven to be caused or exacerbated by these present elements, are certainly not the only illnesses that are related to residential pollution. It only makes sense that the place where you spend the most time, typically your own home, is the most protected against pollutants.

If improving your personal health is the main reason that you are thinking of building a “green” home, you will need to consider advanced air circulation systems that will stop mold and mildew from growing, eliminate the circulation of radon and other harmful gasses and prevent harmful matter from outdoors from entering the home.  These systems are often built to be energy conscious as well as pollution-effective.  Some simply filter air through water, while others may require special irritant-free disposable filters.

If your primary concern is energy conservation, performance or efficiency, there are several different details that need attending in order to meet these goals: the highest possible R-values for insulation of walls, roofs and foundations; the lowest possible U-values for windows; good, better and best energy ratings for appliances.  Often, you will find that a nominal increase in the initial cost of these factors is very quickly absorbed by the savings in monthly utility bills.  Added to the monetary savings is the bonus of a reduced impact on our nation’s joint energy resources.

Solar power and water energy are not new concepts, although they are both gaining attention for residential uses.  Installing solar panels on the roof of a home can be quite expensive, and routing your electrical intake to a windmill may require hiring a specialized electrician.  However, these two devices alone can reduce a household’s impact on community resources by over half each year – and that means half your utility bill each month simply vanishes! There are guides such as Earth4Energy available that will teach you how to setup your own Solar and Wind energy systems. Our government also recognizes individual efforts to reduce our earthly impact in the form of tax credits.  It may take time for the initial costs to be offset by regular savings, but the clear conscience is worth several dollars itself! There are several manufacturers of hybrid wind/solar energy generators that are more affordable in some places.  The prospect of installing these can get the environmentally aware homeowner carried away, but remember locale: wind energy does not work in areas with only occasional wind, and solar energy needs regular exposure to the sun.  Carefully consider your climate before making a leap into any of these investments.

Other ways to reduce your impact or “footprint” on Planet Earth may involve less convenience and more commitment.  One idea is to include reducing dependence on sewer systems by composting household and human waste.  Another is organic gardening to reduce the amount of pesticide and herbicide needed to keep your garden blooming. Many large-scale vegetable producers have converted to biodiamic growing: if a commercial grower can do it for the grocery store, then surely we can each do it for our petunias!

Home plans do not have to be customized to accommodate a green-wise homeowner.  Many existing stock plans need to only be slightly altered to incorporate many of the details listed in the article.  There are also stock plans at www.amazingplans.com that are specifically geared toward the environmentally friendly and health-sensitive resident. When you have narrowed down your search for the perfect home plan, one that incorporates your lifestyle and spatial needs with your green issues, consult with your contractor to ensure that all aspects of your dream home can be realized.