Top 10 Green Building Tips

Top 10 Green Building Tips

. . .

If you are considering building a new home next year, there are loads of how-to books that will tell you the best and greenest ways to do so.

Unfortunately, the time it takes to read these books and gather information means you’re still mining the pages for tips while others are putting their home dreams down on paper. So I thought I would simplify the elements for you, by category and by green value, starting at the top of a list and working down. This is also the way I outlined my book.

  1. Exterior cladding
    • Bamboo fiber, recycled paper and wood fiber EcoClad
    • Eco-friendly stucco made with earth and lime instead of cement
    • Recycled metal siding
    • Cement fiber, fireproof and moisture proof, but not really sustainable given the energy-intensive manufacturing process for cement

  2. Floors
    • Cork or bamboo, both readily renewable (fast-growing even in poor soil and minimal moisture), and requiring little or no processing
    • Linoleum, made from flax seed and other plant materials, 100 percent durable thanks to through-and-through pigments, and biodegradable
    • Salvaged wood planks, which require only light sanding (with a hand sander) and a coat or two of low-odor sealer.
    • New wood planks sustainably sourced and bearing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal of approval
    • Recycled or bio-based tile, rubber or carpet, all of which narrowly miss sustainability as a result of some very energy-intensive recycling processes

  3. Insulation
    • Recycled blue jeans (how cool is that?!)
    • Recycled newsprint (better in walls than in landfills)
    • Recycled plastic (until it is all gone)
    • Bio-based (soybean oil) spray foam
    • (I have removed wool from my list based on recent reports of extreme cruelty in shearing lambs and sheep; send a message to manufacturers by doing the same)

  4. Interior wall finishes other than paint
    • Recycled glass tile in bathrooms (but not counters)
    • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, U.S. Green Building Council) certified natural fiber wallpapers made from combinations of hemp, linen, highly sustainable Kenaf and recycled paper

  5. Paint
    • No-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, from at least 10 name-brand manufacturers who listened to their consumers
    • Low-VOC paint, a step down in environmental suitability, a step up in durability – like everything else in life, a compromise
    • Natural paints, like low-VOC paints in that they contain solvents like turpentine
    • Non-toxic stains, which one maker advertises as “as safe and non-toxic as possible,” but still better than the alternative

  6. Plumbing
    • Copper. Nothing but copper. Copper is an antibacterial medium, which is probably why the ancient Romans used it. PVC leaches phthalates. Constant exposure to phthalates, as the pipes disintegrate over time and release their toxic burden, is dangerous, especially to infants and pre-puberty children. Think you can’t afford copper? Cut back on the purely cosmetic marble countertops and terrazzo floors and you can.

  7. Roofs
    • Green roofs; roofs planted with low-growing greenery to reduce the heat island effect, conserve water, and provide wildlife a place to nest and feed
    • For those whose climate or building structure won’t tolerate a green roof, recycled metal is environmentally sound and highly protective
    • Slate or clay tiles, non-energy intensive harvest and long life
    • Recycled anything, including asphalt shingles

  8. Structural members
    • Steel struts, energy-intensive to manufacture, but last a lifetime
    • Salvaged structural members, as in old, rough-cut 4×4’s from a timber-framed or post-and-beam home
    • FSC wood framing, using advanced framing methods and a mix of 16- and 24-inch supports on center, to save some trees
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