Green Building Elements
Insulation and Air Sealing
These are key to a comfortable and energy efficient home. In some cases it makes sense to increase insulation values from the minimums required by the building code. A well designed air tight home with good mechanical and natural ventilation adds value and comfort and reduces energy costs.
Your home’s windows, wall and floors can be designed to collect, store and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter while rejecting excessive heat in the summer. Passive solar design, unlike active solar heating systems don’t need mechanical and electrical devices, such as pumps, fans or electrical controls to provide heat.
South facing glass with large overhangs provides solar gain in winter and shade in summer. To be most effective solar energy should be collected in high thermal mass elements such as stone or concrete walls and floors. Rooms should be placed to take advantage of naturally warmer and cooler areas of the home.
Use high-efficiency heating and hot water systems, with heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) for optimum efficiency. Good ventilation is an essential component of an energy efficient home. Low emission wood stoves may be appropriate, especially in rural areas.
A comprehensive mechanical system design can lead to a smaller more efficient system which saves both up front and ongoing costs. And the better insulated the house, the smaller and simpler the heating system needs to be.
An energy audit identifies inefficiencies in your mechanical systems and energy losses through your building envelope. Addressing weak points in the building system saves money and increases comfort.
Simplicity and Scale
There is a beauty in simple design. Complex building forms use more material and are generally more difficult to heat and maintain. Simple designs are often more timeless and adaptable. And there will always be less maintenance, cleaning and costs when a home is sized to meet all of your needs but no more.
Longevity and Maintenance
Simple elegant designs which acknowledge their environment are easier and less costly to maintain. Large overhangs, appropriate finishing materials and proper attention to site drainage are important elements in our coastal BC climate.
A transitional room to isolate inside from outside reduces energy loss and drafts during very cold or hot weather. An ante room as your primary entrance in summer and winter reduces energy costs and increases your comfort.
Electricity and Lighting
Passive solar design works with window placement and roof design to reduce heating and cooling demand, but it also takes advantage of natural light to reduce lighting needs. Additionally well placed skylights and solar tubes can bring outside light to the interior of a home. When lights are required choosing fixtures that accept LEDs is a good investment.
It costs very little to rough in for future solar panels and if you have good solar exposure it makes a lot of sense. Costs for solar panel systems continue to decline while other sources of energy can be unpredictable.
Green (or Living) Roofs and Walls
Green roofs and walls are designed for the cultivation of plants and shrubs to reduce overheating, improve insulation and air quality, create beneficial habitat and reduce storm water surges. They offer an attractive and pleasing alternative to exposed flat and low pitch roofs and they reduce sound reflectivity and transmission through the roof or wall system. They can also double the lifespan of the roof envelope that they cover and protect from the extremes of weather and ultraviolet radiation.
Construction Waste Recycling
Municipal programs are evolving to encourage deconstruction rather than demolition of existing structures reducing waste and creating a source of “new” building materials. Ask your builder about the possibilities for your home.
Embodied energy is the energy used to extract, refine, grow and harvest, process, manufacture, transport and install building materials. Embodied energy for a typical house is about seven times its annual energy use. Local materials, reused and salvage materials, recycled materials, materials with recycled content, all reduce embodied energy.
Sustainable harvested local wood, straw and earth, etc. are materials with low embodied energy. Their use can minimize ecosystem damage and reduce environmental toxic loading. These materials can be used to create organic forms and satisfying spaces that increase health and well being for occupants and for those involved in their construction. Because these materials are of local origin and their use often involves more labor than conventional materials, they can also benefit the local economy
Even on our wet coast we are becoming more aware of our water consumption. Low-flow toilets and showerheads have become the norm and front loading clothes washers are recognized as using far less water. Rain barrels are a great way to meet gardening needs since our plants and lawns don’t need expensive purified and treated water.
In some of the water scarce areas of our extended region composting toilets and rainwater catchments for non-potable water should be considered.
Advances in residential water purifying, recycling and treating are ongoing and may offer viable alternatives to big complex municipal systems particularly for those in outlying areas.
Solar energy is a clean abundant energy resource that can be used to supplement many of your energy needs. Solar energy can be used for heat, such as solar water heating, and as electricity.
Solar panels (Photovoltaic) can supplement your electricity supply and reduce the demand for dams, coal plants and nuclear energy facilities. Prices for solar systems continue to fall.
Even in our sometimes gray climate appropriately designed solar water heaters have fast payback times providing much of a households needs for most of the year.
Interior Finishes and Furnishing
Look for low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials such as unpainted plasters finishes and ceramic tile with additive-free grout to provide a healthier home with better indoor air quality. Hard surfaces retain fewer mould spores and animal dander and last much longer than carpets. Most foam/filled upholstery and soft furnishing contain many toxic products. By limiting the use toxic materials within their homes consumers have influenced manufacturers to find less toxic alternatives.
Choose Energy Star appliances. Look for front-loading clothes washers. Nothing can beat a clothes line for energy efficiency.
Gardening / Landscaping
Organic gardens provide healthy food for body and soul. Composting grass clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps create a valuable organic resource material rich in soil nutrients.
Locate your home to respect the natural elements of your site. Maximize the use of varied native plants and limit hard surface pavement. For walkways and driveways use materials that allow water penetration to reduce runoff and demands on municipal infrastructure. Strategically placed deciduous trees provide summer shade but allow winter light and solar gain. Fruit trees offer a free source of nutritious food.
Alternative Construction Materials
There are many alternatives to standard frame construction and there can be many benefits – from energy efficiency to aesthetic form. Most involve extra thick walls and may be unsuitable for smaller urban lots. But if you are building on a larger rural property you may want to consider straw bale, cob or rammed earth. These natural materials, if sourced close by, are easy on the environment, durable and may allow more organic design forms, complex curves and irregular shapes.
Zero Energy Home
A Zero Energy Home (ZEH) combines state-of-the-art, energy-efficient construction and appliances with commercially available renewable energy systems, such as solar water heating and solar electricity. The combination results in a home that produces its own energy—as much or more than it needs. Even though the home might be connected to a utility grid, it has net zero energy consumption from the utility provider. Zero Energy Homes optimize and include the following design features:
- Climate-specific design
- Passive solar heating and cooling
- Energy-efficient construction
- Energy-efficient appliances and lighting
- Solar water heating system
- Solar electric system