December 26, 2012 by: Ben Heimsath

There's lots of talk about green building - but what does it really mean for your project?  We've been impressed with many improvements in our industry that have come from the sustainability movement, often referred to as green building.  However, not everything that's promoted as green makes sense.  Here is the second half of my article on residential green architecture and the frequently asked questions we often encounter -- or download the entire two-part article now:

 Residential Green Building FAQ's

Does my building need to be certified in order to be green?

Not at all.  There are a number of very good ratings agencies that focus on one or more areas of green design. You may want the acknowledgment of an outside authority just to feel good about your work, or to help in promoting your project.  
Eric MacInerney's Purple Heron Residence was given a 5-star rating through Austin Energy's Green Building Program.

Most ratings systems cost some amount of time and money to complete the certification.  However, a quick read through the requirements of many building rating systems, such as LEED, can suggest great ideas, even if you aren't using the entire system to certify your project.  Other ratings systems may help evaluate green building products or strategies.  The Energy Star program, for example, sets standards for energy efficiency for a wide variety of household appliances and equipment.  Any consumer can use the program and you don't need to register or pay for tracking your project.

We definitely recommend going green for anything that conserves resources, saves money, or improves quality.  Whether or not to spend extra time and expense to register your project is up to you.

Should I consider green building practices?

Yes, you should.  First and foremost, at least look into the opportunities to save money! For example, one of the most basic green building practices is to focus on efficient ways to heat and cool your home. This may reduce or even eliminate your monthly electricity bill.  

Residential Green Architecture solar dormer resized 600This solar array was located on a traditional dormer.

Building well, for the long-term is a good investment.  Your payoff comes year after year with lower maintenance and utility costs.  Your return on investment may come in a higher resale value.  Buyers will often pay a premium for a more efficient home.  

Many green building supporters also make a strong connection to conservation in general.  Reducing stress on the environment, even in small ways, can be gratifying.


Does green building cost more?

Not necessarily.  You can spend more, if you choose, but the principles of green building have mostly to do with investing wisely for the long-term.  Many choices and strategies don't cost more, or may come with only a modest premium.  But like any quality issue, it is up to the building owner or builder to decide what choices to make.  And if spending extra can be beneficial, it is up to you to decide.


More insulation is better, right?

Residential-Green-Architecture-icyneneSpray-on icynene insulation provides high R-Value and creates a great air-tight seal.

OK, this question isn't often asked by our clients, but you would be surprised how much discussion there is about insulation in the building industry.  Contrary to popular perceptions, more insulation is not necessarily better.  Yes, insulation is crucial, but the best way to make an efficient house depends on your climate. Too much insulation in the wrong places can make little or no difference and be a big waste of money.  The right insulation in the right location takes some planning. In our hot, humid climate, there are several major considerations that can help you to make the best use of insulation.  

Since the heat load is higher on the roof than the walls, the roof insulation should be the first consideration. One of the best things you can do is to place the attic insulation under the rafters.  A vented roofing system, under-rafter insulation and the use of a radiant barrier offer great protection from the merciless sun. This provides a big benefit to the air conditioning system.  When the ducts are inside the insulated envelope, instead of a sweltering attic space, you save a lot of energy.

It is best to keep the insulation barrier continuous, with no breaks in the materials that separate outside from inside temperatures.  Tight seals are important as infiltration or "leaks" can compromise the insulation and even become unintended collection points for moisture.

Double-or triple-pane windows and well-sealed exterior doors help to keep the hot air out.  Consider the crawl-space or foundation as a further opportunity to make use of the moderate temperatures of the earth below, while providing proper barriers to prevent potential infiltration of toxins or gasses.

Consult with your local architects, builders and materials suppliers and have them discuss seriously the best practices and products for your area.
Residential Green Building FAQ's

Residential Design & Construction/ Sustainable Design