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A home is usually a person’s biggest investment, and a major consumer of energy and resources as well. Conventional building materials can be inefficient, unsustainable, or potentially hazardous. These issues can be minimized with the right choice of materials. Whether you’re building a custom home, renovating an old home, or making a major addition there are good “green” choices that often make economic sense as well. Many companies produce sustainable finishes and flooring, energy efficient structural materials, recycled roof tiles. Certain new homes incorporate many of these features in pursuit of energy efficiency and conservation of resources. There are good reasons for buying one those homes if possible.

Structural Material Options:

The materials in a home’s walls and roof have a huge influence on how much energy the home uses. Some building materials have more of an environmental impact in manufacturing as well. The standard wall materials like drywall, wood framing, and cement blocks impact the environment in mining and manufacturing. Much of the wood used in interior and exterior walls probably comes from forests that are clear-cut. The interior or exterior wall insulation is probably made from petroleum-based materials that are not sustainable.

Innovative companies have introduced a variety of new structural materials, including concrete made with hemp, and straw bale. Insulated concrete foam slabs are light and have a high insulating value. The interior and exterior walls account for most of the energy and raw materials used to build a house, so making a sustainable choice here can really pay off. Even if you are renovating versus building an all-new home, there are plenty of sustainable choices.

Paint and Stain Options:

Petroleum-based paints are the norm even today. However, there are good, sustainable options. The same holds true for stains used on wood trim inside and outside the home. Some paint companies use recycled paints and biologically-based components, which makes their product a little more sustainable. In the past, those things haven’t been widely advertised, but this is changing.

Many paints and stains release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be hazardous to breathe. That “new” smell comes from vapors emitted by carpets and paints. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) long-term exposure to VOCs can cause a variety of health problems in some people, including headaches, irritation in throat or eyes, and liver damage. Many paint companies make low VOC paints. A few companies also market milk-based interior paints that do not emit hazardous compounds.

Insulation:

Spray foam insulation and fiberglass rolls are common choices. Both spray foam and fiberglass have some disadvantages and advantages. Entrepreneurs have introduced many “green” alternatives that use shredded denim, old newsprint, and cotton. Those products provide adequate insulation but are not treated with potentially hazardous fire retardants. Cellulose and cotton insulation uses a borate compound to add fire resistant. Polyurethane foam is made fire resistant with halogenated fire retardants that may pose a health hazard. Standard insulation also makes heavy use of petroleum products that are unsustainable.

Roofing:

If you must replace a roof, there are several sustainable alternatives to conventional shingles. Recycled shingles are probably the most common and easiest to find. These shingles at least reduce the demand for more crude oil, but there are better options. Home owners who plan to replace their roofs might go with metal roofs, clay or slate tiles, or rubber tiles made from recycled tires. One or more of those sustainable options will be available in most any urban area. It should also be easy to find at least one sustainable option that matches the home’s style, shingles for a ranch home, clay tiles for a Mediterranean style home. The insulating material under the roof and elsewhere can also make a substantial difference in a home’s environmental impact.

Windows:

Everyone who owns or rents a home probably knows that windows are terrible insulators. This problem isn’t entirely solvable, but you can save some energy by replacing old windows that have uninsulated frames. Double- and triple-paned glass windows are widely available now. While window materials aren’t really considered sustainable or unsustainable, they are important to creating a “green” home. Add solar film to older windows that are in decent shape. Consider whether sun shades on the outside can work with the aesthetics of your house. If you are replacing your windows, look for double- or triple-paned windows or consult a guide to selecting energy-efficient windows that ideal for your climate.

Flooring:

All home construction projects and many home renovations include flooring. Your choice of a sustainable versus unsustainable flooring option can make a significant difference to your home’s ecological footprint. Instead of tropical hardwoods or carpets made of petroleum products, choose sustainable wood products or concrete or tile flooring. Bamboo, for example, is an affordable option and can be environmentally friendly. Bamboo flooring is probably the sustainable option most people know about, but there are many others. Any wood flooring product certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council, which holds companies to certain environmentally-friendly rules, could be a good option. If you want to add a deck, find a company that uses sustainably harvested wood or non-wood products.

Green Home Certifications:

You can realize significant water and energy savings by purchasing or building a home that meets one of the standard “green home” certifications. The United States Environmental Protection Agency created the Energy Star certification for appliances and electronic devices that use less energy. The certification was expanded to cover homes that use less energy than a “standard” home of comparable size. The United States Green Building Council created LEED for Homes as another “green” home standard that rates homes on energy efficiency, water conservation, and materials. Each certification standard indicates the home is much “greener” than the average American home.

A home that meets LEED or Energy Star standards could save the owner hundreds of Dollars a year on energy bills and water bills combined. Consider how a 20% energy savings adds up in a household that spends an average of $120 per month on electricity. The same family in a LEED home would only have to spend $96 per month or $1152 per year. They save almost $300 per year and their reduced water use may save them another $100 per year.

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