For homeowners choosing to purchase a new home, or design and build their new home, there are a plethora of green building certifications from which to choose. From NAHB’s National Green Building Standard, to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Homes program, to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes, to Green Globes, those opting to reduce their carbon footprint through sustainable design and conscientious construction methods have the luxury of a great first step toward attaining their goals through green building standards that have been researched, adapted, and improved upon during the past ten to twenty years. However, a certified green home is only as green as its occupants, and homeowners of less efficiently built homes and older existing homes, as well as renters, also have the power to make a significant impact through their daily energy and transportation habits in addition to their choice of appliances, lighting, and plumbing fixtures.
A thoughtfully designed, beautifully constructed new home that is built in strict adherence to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Homes program requirements indeed has the potential to pave the way toward a sea change in residential construction practices and heightened levels of sustainable living. Many homeowners of ENERGY STAR certified homes choose lifestyles and behaviors that parallel their energy efficient home. Indeed, a visit to the EPA’s signature program’s website shows just how much carbon dioxide an ENERGY STAR home can save. But can this home have its environmental attributes torpedoed by a homeowner that opts for incandescent lighting fixtures instead of compact fluorescent or LED luminaires, constantly runs electrical appliances (even while no one is home), or chooses a thirsty, single occupancy vehicle over a bicycle for a short trip to the grocery store?
It is vital to “walk the walk” as we build green and continue to up the ante in residential energy efficiency. Increased levels of homeowner education and awareness will greatly contribute to the effectiveness of a green home. And how about the homeowner of the older, existing home in need of some energy efficiency retrofits, or the renter of an apartment? Are they to assume that they are unable to contribute to global carbon emission reductions, that they cannot lead sustainable lifestyles in their current housing?
Like the well-known Chinese proverb, the journey toward an environmentally friendly home and reduced carbon footprint begins with small steps. Changing out inefficient lighting, installing high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, insulating a tank water heater and hot water piping, opting for a ceiling or floor fan in lieu of the window unit air conditioner, caulking around windows (for renters, there is even rope caulk, a non-permanent product) and adding weather stripping to doors, adjusting set points of thermostats during heating and cooling seasons, choosing mass transit, or talking to a landlord about the benefits of an ENERGY STAR refrigerator are all ways that those with older homes or apartments can tread lightly despite having a less-than-airtight, under-insulated home.
As residential construction methods continue to improve and green building certifications become more and more prevalent, the proverbial rubber meets the road of sustainable living when it comes to the occupant’s behaviors and daily choices.