Tag Archives: green homes

Certified Green Homes Can be Even More Green Through Occupant Involvement

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.


Local Homebuilder Ron Ricci Achieves the NAHB’s Emerald Certification

Our builder partner Ron Ricci, owner of Ricci Builders & Management, recently achieved Emerald certification on an NAHB Green home built in Sandy Ridge, NC.  There are four levels associated with the new National Green Building Standard: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Emerald, Emerald being the highest.  Ron’s project is the first Emerald home in North Carolina and one out of only 22 Emerald homes in the Unites States.

Under the National Green Building Standard, there are six categories where builders must use sustainable practices: lot and site development, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and homeowner education.  For detailed information on all the items that are evaluated, visit the NAHB Green website.

Ron shared with me some of the exceptional features that took the home from the lower green levels to Emerald, categorizing them under the Standard’s six categories:

Lot & Site Development Gravel and pervious walkway pavers were substituted for solid pavement and walkways to avoid the “heat island” effect.  The home is oriented to face “true” South for both a passive and an active solar advantage.

Resource Efficiency The lumber used in the home’s construction was harvested from trees growing on the jobsite.  All waste produced in the building process was recycled.

Energy Efficiency To achieve the Emerald level, it was imperative that Ron incorporate power generation into the home.  3.6KW solar photovoltaic panels were installed along with solar hot water and radiant floor heating. The house has a geothermal ground source heat pump with de-superheater, also for domestic hot water.  The whole house envelope is insulated with closed cell phone.  The home is so efficient that it received a HERS score of 11, the lowest that our company has ever seen.  We were even questioned by Advanced Energy, a non-profit energy management firm in Raleigh, about the score’s accuracy.

In our conversation, Ron noted that incorporating power generating features into the home was one of the more challenging aspects of the project, as these features are expensive and have a longer pay-back period.

Water Efficiency The home has a rainwater collection system, involving a 1000 gallon cistern with a pump and hose for irrigation.  Low flow plumbing fixtures were installed without.

Indoor Environmental Quality The home’s interior is finished with natural products with low or no VOCs.  The HVAC system was designed with fresh air intake and MERV 11 filtration.

Homeowner Education The homeowners received a Customized Homeowner’s Manual along with a three hour new home orientation, complete with energy saving tips.

To other builders wanting to pursue Emerald certification, Ron advises diligence.  The goal is attainable and worthy, but it takes extraordinary effort to achieve along with maximum attention to detail. We have enjoyed working with Ron as he navigated Emerald certification as a third-party verifier and are proud to be part of such an exciting accomplishment within our local building community.

Wood Off-Gassing Can Effect the Indoor Air Quality of Homes

Whether building a green or traditional home, it is important to consider how the types of wood used effect the indoor air quality.  We know that the glues used to manufacture particle board and pressed-wood contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  What is less common knowledge is that many types of wood naturally contain VOCs, and some are released during sawing and drying while others will continue to off-gas overtime.

Cedars and pines contain volatiles that are pleasing to many but can be an irritant to others, particularly sensitized individuals. Formaldehyde, an irritant and carcinogen, occurs naturally in some wood species.  Many people have a contact allergy to western red cedar. If builders are aware of their clients’ sensitivities early on in the building process, they can mitigate any issues with wood off-gassing that may occur once the home is built.