The idea of green building has been around for centuries but was not known by that name. Now green is heard frequently when talking about building anything. The term was initially meant to refer to efficiency, sustainability, health and safety. It has evolved into use about particular building materials like straw bale and sod regardless of in which region the construction is occurring. This can become a misnomer.
Since 68 percent of the electricity used in the United States is consumed by buildings and that number is increasing, energy efficiency and alternative energy sources are high on the list of important attributes of a green building. No matter which materials or techniques are selected, efficient insulation can be the most important tool to reduce airflow through the walls and roofs.
The best insulation is not just about the highest R-rated numbers. The United States Department of Energy did studies at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that showed of fiberglass batts and structural insulated panels (SIPS) with equal R-ratings on whole walls including doors and windows, thermal transmission or airflow through the batt-insulated walls dropped from R-17 to R-11. The SIPS walls maintained R-17. Blown foam insulation is more efficient than batts and can prevent frozen pipe leaks. Fiberglass settling over time may drop the R-rating even more.
Unfortunately the universal building code is directed toward the minimum standard for getting a certificate of occupancy or compliance. It costs about half as much to heat and cool a timber frame building with SIPS as an equal R-rated stick built home with fiberglass batts between studs. Some higher upfront costs may be recovered within five years.
Durability and long building life makes a building more green. Life-cycle planning must include not only energy efficiency, but also sustainability of the materials used; less material ending up in landfills; greater fire, insect, wind and earthquake resistance; maintenance and replacement costs both in money and to natural resources and the environment; and the effects of the end when the building must be razed. Another consideration is flexibility of design for lifestyle changes in the future. Open space homes adapt better than load-bearing walled smaller rooms.
Other aspects of green building are choosing an efficient building location close to work, shopping, entertainment and public transit; orienting the home for best sunlight, shade and wind protection, drainage and views; and minimizing waste of water and utilities. Even the time it takes to get the building weather proof can be a factor in rainy humid climates where water can damage materials and result in wet warped wood and mold. Details such as sealing ductwork properly and doing blower door tests for leaks, using zoned digital thermostats, not installing open fireplaces, and choosing the most efficient lighting all add to the greenness of a building. Building to standards like Energy Star® or LEED® and Energy Star® appliances ensures energy efficiency.
The crucial time is in the planning process doing research on what is available and works best for the area, whether self-building or hiring an experienced builder designated as green. Some ways to get started and maximize the economic and environmental performance of homes in Greenville, South Carolina are:
- visiting Upstate Forever
- touring green buildings like in Earthaven ecovillage and the Nauhaus Passivehaus prototype house in West Asheville
- attending Mother Earth News Fair green building classes and exhibits
- contacting local Greenville SC green build materials and services
- interviewing local green builders like John Carroll, Carson Speer Builders, Milestone Custom Homes
- visiting green building suppliers such as GBS Building Supply, Sunstore Solar, and salvaged building materials sources.
Consider building a green home “outside the box” with cob as in the video. It is most sustainable for the earth and, for those willing to do a lot of the work themselves, can create debt-free housing.