By Drew Knight
You’ve heard it all from us before: Through features like solar panels, advanced insulation, sustainable construction materials, efficient windows, xeriscaping and rain collection systems, green homes are better for the environment and they save you loads of money on energy bills.
We could go on and on about why green homes are the way to go and how you can build one, however, we thought you might want an outside opinion. Thus, we reached out to the big guys: the government.
In this Q&A, Laura Allen, deputy press secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sam Rashkin, chief architect of the Building Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), talk about the basics of green homes.
Q: What makes a green home “green”? What’s your definition of a green home?
EPA: A green home generally refers to a home that was designed and constructed to reduce adverse impacts on human health and the environment. This involves building a home using sustainable materials and techniques, as well as building a home that can be operated using less natural resources than other homes. Energy efficiency is often mentioned as the starting point for any truly green home because there is a direct, immediate and long-term payback to the homeowner from investments in energy efficiency in the form of lower utility bills, and because energy used in homes often comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Building upon a home’s energy efficiency, today’s renewable energy technologies and resources offer homeowners a logical next step to making their home green. By using renewable energy from sources such as solar or wind, a homeowner can further reduce their environmental footprint by switching away from conventional energy sources. ENERGY STAR-certified homes deliver energy efficiency savings of up to 30 percent compared to typical new homes. Homes that earn the ENERGY STAR label are independently verified to meet strict energy efficiency requirements set by the EPA, and ENERGY STAR’S Renewable Energy Ready Home specifications provide builders with guidance on how to outfit a home to accept these technologies down the road.
DOE: A green home is very difficult to define because there are a myriad of programs that all use rating systems based on “points” with various shades of “green.” So the DOE would prefer to leave it to the green advocates to provide a definition for this attribute. In contrast, the DOE is pursuing a type of green program called Zero Energy Ready Homes. In contrast to green, it’s based on complete systems instead of points and only has a single threshold of performance that ensures comprehensive building science and indoor air quality along with rigorous guidelines for energy efficiency. Based on this threshold, the DOE can effectively define a Zero Energy Ready Home as a high-performance home that is so energy efficient it can offset most of all annual energy consumption with renewable energy.
Q: What are some of the benefits of living in a green home? What effects does it have on the environment?
EPA: Some of the financial benefits of living in a green home usually include lower utility and water bills and can include less maintenance. Health benefits can include better indoor air. Other benefits include greater comfort, reduced noise and the peace of mind of knowing your home is helping protect human health and the environment. Green homes protect our environment by using sustainable building practices and materials, and from requiring less natural resources to operate. A home that has earned the ENERGY STAR label reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 3,700 lbs. per year compared to a typical home.
DOE: Again, DOE can speak to the benefits associated with every certified Zero Energy Ready Home because of the single threshold of performance. These homes, first and foremost, reduce your energy bills so low that a renewable energy system can offset most or all of the annual utility bill. They improve the durability of your home, helping it last for generations to come. They provide a comprehensive package of indoor air quality improvements that can help families experience reduced illness and allergies. They improve your comfort, making your home a delight to be in no matter the outdoor temperature and humidity. All of these attributes reduce the impact on the environment — less energy used from nonrenewable energy resources, less environmental damage.
Q: What can the average person do to make their home greener?
EPA: One thing average homeowners can do to make their homes greener is improving their home’s energy efficiency. This can be done through relatively simple actions such as sealing air leaks around windows and doors, changing your HVAC’s air filter when dirty, and installing ENERGY STAR-certified lighting and appliances. We also recommend getting an energy audit from a trained professional. ENERGY STAR’s free Home Advisor and My ENERGY STAR platform, which includes dozens of ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency, are available at www.energystar.gov.
Homeowners may also want to investigate whether installing an onsite renewable energy system makes sense. As costs of renewable technologies continue to drop, more and more homeowners can save money and reduce their dependence on conventional sources of energy by developing onsite renewable energy systems. In cases where homeowners do not have the ability to build their own onsite projects, they can switch to using green power by buying REC-based (renewable energy certificate) electricity products supplied by either their local utility company or from third-party REC marketers. To identify local green power suppliers and renewable electricity products, you can use the EPA Green Power Locator.
DOE: The average person in an existing home who wants to improve their home’s performance can look for a DOE Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program in their region. This program helps homeowners plan and implement whole-house upgrades with quality assurance and often incentives provided by local utility or regional government sponsors. If this program is not available, homeowners should always look to replacing old equipment, appliances, lighting and fans with new ENERGY STAR-certified products. When buying a new home, people can look for a builder to build a Zero Energy Ready Home using the Partner Locator.
Drew Knight is a Digital Content Associate for New Home Source.