Green Building is focused on going beyond the minimum requirements set in building codes to construct homes that support and enhance sustainable lifestyles. If you build a house better – you get a better house. From foundation to rooftop, and from insulation to indoor air quality, green built homes use less energy, generate less greenhouse gasses, waste less materials in the building process, and offer a fresher, healthier living environment. And, on top of all that, an eco-friendly home will save you money from the day you move in through lower energy and water costs. When you factor in the intangible benefits from a new house with little toxicity which supports homeowners’ green values by incorporating recycled material, this is a significant green value proposition.
Materials: Planning and building a green house involves a “cradle-to-cradle” approach to materials that promotes sustainability. That means avoiding waste whenever possible, recycling as much of the waste that is created, and using materials with recycled content in the construction process.
Recycled and Environmentally Preferable Products - There are many places throughout a house where recycled products, like lumber, drywall, insulation and concrete offer proven quality and environmental benefits. Other products are preferred because they come from a sustainable source, or are locally available.
Waste Minimization – Careful planning, ordering and use of materials means waste is reduced. An important part of waste reduction involves educating everyone involved in the project on the careful use of materials.
Waste Management – When waste is inevitably created, the goal is to take advantage of municipal recycling programs in order to divert construction waste away from landfills. This is achieved by having waste sorted into various streams and sent for recycling.
Indoor Air Quality - Healthy Home: Dust, viruses, bacteria, humidity, pollen, pollution and chemicals all affect the air quality of a home. Superior filtration and ventilation, along with intelligent choices of home-finishing products (like low-VOC paints and carpets) help maintain a fresher, healthier home – an important consideration to any family concerned about allergies, asthma or respiratory ailments.
Air Filtration - Air filtration systems that eliminate indoor air particles result is a home offers a fresher, healthier indoor environment.
Ventilation - Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) systems are a standard feature in green homes. In winter, HRV’s use the heat energy from outgoing air to warm incoming fresh air. In summer, the effect is reversed and homeowners reduce their energy consumption all year round. Efficient and effective ventilation also helps control the moisture and humidity in the home minimizing the chance of moisture problems around walls, windows, kitchens and bathrooms.
Indoor Contaminants – Green homes avoid the various chemicals (Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC’s) that are off-gassed from many of the standard materials put into new homes such as cupboards and vanities, paints, carpets and wood stains. This minimizes the airborne toxicity of the home and also reduces respiratory irritation – great news for allergy sufferers and others with chemical sensitivities or those with respiratory concerns.
Green homes are energy efficient since greenhouse gases are the single largest environmental concern, and because reducing energy costs is a widespread goal. Substantial energy savings are the result of using proven, advanced building materials, techniques and standards. Here are some of the most common approaches to increasing energy conservation in order to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and electricity, followed by our commentary on some uncommon approaches:
Insulation - Increased insulation is a cornerstone of energy efficient design. Insulation levels are increased in exterior walls, attics, basement walls and foundations to minimize heat loss and, therefore, energy consumption.
High Efficiency Furnace and Air Conditioner - A state-of-the-art furnace burns less fuel more efficiently which reduces both heating costs and greenhouse gas emissions. A high efficiency air conditioner uses less electricity to produce air cooling.
Windows – ENERGY STAR® qualified windows are big energy savers. When installed with flashing on 4 sides, air leakage and the risk of moisture damage can be virtually eliminated. Multi glazing and low-e Argon offer energy benefits and protection for furnishings from the sun's harmful rays.
Air Barrier - A tight building envelope minimizes air-leakage through walls, ceilings and basements. A well-sealed home, properly ventilated with a Heat Recovery Ventilator, is an energy efficient home
Passive Cooling – Properly designed homes help to cool themselves in the summer through the orientation of the house, overhangs and other devices that shield windows from the sun, the amount of masonry in the walls, and cross ventilation. Strategically placed porches and trees also help.
Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) - Controlled ventilation through air exchange systems remove the energy from outgoing (exhaust) air and transfer it to incoming fresh air, recovering 60-70% of energy that would otherwise be lost.
Appliances, lighting and ceiling fans - ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances, energy efficient lighting such as LED Xenon and CFL bulbs, and a host of other measures such as using ENERGY STAR® fans reduce electricity consumption which, in turn, reduces the need to burn coal and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Hot Water - Hot water accounts for about 20% of a home’s energy use, so it’s a great place to look for savings. Incorporating an efficient hot water heater and a waste water heat recovery system can deliver real savings.
Geothermal Heating and Cooling System – A ground source heating and cooling system uses the constant ground temperature below 4 feet to generate heat in winter and cooling in summer using a heat pump system. They are expensive to install, but as long as the system actually works, they use very little electricity to run. If you plan to stay in your house for an extended period of time, they are something to consider.
Solar Panels – Solar panels in Ontario are a good investment as of today (April 2010) due to the Province of Ontario’s Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program. However, given the low productivity of today’s solar panel (photovoltaic) technology and the fact that Ontario is not a particularly sunny place, solar panels are not an economical way for a Toronto area homeowner to generate energy for their own use. You can support the development of solar technology and make a good return on your money by buying solar panels and feeding the energy produced into the grid. You will receive around 80¢ per kilowatt for the solar electricity you sell and you can then buy electricity from Ontario Hydro for your home at about 1/10th the price. As long as the FIT is in place, this is the approach we recommend to homeowners.
Solar Thermal - Solar Thermal systems are becoming widely adopted as pool heating technology. They can also be used as a water preheating system for the hot water tank. We believe they are attractive for the former application but, given current technology, there is a long payback period for the latter application.
Windmills – Windmills are an emerging new sustainable energy source and will be an important source of electricity in Ontario in future. However, they are not currently an alternative in urban areas, especially not for homeowners in densely populated areas.
Water Conservation: Canada’s wealth of fresh water reserves have been misunderstood and misrepresented for years. Two things are clear: we don’t have unending supplies of replenishable fresh water and the cost of supplying water to homes, businesses and institutions, is one of the largest expenses faced by municipalities today. Less water used means less waste and great cost savings for consumers.
Indoor water conservation: By improving just four or five areas in the home, water use can be significantly reduced with no loss of performance.
Toilets - Low volume and dual flush toilets create instant savings by utilizing a lower volume flush without sacrificing performance.
Faucets/Showerheads - Aerators sustain water pressure while reducing the flow, so for washing, cleaning and showering you can accomplish more with less water without sacrificing performance.
Appliances - ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances (dishwasher/washing machine) are great additions to a green home that accomplish the same level of cleaning with much less water.
Outdoor water conservation: By using rainwater more carefully, there are environmental benefits
Irrigation – Cisterns and rain barrels store rain water to be reused in outdoor watering.
Permeable Pavers - Driveways and patios that allow rainwater to drip through to the soil rather than run off into the sewer system helps prevent harmful chemicals picked up by the water, such as salt and oil, from damaging rivers and streams.