Building Green is Red Hot
“Green houses don’t have to be gross,” says Paul Brantingham. “Green houses can be gorgeous.” And beneath the beauty lie energy smarts and eco-friendly materials.
On this Wednesday afternoon, Brantingham is standing in the proof of his declaration—a stunning, 4,500-square-foot home in Elizabethtown that won numerous awards in the city’s most recent Parade of Homes, including best overall home, best flooring, best lighting, best exterior design, best décor, and best bath.
The house has all the modern-day essentials: three bedrooms, two and one-half baths, a great room, an ultra-modern kitchen, a formal dining room, a two-car side garage, and a full, partially finished basement. And it also has the sought-after extras—vaulted and barrel ceilings, faux paint finishes, hand-scraped bamboo floors, induction cooktops, granite countertops, and surround sound and security systems.
The features that make this home unique, however, are not immediately visible. This is the first certified green home in Kentucky. Total energy costs are estimated at only $119 a month for 4,500 square feet (2,250 sq. ft. of living area plus the lower level).
“Green building is an incredibly practical approach,” says Brantingham. “You are improving indoor air quality, using recycled materials, and eliminating complex petroleum distillates. Building green is good stewardship. It is resourceful, not wasteful.”
Building green, it so happens, also provides lots of serendipitous benefits, according to the Elizabethtown builder.
“When you build green, you tighten up the house as much as you can,” says Brantingham. "It turns out that this system is great for people with allergies. The air is cleaner inside than outside.”
And speaking of outside, there are surprise benefits there, too.
“We landscaped the yard so that only about one-third of the three-fourths-acre lot would need to be maintained,” says Brantingham. “It takes only about 15 minutes with a push mower to keep it trimmed, so you get your weekends back. The mulch and groundcover are drought- resistant and pest-resistant, so you don’t have to water. The outlying mulch beds are teardrop shaped so a tractor or mounted hay cutter can move around them. The groundcover around them can be left in a natural state with just minimal attention. In fact, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension folks said you should never have to touch it.”
Going green doesn’t just apply to new construction either. Brantingham has remodeled several homes using green principles, including an elegant traditional home in an upscale neighborhood a few miles away.
To enhance the exterior of this older home, native Kentucky blue fieldstone was brought in. The huge pieces of rock were hand cut one at a time and pieced together over a portion of the outside. The indigenous stone blends nicely with the other exterior surfaces.
Inside, recycled and architectural salvage items bring a distinct, one-of-a-kind look new materials cannot. For example, Brantingham built a track above the windows in the master bathroom for two sets of old glass-paned shutters. When enjoying the garden tub, the shutters move over the windows to provide privacy. When not in use, they slide back to either side of the tub and provide more dimension and character to the room.
There are once-abandoned items throughout the large, rambling home. The fireplace mantle was reclaimed as were the wood bookcases that flank it. An old church altar has been put back into service as a cabinet for the bathroom sink, creating a unique vintage look. The butler’s closet is a mix of old and new cabinets. These types of materials can be found at architectural salvage stores, at thrift stores such as those run by Goodwill and the Volunteers of America, or even at semi-junk stores.
Going green can also save you money when building an addition on to the house, Brantingham says.
“Many times in the past, you had to add additional heating and cooling units when you added square footage to the house. With tighter insurance and more energy-efficient windows, the existing systems may work well.”
Ways and means of going green
There are many ways to go green and just as many reasons to go green, according to Bill Hodges, chair of the Green Build Kentucky Task Force for the Kentucky Home Builders Association and a homebuilder and remodeler since 1971.
“The objective is to reduce our carbon footprint,” Hodges says. “The objective of our task force is to get people thinking about building efficiently. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have set objectives using 2005 as a baseline. By 2015, they want all structures to use 50 percent less energy than in 2005. By 2025, the objective is to have every new structure meet an energy-neutral standard where it doesn’t use any more energy than it generates. For example, if there are solar panels used as an alternative energy source, at certain times those panels will be feeding energy back into the power grid.
“The thing about energy efficiency is that 21 percent of energy is used where we live—homes, apartments, etc. If we can be more energy efficient, we won’t have to build additional power plants.”
The Green Build Kentucky Task Force adopted a seven-point standard for builders to follow in Kentucky if they want a home to be certified as green. (See the "Green Build" supplement for more information.) Consumers should review this list if they are considering building green or remodeling green.
These are additional suggestions from Hodges, as well as some from the National Association of Home Builders, on how to get your house certified green:
What lies beneath?
- Orientation. For new homes, start with the orientation of the home on the lot. The idea is to take advantage of sunlight. If the house is oriented with the primary long axis east to west, it will use 20 percent less energy than if it is oriented north to south.
- Insulation. Increase the amount and the R-value of your insulation. Use spray foam insulation instead of traditional fiberglass because the foam can seep into all the cracks and crevices to prevent leaks. For older homes, adding a seal around the perimeter of the house between the foundation and the floor can offer huge savings.
Hodges says the installation cost for a 1,200-square-foot house will be around $1,200 to $1,500, but it will instantly cut energy costs by 20 percent. Also, re-insulating and sealing ducts in the attic can cut utility bills dramatically.
- Windows. Use low-emittance (low-E) windows, glass coatings, and composite framings. Also, large south-facing windows provide natural lighting and help heat the house during the winter.
- Doors. Use more energy-efficient doors and better weatherstripping on doors. Also, covered entries at exterior doors help prevent water intrusion and reduce maintenance.
- Water conservation. The new generation of toilets only flushes 1.4 gallons of water. Some have a dual-flush function that uses less water for liquids than solids.
- Indoor air quality. Indoor air is up to three times more polluted than outdoor air, and according to the EPA is considered one of the top five hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes. Use of low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints will improve air quality. You can find a wide range of these paints from several manufacturers.
Also install an air-to-air heat exchanger or a fresh air makeup system. These systems actually pull fresh air on demand into the HVAC system that makes up for air that has been expended.
- Appliances. Models with an Energy Star designation save an average of 30 percent over standard models. Front- loading washers use about 40 percent less water and half the energy of conventional models.
- Range hoods. In the past, hoods just trapped grease and re-circulated the air. Now fans can be vented to the exterior to remove pollutants rather than recirculating them.
- Carpeting. Look for carpets that do not have off-gassing, such as hemp-made carpet. An added benefit of natural fibers is that organic substances will not stain them. For example, Smart Strand by Mohawk is made from corn so food spills are not a problem.
- Flooring. Choose bamboo rather than oak. It takes 50 years to grow an oak tree but only three to four years to grow an equivalent-size bamboo tree, so bamboo is renewable much faster. Despite conventional wisdom, bamboo is not grown only in the Orient. It grows well right here in Kentucky, is as durable as oak, and its large stalks have the same general appearance as other wood flooring.
- Renewable or recyclable materials. Vinyl siding, brick, and ceramic tile fit this category. Also consider using fly-ash content (a byproduct from coal-fired power plants) gypsum wall board.
- Roofing. Use OSB (oriented strand board), an engineered wood product, to sheathe roofs and walls. Also consider alternative materials such as steel and fiber cement as roofing materials. Because they are more durable, they need to be changed less, often lasting 50 years or more.
- Landscaping. Using native plants (called xeriscaping) reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and herbicides. Brantingham is particularly fond of cedars because they produce excellent birdseed and are almost completely disease resistant. All they need is an annual or biannual pruning.
When purchasing a home, consumers often don’t think as much about insulation and items they cannot see as they do floor plans and décor. But with a green home, it’s largely what lies beneath that produces breathtaking energy savings and year-round comfort. Here are a few of the green elements that help the first certified green home reduce energy costs while increasing comfort levels.
How much green will it cost to go green?
- Geothermal system. This renewable energy source taps into the natural heating and cooling properties of the earth to heat the home and/or generate electricity. In this home, 600 feet of vertical wells provide non-seasonal exchange for heating and cooling, including six months of free hot water compliments of Mother Earth. Geothermal will heat and cool your home for less money than any other system and is the most efficient air conditioning system around. In the heating mode, geothermal is 350 percent efficient, meaning that for every dollar you spend to operate the system, you get $3.50 worth of heat. There are also no open flames, therefore it is much safer and cleaner since no pollutants are given off. Once the system is installed, you cannot see it, the system requires no maintenance, and it is typically guaranteed to last 25 years. The system used in this house is a three-ton Envision dual capacity.
- Energy Star appliances. This home uses GE Profile appliances, but there are other brands that earn the Energy Star rating as well. The Energy Star Web site (www.energystar.gov
) encourages consumers to remember that an appliance has two price tags: what you pay to take it home and what you pay for the energy and water it uses. Although more expensive at the onset, Energy Star-qualified appliances use 10-50 percent less energy and water than standard models.
These appliances include induction cooktops. Flush with the countertops, these cooking surfaces never get hot to the touch yet boil water in 90 seconds. You can literally put a piece of paper between the pan and the cooktop, boil water in the pan, and not damage the piece of paper. They are also 90 percent efficient compared to 60 percent efficiency with gas. In addition, gas creates fossil fuel combustion and byproducts that can be injurious to human health. Induction does not.
- Water heater. They look like diving chambers from old movies, but looks can be deceiving. The 85-gallon Marathon water heater used in this house is guaranteed not to leak for as long as you own the home or a minimum of 15 years. It has numerous features, including 2.5 inches of insulation, which makes it energy efficient.
- Insulation. There are many brands available but what you are looking for here is formaldehyde-free insulation, preferably spray-in. This house uses Johns Manville Spider insulation. It is so named because the outer covering resembles a spider web. You can touch it without any of the pricks or cuts you experience with traditional fiberglass insulation. Brantingham installed an R-19 wall system and added spray-in cellulose R-55 insulation in the attic. The cellulose insulation is made from recycled newsprint.
Perhaps you are thinking by now: This all sounds great, but how much is all of this going to cost?
“If proper planning is done before the building is started, there can be essentially no additional cost in building green,” Hodges says. “If planning is not done until midway into project, it can add 2-3 percent to the cost. A lot of high-tech devices can add substantially to the cost. But the green standard is typically only 2-4 percent more. You need to plan a little more. Planning is the key.”
Education is another key
“One of the things about living in a green home is that you have to know what to do to take care of it,” says Hodges. “Part of the Build Green Kentucky certification is that every consumer receives an operations manual that tells what equipment is in house, how to take care of it, and how to operate it. It’s a requirement. It’s sort of like if you buy an automobile with a lot of great features, such as a television in the backseat for the children to watch. If you don’t know how to operate it, it isn’t going to do you any good.”
And doing good—for your pocketbook and the environment—is what building green is all about. As Brantingham would say, green can be great.
HOME ENERGY RATING CERTIFICATE
Every certified green home will come with an energy rating certificate. Here’s what you can expect to see. This is the certificate for the home Paul Brantingham built in Elizabethtown, but the certificate for other homes will have the same type of information. All numbers here are annual costs based on 4,500 square feet.
GREENBACKS FOR GOING GREEN
President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan includes many ways to be rewarded for going green. Among these are tax incentives to spur energy savings and green jobs by expanding tax credits through 2010 for purchases such as new furnaces, energy-efficient windows and doors, or insulation.
The plan also provides $5 billion for energy-efficient improvements such as weatherization for more than one million modest-income families. The plan even includes efficiency retrofits for HUD-assisted housing, providing $6.3 billion for increasing energy efficiency in federally supported housing programs. Check with your tax professional to see if you qualify.
There are also energy-efficient mortgages (EEMS) available. Because you will be spending less on energy costs, you may be able to obtain a larger mortgage. Go to www.mortgagenewsdaily.com for more information or ask your lender.
Real estate agents are also catching on to the importance of going green. There are two new designations realtors can earn to prove they understand green building. These are the EcoBroker designation and the Green Certified Real Estate professional.
GREEN BUILDING BENEFITS HOMEOWNERS
Green building is much more than reducing a home’s environmental footprint, according to the Kentucky Association of Home Builders. Taken from their Web site, here are some direct benefits they say homeowners receive by owning a green home:
Lower operating costs. Homeowners receive less expensive utility bills because of energy and water efficiency measures.
Increased comfort. Green homes have relatively even temperatures throughout the home, with fewer drafts and better humidity control.
Improved environmental quality. By following the guidelines, builders pay extra attention to construction details that control moisture, choose materials that contain fewer chemicals, and design air exchange/filtration systems that can contribute to a healthier indoor environment.
Enhanced durability and less maintenance. Green homes incorporate building materials and construction details that strive to increase the useful life of the individual components and the whole house. Longer lasting materials not only require fewer resources for replacement but also reduce maintenance and repair costs. Green homes have lawns that require less weeding and watering, building elements that require less maintenance, and more durable building components that reduce the time needed for upkeep.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: GREEN BUILD KENTUCKY PRINCIPLES
To learn more about Green Build Kentucky’s seven-point standard for builders, go to Green Build.