Reduce your carbon footprint before you break ground
July 18, 2008
If there’s a good time to make your home environmentally friendly, it’s before the first shovel hits the ground.
In Colorado, the average home puts out about 25,826 pounds of earth-warming carbon dioxide a year by using gas and electricity. While it’s easy to fill any old house with energy saving light bulbs and appliances, you can make the most difference ” and even save money in the long run ” when you build a house designed to have the smallest carbon footprint possible.
The trick is figuring out how to go about it. The options are seemingly infinite ” a complex world of solar panels, non-toxic paint and insulation ” and limited only by how much money you’re willing to spend up front.
The first order of business is finding the right people for the job ” builders and architects experienced in creating energy-efficient homes.
Jim Jose, architect and owner of Holy Cross Design in Eagle, says it’s good to look for contractors who have designed and built homes that meet standards set by the Built Green program or homes certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known as LEED. Jose himself is a LEED-certified planner.
The right architects and builders can help those unfamiliar with green building navigate the choices, come up with ideas and incorporate them into any dream home. They’ll know when installing solar panels is a good idea and when it won’t work, how to best position the house on a lot for sunlight, how to maximize the insulation in a home, how to build “tight” to keep air in, how to lower waste on the construction site and where to find recycled wood.
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Green building is really smart building, and if homeowners are really serious about lowering their homes’ carbon footprints, everything matters, Jose says.
“You need someone to think holistically to pick and choose systems that work together,” he says.
Being creative with building materials is one of the easiest, and cost effective, ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.
Using recycled materials means nothing new had to be pulled from the earth to build the house and nothing is going to waste in a landfill.
In Eagle County, many builders are using wood salvaged from trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. Jose will be using a lot of beetle-killed pine to build his new home on Eagle Ranch, as well as wood salvaged from the snow-fences seen in wide-open spaces in Wyoming.
“It’s weathered, already looks cool, and it’s cheap,” Jose says.
Many builders are finding great deals in salvage shops like Habitat Home Outlet and RECON, which sell the leftover and unneeded building materials from other projects across the Vail Valley.
Homeowners can find just about anything in these places ” doors, shingles, tiles, appliances, furniture, lumber, toilets ” all things that could have been thrown away, says Kristi Moon, director of Habitat Home Outlet.
Building materials don’t have to be recycled to be good for the earth. Green homes commonly have “low volatile organic compound” paints, which dramatically increase indoor air quality. Proven Technologies in Grand Junction sells “insulated concrete forms” ” sort of like Legos filled with concrete that can be used to build homes.
“The biggest advantage is energy efficiency ” there’s virtually no transfer of outside air to inside the house, or inside to the outside,” says owner Dave Klugston. “You can cut heating, cooling costs by 40, 50 percent.”
When a house becomes its own power plant ” heating rooms and running the fridge with a photovoltaic solar system ” that’s where a homeowner can really reduce a carbon footprint.
It can also be the most expensive thing about building a green home and often will be the first thing cut when a owner has to trim costs, Jose says.
A basic solar system, which would create enough electricity for two people, could add about $25,000 to $30,000 to the cost of a home.
If you can swing it, you might end up saving $200 to $300 a month in electricity bills, pay back the cost in 25 years and even see the electric meter running backwards on sunny days.
If you really are interested in solar, it’s best to do it when you’re actually building the house.
“It’s definitely more cost effective to build anything up-front instead of adding later,” Jose says.