Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Green Home Additions

Home additions are an exciting prospect when it comes to going green. Because you're starting from scratch, building an addition onto your home gives you the unique opportunity to green the project from the ground up, which is an ideal situation in the world of green remodeling practices. David Johnston, author of Green from the Ground Up and the Nautilus Book Award winning Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., and the greenest associate of the ServiceMagic family, has a name for it. He calls it "whole systems thinking."

What Does Whole Systems Thinking Mean?
Thinking in terms of whole systems means that every aspect of your project, from the foundation to the roof and everything in between, works together to create the greenest addition possible. That means adopting a green mindset from the get-go, one that considers everything from adopting green building practices to acquiring green building materials to analyzing every possible factor that could raise the energy efficiency of your home. The results are sure to get the attention of even the most skeptical homeowner. Green home additions drastically reduce energy costs, increase the overall comfort of the addition, result in healthier indoor environments, and stress creating high-quality, low-maintenance additions.

Choosing the Right Shade of Green for Your Home Addition
And what if you're not sure about going green through and through? No problem. Any step you take in a green direction while designing and building your home addition is going to be beneficial to your project: be it increasing insulation levels, installing energy-efficient windows, or using safer, healthier building materials. But keep in mind that though whole systems building is the greenest way to go, it's certainly not the only option when it comes to incorporating green remodeling into your new home addition plans.

Calculating the True Value of Going Green
All that being said, with a project as large as a home addition, most homeowners start by asking what going green is going to mean for their budget. The truth is that it's extremely difficult to pin a specific cost onto going green. The level of green each homeowner is willing to commit to varies, as does the individual scope of projects as large as a major home addition. Regardless, the earlier you design green features into your addition, the less it will cost in the long run. What we can say, based on Johnston's wealth of experience in the green remodeling sector, is this:

  • Green remodeling doesn't necessarily mean more expensive materials. Most green building materials are cost-competitive with traditional ones, and many cost less than less green alternatives.

  • Green building practices can result in quicker build times, which translates to less costs for labor.

  • Green building focuses on creating low-maintenance, long lasting structures, so you'll pay less for repairs over the life of your addition.

  • Green remodeling is guaranteed to reduce energy costs, now and in the long term, helping to offset any higher initial costs you might face.

  • The true value of green remodeling isn't always best measured in dollars and cents.

This last point is maybe the most important one. It's what Johnston refers to as "avoiding the payback trap." Green remodeling places an emphasis on creating healthier indoor living areas, utilizes long lasting, low maintenance building materials, and going green is committed at every turn to environmental responsibility. While it's hard to assign specific dollar amount to such things, few homeowners can deny the high value of healthier families, time saved by eliminating regular maintenance chores and repairs, and the peace of mind that comes in knowing that you've done everything you can to pass a better world onto your children and grandchildren. It's easy to see that the true value of green remodeling extends far beyond the bottom line.

Going Green: David Johnston's Green Remodeling Tips for Major Renovations
Building a green home addition really boils down to making the right decisions in the planning and design phases of your project. That's what this guide is all about. Here is a collection of the green wisdom of Johnston, in the form of tips and suggestions on green remodeling practices, products, and design features to help guide you in designing the greenest home addition possible.

Green Strategies for Increasing Energy Efficiency and Reducing Energy Costs
Going green means maximizing energy efficiency, and with the price of fossil fuels skyrocketing, that translates into big savings in the energy department. A green home addition incorporates energy saving strategies into every phase of the building process, from maximizing insulation to installing energy-efficient building materials to making the most of things like natural lighting, passive solar heating, and natural ventilation. Even better, green building utilizes energy saving design features that will be as beneficial to your new addition 20 years down the road as they are the day your project is finished. Here are some things to focus on if you plan to make energy efficiency a priority in your upcoming home addition project.

  • Install low-e, multiple paned windows with wood or vinyl frames. Energy-efficient windows are one of the best ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy costs throughout your home.

  • Install windows with sunlight and natural air movement in mind. The proper placement of windows increases natural lighting, allows for natural cooling and ventilation during spring, summer, and fall, facilitates passive solar heating in the winter, and reduces the heating effects of sunlight during summer months.

  • Install a whole house fan. Running a whole house fan costs a fraction of the cost of air conditioning. These units are a good supplement to air conditioning in hotter climates, and can eliminate the need for air conditioning all together in milder ones.

  • Install skylights, solar tubes, light shelves, and clerestory windows. All increase natural lighting in your home, so you'll have to use costly artificial lighting less.

  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs. They use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last 10 times as long.

  • Install window awnings and plant deciduous trees outside East and West facing windows. Doing so provides natural shade for your home and prevents solar heat gain during summer months.

  • Use structural insulated panels (SIPs) with an insulating foam core for exterior walls, ceilings, and floors. Building with SIPs drastically increases the energy efficiency of your home, reduces noise pollution, speeds up installation times (which means cheaper labor costs), and saves wood by using less raw materials.

  • Install above-adequate insulation throughout your addition. Advanced framing techniques, combining exterior rigid foam insulation with traditional wall insulation, and ensuring proper attic insulation are all surefire ways to increase your home's energy efficiency. And while you're at it, it doesn't hurt to upgrade the insulation in the rest of your home, either.

  • Caulk, seal, and weatherstrip. Good insulation practices focus on sealing up every conceivable point of heat and cooling loss to further reduce energy consumption and increase energy savings.

  • Install low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads and faucets in bathrooms and kitchens. You can cut water use at these fixtures by 60 percent or more by installing water wise alternatives.

  • Upgrade your heating and cooling systems. Older furnaces and air conditioners are a prime culprit of high energy bills. If your HVAC systems are starting to get on in years, ENERGY STAR-rated, high-efficiency upgrades will save you bundles.

  • Purchase light colored roofing to reduce heat gain, and install a radiant barrier on the underside of the roof sheathing. Doing so minimizes heat gain in the summer.

Green Tips for a Healthier Home
Arsenic, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and vinyl chloride fumes might read like the beginning of a toxicology report, but it's actually a list of common chemical additives and byproducts associated with traditional building materials. Green building seeks to reduce the presence of these toxic chemicals and byproducts as much as possible, making your new addition safer and healthier for everyone that lives under your roof. Here are some proven green remodeling strategies that will ensure the indoor environment of your new home addition is as healthy as they come.

  • Use formaldehyde-free insulation, such as recycled fiberglass, rock wool, and cellulose insulation. Not only are these products environmentally friendly, but they don't contain formaldehyde, a common additive to fiberglass batt insulation, and a known carcinogen.

  • Use low- or no-VOC paints, sealants, and wood treatments. Many traditional finishing products (paints, stains, and sealants) that are used on walls, flooring, and other applications, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for long periods after being applied. Low- or no-VOC products keep these common indoor air contaminants to a minimum or eliminate them altogether.

  • Avoid MDF (medium density fiberboard) and particle board whenever possible. Both are common materials used in countertop and cabinet construction, and both off-gas urea formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. If you do use these products, be sure to seal exposed areas with several coats of a low- or no-VOC paint or sealant.

  • Install FSC-certified wood, bamboo, cork, natural linoleum, concrete, or stone and ceramic tile flooring. Avoid vinyl flooring, which emits vinyl chloride fumes (a known carcinogen), and think twice about carpet, which releases a host of toxins that off-gas from bonding materials, dyes, glues, fire retardants, binders, and anti-static and stain treatments.

  • Make the most of windows and passive solar heating. Forced air heating stirs up dust and other particulates that can be a problem for allergy and asthma sufferers. The more heat that's collected naturally through sunlight, the less your furnace will have to run. Having a wealth of natural ventilation to fall back on doesn't hurt, either.

  • Install filters on all faucets and showers, or install a whole-house water filtration system. Investigate your local water quality first, however, since different types of filters meet different needs.

  • Ventilate your home properly. Poor ventilation can lead to moisture and mold problems, especially in high moisture areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Mold tops the list of harmful indoor air contaminants, and has been linked to everything from allergies and asthma, to more serious ailments of the immune and nervous systems.

Comfort, Quality, Durability and Green Remodeling
You may be surprised to hear it, but Johnston claims to be in the "comfort business," not the building business. That said, green design doesn't just save you money, it increases the comfort level of your home, embraces higher quality building practices and materials, and places a premium on creating a longer lasting, lower maintenance home addition. If these qualities sound like something you might be interested in, then read up on these green building ideas that result in more comfortable, higher quality home additions.

  • Install adequate insulation. Maximizing insulation, be it through traditional means or the use of structural insulated panels (SIPs), means a warmer, more comfortable home. It also results in a quieter home, since insulation helps to reduce noise pollution from within and without.

  • Make the most of natural lighting. Natural lighting creates a comfortable, pleasing, and inviting home environment. The more you can bring into your home, the better.

  • Install quality green flooring materials. FSC-certified wood, bamboo, cork, and stone and ceramic tile flooring are recognized as some of the most attractive, trendsetting flooring materials on the market.

  • Energy efficiency = more comfortable home environments. Green renovations are warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and you'll enjoy more consistent indoor temperatures year round.

  • Side with brick, stone, stucco, or fiber-cement siding. All are low-maintenance, impact resistant, long lasting, fireproof, and moisture and insect resistant. And they look great, too.

  • Decks and patios are an excellent, and inexpensive, way to create extra living space for your addition and your home. If you do include a deck or patio into your overall design, be sure to use green building materials like composite recycled wood and plastic decking, or FSC-certified lumber. Also, utilize deciduous trees and shrubbery to provide natural shade, and build a south facing deck or patio to accommodate multi-seasonal use.

Environmental Responsibility
The verdict is out. Our current way of doing things is detrimental to the environment, and traditional construction practices are no exception. Green building reduces our impact on the environment through energy conservation, creating less waste, and utilizing materials and building practices that don�t tax dwindling natural resources. Our children and grandchildren will have to deal with the world we leave them. Here's a list of things to consider that will help ensure environmental responsibility is a cornerstone of your home addition project.

  • Use recycled building materials. Old lumber, trim, and door and window casings can all be reused if removed carefully, and if you're willing to be flexible when it comes to design, perfectly good sinks, cabinet hardware, and ceramic and stone tile, for example, can all be purchased from retailers who specialize in reclaiming and recycling old building materials.

  • Use materials manufactured with recycled content. Whether you install cellulose insulation made from recycled paper and cardboard, recycled content ceramic tiles, recycled content asphalt roofing, or use concrete that contains recycled material as an additive, choosing building materials that incorporate recycled content helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, and reduces overall energy consumption since these products require less energy to manufacture.

  • Use Forest Service Council (FSC) certified wood. From flooring to framing materials, using only FSC-certified wood ensures that the lumber used in your home addition has been harvested in a responsible, and sustainable, manner.

  • Use indigenous stone from local quarries. Doing so reduces the amount of labor, time, and fossil fuels required to deliver the stone to your job site. You'll save on material and labor costs as a result, and it's better for the environment by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

  • Recycle construction and job site waste. A large percentage of the construction waste currently sent to landfills could be reused in future green remodeling projects.

  • Increasing energy efficiency isn't just good for your pocketbook. In Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, Johnston points out that 35 percent of the energy consumption in the U.S. can be attributed to heating, cooling, and lighting buildings. In other words, reducing the energy consumption of your new home addition is one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do.

Are You Ready to Go Green?
Going green with your home addition is a smart move from just about every angle. It will reduce energy costs, create healthier indoor environments, and the final product is a more comfortable, higher quality home. And, of course, it's also a good choice when it comes to being a good steward of your environment.

If you think green is the right choice for you, be sure to talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you plan and design the best, and greenest, home addition possible.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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