What is a green home?
The simple answer is a green home is one that has been built, remodeled, or retrofitted to meet higher standards than conventional construction, with the goal of achieving healthier, more resource-efficient, more cost-effective homes that enhance the lives and experiences the people who live in them.
Generally there is independent, third party verification to document that standards have been met or exceeded. This verification serves as the basis for certification of green homes and provides valuable information for consumers, helping in comparison shopping and decision-making.
There are several organizations that have developed standards for green building and development. Certification by any of these organizations is strong evidence that the home is built or remodeled to higher standards. Here are some of the most widely known and recognized green home standards.
Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certification is available for construction and remodeling of commercial buildings, schools and other institutional buildings, homes and neighborhoods.
Energy Star is another set of standards that are widely recognized. Energy Star-certified homes must meet specific standards for energy efficiency, water conservation, and for Indoor air quality and health.
The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) was developed by the National Association of Home Builders. It is the first residential green building standard to undergo the full consensus process and receive approval from the American National Standards Institute.
There are other organizations offering green building certification, many of which are regional or statewide, such as the Build Green New Mexico Standards, largely adapted from the U.S. Home Builders Association standards.
Generally speaking, consumers can feel confident that a “green certified” home does indeed meet higher standards and offers specific, documentable benefits to the homeowner and residents of the home.
Does that mean a home without certification can’t be a green home? Absolutely not! I have worked with many people who have sought to make their homes healthier and more comfortable, enjoyable, energy and resource efficient, and cost effective. Every action taken to enhance these attributes of a home, in my estimation, makes a home more “green.”
There are generally six areas, or attributes, of homes in which standards are established for “green homes,” and in which improvements can be made.
Location: We all know real estate is all about “location, location, location”. But it’s not just status people are looking for today in location – people are choosing neighborhoods based on how they want to live and where they want to spend most of their time. For some, that means being in natural settings with open spaces and views. Others are choosing locations convenient to their jobs, schools, and daily activities that are important to them. The U.S. Green Building Council has developed standards for neighborhood development based on the following questions:
Is your local grocery store within walking distance, and is there a sidewalk for you to trek there safely?
Does your neighborhood boast high-performing green buildings, parks and green space?
Do bikes, pedestrians and vehicles play nicely together on the road?
These questions are becoming increasingly important for people of all ages and in all areas of the country.
Design: We humans spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors. It makes sense that time should be spent in spaces that make us happy, allow us to breathe easily, give us views of nature, bring in plenty of daylight, and make us healthier and more productive. Trends are showing increasing preference for smaller but better designed homes – this means architectural and interior design are becoming increasingly important for better living.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy: Energy efficiency and cost effectiveness rank high with today’s buyers. Buyers are looking at the monthly cost of home ownership rather than the overall price or price per square foot of the home. Most understand utility costs are a significant and growing part of their monthly cost of home ownership, and that an energy-efficient green home with low utility bills can be less costly to own on a month to month basis than a conventional home. Today, renewable energy (usually in the form of solar power) is a top priority for many homeowners. It has proven easy, reliable and cost effective. And, it adds value to a home.
Water efficiency: This is an aspect of green homes that is gaining in popularity throughout the country, and most especially in our desert Southwest.
Indoor air quality: Poor indoor air in our homes can result in a variety of issues, including irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, allergies, respiratory problems, and other, often serious, health problems. Many people aren’t even aware the materials used in conventional homes often put out harmful gases. Poorly constructed homes often have moisture problems that can lead to mold and other problems. Poorly maintained heating and cooling systems can compromise indoor air quality.
Materials and resources: Reusing old materials such as brick, wood flooring, beams, windows, etc., is a really cool way to be “green.” There are more recycled and renewable materials available today, giving people maximum choices to express their taste and be green at the same time. One of the most sustainable choices people can make is to makeover an existing home. That’s reusing and recycling at its best.
A home doesn’t have to be certified, nor does it have to address all six of these areas to be green. Bringing a home to higher standards in even one of these areas can a difference. Whether “green certified,” or just “green improved,” what is important is that the improvements are in line with the goals and priorities of the people who live in the home.
Although Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center is considered a major landmark in the green building movement, it looks like that just wasn’t enough for the eco-loving team behind the project. Now, thanks to SmithGroup JJR architects and Hourigan Construction, the building, a net zero energy and net zero water masterpiece, is about to receive the world’s most prestigious accolade in sustainable building: a Living Building certification.
According to CBF Hampton Roads Director Christy Everett, the ambitious project was designed to be a model for future sustainability. “When we envisioned the Brock Environmental Center, we intended to raise the bar and demonstrate the built environment can actually give back to the natural environment rather than harm it,” she said. “We hope the Brock Center can be an international model for sustainability for years to come.”
The 10,500 square-foot center was built to provide all of its water and energy needs on site, while composting 100 percent of its building and human waste. To date, the building currently generates 80 percent more power than it uses thanks to its 168 rooftop solar panels and two wind turbines. Additionally energy advantageous is the strategic orientation of the structure, which uses ambient wind currents for natural cooling and circulation during the hot summer months. All of the center’s energy generation and use can be seen in real time at the building’s public energy dashboard.
To help with its zero waste objective, the building is equipped with composting toilets and even urine is collected and turned into green fertilizer that is then sold at local nurseries. The center is also the first commercial building in the U.S. to be granted a special permit that allows for the collection and reuse of rainwater for all of its water needs, including drinking water. The system uses large cisterns to collect rainwater, which is then treated to meet safety standards set by EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Act as well as local safety standards.
Set on a coastal marshland, the building not only needs to be storm resilient, but also prepared for the inevitable rise of sea levels. The Virginia Beach region is expected to sea at least a one meter rise by 2100. Accordingly, the Brock Center was built almost 14 feet above sea level so that it would be able to withstand future storm surges.
In order for a building to be awarded a Living Building certification, it must be able to perform up to International Living Future Institute’s standards for 12 months. The Brock Center’s 12 month test period ended in late March, at which point, the Future Living Institute audited the center to ensure it met all of the strict environmental criteria required to achieve certification.
Annette Osso, Co-founder and Managing Director of the Resilient Virginia nonprofit commended the hard work and determination the team work put into the project. She said, “The Brock Center illustrates what can be done by committed organizations, working with the public sector, to ensure that energy production, water management, and waste handling not only have less environmental impact but actually give back to the surrounding communities and their ecology”.
The Brock Center will be awarded the Living Building certification in May at the Living Building Conference in Seattle, Washington.