If you’re new to green building, you might not be convinced you can make the transition without encountering some significant costs or road blocks along the way.
However, contrary to popular belief, green building doesn’t require an immediate shift in business or significant cost increases. It’s possible to take small steps towards building greener, more energy-efficient homes. In fact, you might be surprised by how easy it can be: Techniques such as insulation upgrades; air sealing; vapor barrier installation; and fluorescent light fixtures might be all it takes to reap significant benefits of green building.
To get you moving in the right direction, we offer 5 easy ways to build greener. While there’s a lot more to green building than the points outlined below, implementing these practices will improve the energy efficiency, indoor air quality (IAQ), and durability of your homes.
1. Insulation: A simple, cost effective green building material
The Green Benefits: Insulation prevents heat from transferring in and out of a home, helping to maintain a consistent and comfortable temperature. As a result, the heating and cooling equipment doesn’t have to run as frequently to compensate for dips in temperature.
Installation: As a general rule, more is better. Increasing the insulation thickness increases the R-value, a measure of the thermal resistance of insulation. Pay attention to the materials you’re using, and make sure you install them correctly to achieve the optimum R-value. If you're installing batts, they should be fitted tightly to cavities. If installing blown-in insulation, make sure it completely fills cavities and surrounds wires and electrical boxes entirely for maximum energy efficiency.
2. Air sealing: A strong step to energy efficiency
The Green Benefits: Air sealing is another critical component of green building, helping you to attain an energy-efficient home. Air sealing ensures the effectiveness of insulation. It’s also a key to ensuring healthy indoor air. Without air sealing, cold air, moisture, and pollutants can leak into a home through cracks and penetrations.
Installation: Seal all gaps with low-expanding foam, foam strips, weatherstripping, weatherproof tape, and caulks. Make sure that no leaks remain at each step of the construction process. Conduct a blower door test to determine leakage paths.
3. OVE framing techniques: Green building at the frame
The Green Benefits: Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) framing techniques reduce the amount of wood needed to build a home. Framing members are placed only where they’re absolutely needed, reducing the amount of wood waste. OVE framed walls also provide more room for insulation.
Installation: OVE typically involves framing 24” on center (o.c.) as opposed to 16” o.c., and using 2x6 studs as opposed to 2x4 studs. If you’re not ready to adopt these changes, start integrating open corners and ladder panels into homes. Orienting the studs at a corner horizontally can allow you to install more insulation there. When framing a partition wall, rotate the stud to create a ladder panel, which helps accommodate more insulation.
4. Vapor barrier under the slab: Durability and IAQ benefits abound
The Green Benefits: A vapor barrier under the slab mitigates moisture related problems, such as mold growth under carpets, grout staining, and wood flooring de-lamination. These problems impair the home’s durability and indoor air quality.
Installation: Use a 10-mil polyethylene vapor barrier to fully cover the foundation footprint. For basements, extend the vapor barrier 2” to 4” up the foundation wall, and fix it to the wall with construction tape or adhesive. Overlap the seams 12”, and seal them with construction tape. For slab-on-grade foundations, lay down the vapor barrier on top of the gravel, and extend it into the footer, continuing the vapor barrier 12” up the formwork. For more information about placing a vapor barrier in a slab-on-grade foundation, download this free step-by-step document.
5. High-efficiency light fixtures: An easy way to cut energy usage
The Green Benefits: Fluorescent lighting is the most practical energy-efficient lighting option available to residential builders. Fluorescent lights reduce the home’s overall energy usage; in turn, the environment benefits from fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Installation: Install Energy Star high efficiency light fixtures and hardwired fixtures that are designed for use with fluorescent lamps in locations where lights remain on for extended periods of time: kitchens, living areas, and outdoors. Incorporate efficient task lighting into kitchens and bathrooms. For more lighting strategies that minimize energy use, read the IBACOS High Performance Lighting Guide.