Today, going “green” means more than just recycling your empty bottles and cans and taking public transportation to work. The green movement has spread to almost every area of modern society, including the construction and home-building industries.
Modern architects, contractors, and builders are starting to rethink how residential homes are being built. More and more, the emphasis is on designing and erecting buildings that are more energy efficient, use natural or reclaimed materials in their construction, and are more in sync with the landscapes and environments in which they reside.
Green Building Council
To champion the cause, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit organization, was created to transform the building marketplace to a more sustainability-minded industry. Today, more than 11,000 organizations from every sector of the building industry are united through 75 regional chapters to increase awareness of the impact buildings have on our natural environment, economy, health, and productivity. According to USGBC, in the United States alone, buildings (both commercial and residential) account for:
- 65% of electricity consumption
- 36% of energy use
- 30% of greenhouse gas emissions
- 30% of raw materials use
- 30% of waste output (136 million tons annually)
- 12% of potable water consumption
Back to Basics
For centuries, people throughout the world have used readily available natural materials to build their homes, and many of these structures have stood through the ages. Green architecture and building is essentially taking builders back to the basics — building on the earth, from the earth, to save the earth.
The green architecture and construction process is centered largely around innovation and creativity. Rather than simply using the most familiar building techniques and materials, the philosophy is to make use of materials that are neither harmful to the environment nor its inhabitants.
With that in mind, numerous recycled products can be used in the construction of sustainable structures. Ceramic floor tiles for kitchen or bathroom floors, for example, can be made from recycled glass. Flooring made from cork oak bark is also ecofriendly, since cork harvesting does not harm the trees it is taken from. Bamboo flooring is another good alternative to wood, as it is less expensive and actually harder than hardwood floors, making it more durable.
Installing large windows where the sun is most prominent can be used to better heat homes, helping to save energy and cut down on heating bills. Better insulation and double-glazed windows also help to reduce energy costs. Some new homes are being built with heating controls in every room, allowing the occupants to avoid heating empty rooms unnecessarily.
CBE and Cob Construction
There are a variety of ecofriendly materials being used in the construction of building exteriors, including recycled bricks taken from old buildings, recycled or reclaimed wood, and even old tires, which can be used as material for a building’s foundation.
Another sustainable, earth-friendly, and high-performance material involves going to Mother Earth directly and using compressed earth blocks (CBEs), which are made from clay and sand mixed with a stabilizing ingredient such as lime. Compressed by a hydraulic press machine into actual bricks, CBEs are energy efficient and contain no potentially toxic chemicals.
Cob houses, made from claylike lumps of soil, sand, and straw, are also surprisingly durable and can withstand the elements in warm or cold climates. Walls are sculpted to smooth forms, using either blocks or bricks. The Web site House Alive! has a lot of good information on cob home construction, including many photos of these charming structures.
Online Resources to Help You Get Started
Some Web sites with good information on green building techniques for residential homes include GreenBuilding.com and GreenHomeBuilding.com. In addition, an extensive list of green building links can be found on the USGBC Web site.