Find Additional Information About Green Design
Green design is a science, not an art. Some principles apply across the board, but many measures will depend on your home's age, construction techniques used, building codes, local climate (temperature and humidity) and the land on which your home sits. If you're going to get serious about green, you'll want to do a lot of research and eventually some testing. To help you along, we've provided this list of recommended resources.
American Lung Association Health House (www.healthhouse.org)
Since 1993, this program has educated homeowners about indoor air quality and its impact on health, particularly asthma and allergies. The website provides an indoor air quality checklist, tip sheets on issues ranging from lead to radon, home maintenance guides and other information about creating a healthy home.
Earth Advantage (www.earthadvantage.com)
Begun as a utility-based energy-saving program, Earth Advantage now also addresses sustainability and home performance for Oregon and Washington states. The site includes an interactive quiz to see how green your home is, information on mortgages that reward green homeowners, and a design resource center that provides green recommendations, how-to info and products for each room of your new or existing home.
EarthCraft House (www.earthcrafthouse.org)
Looking to build or remodel a home in the Southeast? Born in Atlanta for new single-family homes, the EarthCraft House green building program has spread to multifamily existing homes, and throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. EarthCraft offers education, training and guidelines for builders, but homeowners can benefit from the knowledge, as well as a list of EarthCraft House builders, remodelers and communities.
Energy Efficient Rehab Advisor (www.rehabadvisor.com)
Based on the information you plug into it — age of home, location and type of project — this interactive tool recommends specific energy-efficient, healthy, durable and sustainable improvements, such as adding insulation or using low-flow faucets. Information on costs and savings is included. The tool is based on information from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Recommendations are based on averages and computer models, but it's a good starting point.
Energy Star (www.energystar.gov)
To earn Energy Star qualification, homes and products must meet strict criteria for energy efficiency set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. The website offers lists of Energy Star-qualified products such as dishwashers, refrigerators, clothes washers, lighting fixtures and ceiling fans; information on tax credits, special offers or rebates; home improvement tips; and a database of builders, developers and home energy raters who can help you build an Energy Star home.
Save Energy With the Right Appliances
In most U.S. homes, appliances add up to 15 to 20 percent of overall energy usage and costs. If it's been a decade since you bought appliances, even regular models will be more efficient than your old ones. According to Energy Star officials, current model refrigerators can be as much as 167 percent more efficient than 10- to 20-year-old models.
In the United States, major home appliances must meet appliance standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Except for ranges and ovens, these products must carry yellow and black EnergyGuide labels that note the specific model's estimated annual energy usage and estimated annual dollar operating cost. The label also includes low and high estimated energy usage figures for similar appliances
Designed to promote efficient energy usage in homes and businesses, the Energy Star program is a joint effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the DOE. Appliances that earn the Energy Star label-signified by a blue-and-white logo featuring a star-exceed the efficiency of the federal appliance standards by 10 to 40 percent. The Energy Star Web site, www.energystar.gov, offers more information about home energy efficiency, including special offers or rebates and a list of Energy Star qualified appliances.
General Tips for Appliances
Get a model whose capacity is appropriate for your family's needs; the larger the appliance, the more energy it requires to run
Under-using or over-loading your appliances also wastes energy
Be sure to service appliances frequently to check for energy-wasting leaks
Unplug unused appliances
Photo courtesy of the U.S. EPA's Energy Star program
Your refrigerator probably uses the most energy of any kitchen appliance. Still, today's fridges are much more efficient than those of old, thanks to more insulation, better seals, high-efficiency compressors and better temperature control.
Factors that influence how much energy a given refrigerator uses include size, configuration (top freezer, bottom freezer, side-by-side) and features. The amount of electricity refrigerators use in a year is expressed as kilowatt-hours (kWh). The smaller the number, the less electricity used.
An 18.2-cubic-foot refrigerator with top-mount freezer and automatic defrost cannot use more than 486 kWh annually. A 21.7-cubic-foot, side-by-side model with automatic defrost and through-the-door features (water or ice dispenser) can't use more than 671 kWh.
Energy Star-qualified refrigerators must be at least 15 percent more efficient than these federal standards.
Refrigerator Shopping Tips
Top-freezer models are more energy efficient than side-by-side models
Optional features such as icemakers, water dispensers and anti-sweat heaters use more energy
Automatic moisture control uses less energy than an anti-sweat heater
Automatic defrost freezers use more energy than manual defrost
Higher-efficiency refrigerators tend to be quieter
Automatic ice makers and through-the-door water and ice dispensers increase energy use
Chest freezers tend to be more efficient than upright freezers
Refrigerator Usage Tips
You also can save energy by:
Placing the refrigerator or freezer away from potential heat sources such as dishwashers and ovens
Allowing enough room for proper ventilation of the motor
Regularly defrosting manual-defrost refrigerators and freezers; frost shouldn't build up more than ¼ inch
Cleaning the condenser coils once or twice a year
Keeping your refrigerator temperature between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer at about 5 degrees Fahrenheit
Making sure door seals are airtight
Photo courtesy of the U.S. EPA's Energy Star program
The energy efficiency of dishwashers is measured by the average number of cycles they go through per kilowatt hour per year. This is called the Energy Factor, or EF, and the higher it is, the more efficient the dishwasher. Currently, a standard dishwasher (one that holds at least eight place settings and six serving pieces), must have an EF of 0.46, while compact dishwashers must have a 0.62 EF.
To qualify for the Energy Star Label, EF requirements are now 0.65 for standard dishwashers and 0.88 for compact models-41 percent more efficient than federal guidelines.
Dishwasher Shopping Tips
Choose the right size for your home. Although a 24-inch standard model works for most homes, an 18-inch compact model might help singles avoid running half loads, and a 30-inch model could cut down on the number of loads required by large families or frequent entertainers.
Look for a dishwasher with cycle options such as light, short or energy saver.
Dishwasher Usage Tips
You also can save energy by:
Washing full loads
Air drying dishes instead of using the heated dry option
Ranges and Ovens
Cooking appliances use less energy than refrigerators and freezers, which run 24-7, or dishwashers, which have to heat a lot of water. Moreover, the federal government does not have efficiency standards for ranges, ovens, cooktops or microwaves-and neither does the Energy Star program.
Range and Oven Shopping Tips
Opt for a glass-fronted oven, allowing you to check on food's progress without opening the door and wasting heat energy.
Self-cleaning ovens have more insulation and therefore are more energy efficient.
Gas ranges and ovens are slightly more efficient than electric models.
If purchasing a gas oven or range, choose one with an electric or pilotless ignition system rather than a pilot light that burns constantly.
If purchasing an electric range or cooktop, look for burners that use halogen elements under glass rather than traditional coil elements or solid disk elements.
Induction cooktops use less energy than both traditional electric cooktops and gas cooktops.
Consider an Energy Star-qualified range hood.
Range and Oven Usage Tips
You also can save energy by:
Using the self-cleaning feature infrequently and only directly after using the oven
Keeping the igniter on gas stoves clean
Using pressure cookers, microwave ovens or toaster ovens instead of standard-size ovens and cooktops when possible
Covering pots and pans to boil water faster
Matching the size of pots and pans to the burner
Clothes Washers & Dryers
The Modified Energy Factor (MEF) measures washer energy-efficiency-the higher the MEF, the more efficient the washing machine is. All standard-size top-loading and front-loading washers must have an MEF of at least 1.26.
Washers must have an MEF of at least 1.72 (50 percent less than federal requirements) to meet Energy Star guidelines. Energy Star does not label clothes dryers.
Washer and Dryer Usage Tips
You also can save energy by:
Washing full loads
Adjusting the water level setting for small loads
Using cold water (or warm instead of hot) and cold-water detergent whenever possible
Using a high-speed or extended spin cycle to minimize dryer time
Skylights, Patio Doors, Entry Doors and More
Besides offering a view while washing dishes, windows provide natural light and reduce the need for electricity. The same applies to skylights, patio doors, and entry doors with glass panels.
Maximizing the use of natural light to save energy and to make your home more comfortable is also called daylighting. Daylighting takes into account window placement and coverings as well as the windows themselves.
On the other hand, windows can be a major source of heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, forcing you to overwork your furnace and your air conditioner. Old or poorly installed windows cause drafts or allow condensation to develop.
If you're not replacing windows as part of your remodel, you should buy energy-efficient storm windows for winter and also add weatherstripping and caulk around windows to air seal them. In the summer months, outdoor vegetation and awnings can protect your home from heat gain. So can shades, blinds and window films.
Window Stickers to Watch
To find energy-efficient windows and skylights, look for products with stickers from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). The NFRC measures the following key properties: U-factor, solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), air leakage (AL) and visible light transmittance (VT).
U-factor indicates the rate of heat loss of the entire window. (It's the opposite of R-value, which indicates the insulating value of the window). The lower the U-factor, the more energy efficient it is. Along with SHGC, this is the most important number to watch.
SHGC measures how much of the solar radiation that hits the window will enter the home. It is expressed as a number between 0 (0 percent) and 1 (100 percent). The lower the SHGC, the more radiation blocked by the window.
AL measures the cubic feet of air infiltrating a square foot of the window area. The lower the number, the less air can get in your house. Casement, awning and fixed windows tend to be tighter than sliding, single-hung and double-hung windows.
VT indicates how much visible light passes through the window. It is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The higher it is, the more light is transmitted-this is good for daylighting.
Windows, doors and skylights can qualify for the Energy Star program based on U-factor and SHGC. The requirements vary by climate. In the northern part of the country (Alaska, plus Washington to Maine, from the Canadian border to the bottom of Nebraska), windows must have a U-factor less than or equal to 0.35 and skylights must have a U-factor less than or equal to 0.65. They can have any SHGC. In the southern zone (Hawaii, Florida, and the southern tips of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia), windows have must have a U-factor of 0.65 or less and an SHGC of 0.4 or less. The SHGC is the same for skylights, but the U-factor can go up to 0.75.
Factors that affect a window's energy efficiency include the glazing (the panes themselves), coatings, gas fills, spacers and the material used for the frame.
Glazing: When it comes to windows, glazing doesn't refer to a shiny coating. Rather, the glazing is the glass or plastic panes themselves. A double-glazed window is the same thing as a double-pane window. Windows can be single-, double-, triple- or quadruple-glazed: the more panes or glazing layers, the more energy efficient they will be. (Usually two does the trick.) Tinted glass also helps to reduce solar heat gain.
Low-E Coatings: Glazing can be coated. Low-E (low-emittance) coatings or films are thin layers of metal or metallic oxide applied to the window pane. The coatings are nearly invisible, lower the U-factor and help to reduce heat loss. Low-E coatings differ by SHGC, and can go on multiple panes. The right combination depends on your climate.
Gass Fills: Windows with multiple panes can have more than just air between the glass. Argon and krypton gas fills provide better insulation, lower the U-factor and are not toxic.
Spacers: Spacers keep the layers of glass the right distance apart from each other. In the past, they were made from aluminum, whose conductivity can lead to heat loss and condensation. Now, manufacturers offer "warm edge" spacers made from less conductive materials such as stainless steel, silicone foam, fiberglass or vinyl.
Materials: Fiberglass and insulated vinyl are the most efficient choices, but standard vinyl, wood, vinyl-clad wood and wood composite frames all are close behind. Aluminum frames, especially those without a thermal break, are the least efficient option, and better suited to warmer climates.
For an interactive energy-efficient window selection tool, visit the Efficient Windows Collaborative at www.efficientwindows.org.
Be Selective When Choosing Eco-Friendly Cabinetry
Regardless of the material used on the doors and drawer fronts, the actual casework — the box and drawers — of many kitchen cabinets are constructed from particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These materials contain urea formaldehyde glue, which can offgas toxins into the home.
Instead, look for cabinets made from FSC-certified plywood, wheatboard, bamboo or formaldehyde-free MDF. This could require going the custom route instead of using semi-custom or stock cabinets.
"We've been able to talk our cabinet shops into using urea-formaldehyde-free components," say designers Jason Roth and Jennifer Conrad, who co-own Five-Star Designs in Sun Valley, Idaho. "We use mainly 3/4" material made out of Medite II. The cabinet is constructed exactly the same otherwise and there aren't any other time-consuming decisions that have to be made. Because it has to be special-ordered, there is an up charge for the material, but with more exposure the price will probably ultimately be lower."
Whether you're re-finishing cabinets or buying new ones, look for water-based sealants, low-VOC finishes; low- or no-VOC, formaldehyde-free paints; and solvent-free adhesives. If your cabinets are factory-finished, there's even less worry about offgassing in your home.
Outside the Box
Here's a few of the most popular green materials for cabinet exteriors:
Wood and wood veneers are naturally found materials. Look for cabinets made from wood with FSC or other industry certification attesting that it comes from a well-managed, sustainable forest.
Non-FSC certification standards are not as stringent; some exotic wood species — African teak, Brazilian rosewood and Caribbean mahogany, for example — are endangered.
Bamboo, a grass that looks like wood, is an elegant alternative to wood cabinets. Bamboo grows rapidly, becoming large enough to harvest in three to six years, making it a more sustainable product than most hardwoods.
No third-party organization monitors environmental regulations and worker safety.
The resins used to laminate it often contain urea formaldehyde; make a special request if getting custom cabinets.
Stainless steel contains a significant amount of recycled steel and doesn't offgas. It is durable but can be scratched.
Mining and refining steel uses a great deal of energy and pollutes the environment.
Sustainable Flooring Options
Photo Courtesy of Teragren
In the kitchen (and the bathroom for that matter), you want a sturdy floor that can hold up to significant wear and tear, including foot traffic and food spills. Although vinyl is affordable, easy to clean, durable and quite popular, it is not biodegradable, and its manufacture creates toxins. It also can offgas harmful chemicals. Environmentally conscious flooring choices include:
Linoleum is not the same thing as vinyl, though both are installed as sheets. Vinyl is made from synthetic materials while linoleum is made from natural materials: felt, burlap or canvas coated with linseed oil, cork or wood dust and resins.
Bamboo, a grass that looks like wood flooring and grows rapidly, becomes large enough to harvest in three to six years. Its rapid growth inherently makes it a much sustainable product than most hardwood species. It can be installed the same way as hardwood flooring and is similarly dent resistant.
Cons: No third-party organization monitors environmental regulations and worker safety. The resins used to laminate it often contain urea formaldehyde that can offgas in heat or humidity.
Photo Courtesy of Ann Sacks
Understanding Eco-Friendly Countertop Options
Recycled glass countertops from Vetrazzo.
Countertops need to be installed on top of a substrate. Start your green efforts by making sure that substrate is made from FSC-certified plywood, wheatboard, or formaldehyde-free MDF rather than particleboard or MDF containing formaldehyde. Environmentally conscious choices for the counters themselves include:
Paper or glass composite countertops may include recycled paper, wood pulp, recycled glass or crushed stone. Examples include PaperStone, Richlite, Vetrazzo and IceStone. Strong and durable, these materials do include resin or epoxy, but they do not offgas.
Concrete has gained popularity thanks to decorative techniques such as staining, coloring, stamping, scoring and sealing that make it customizable and attractive. Highly durable, concrete must be sealed periodically to protect against staining. Cons: The aggregate mixed with the cement and water should be recycled for concrete to count as green.
Courtesy of Teragren
Bamboo, a grass that looks like wood and grows rapidly, becomes large enough to harvest in three to six years. Its rapid growth inherently makes it a much sustainable product than most hardwood species. Cons: No third-party organization monitors environmental regulations and worker safety. The resins used to laminate it often contain urea formaldehyde. Avoid near sinks and wet areas.
Stone, especially granite, is a popular, beautiful and durable countertop option. Stone is also a natural material. Most stone counters requiring sealing to protect against staining; be sure to use a low-VOC sealant. Cons: It is not a renewable resource.
Wood is a naturally found material, but beware of harmful logging practices that destroy old growth forests and damage ecosystems. Look for wood with FSC certification, and use low-VOC sealants and water-based finishes. Cons: Other third-party certification standards are not as stringent as FSC. Some species — African teak, Brazilian rosewood and Caribbean mahogany, for example — are endangered. Avoid wood counters near sinks and wet areas.
Stainless Steel often contains a significant amount of recycled steel and doesn't offgas. It is durable but can be scratched and show fingerprints. Cons: Mining and refining steel uses a large amount of energy and pollutes the environment.
Some tile, such as ceramic and glass, can be made with recycled content such as old light bulbs, bottles and porcelain fixtures. Ceramic tile is durable and biodegradable. Use low-VOC adhesives.