Friday, August 31, 2007

Green is our goal!

So our goal with this house is to build as green a structure as possible. That means everything from using environmentally friendly materials to employing construction strategies that reduce energy loss (and therefore energy consumption) in the home. Why is building green our priority?

"In the United States, there are 100 million homes and 5 million commercial buildings that collectively use about 40% of the nation’s total energy (source: Pew Center on Global Climate Change). To a building owner, energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense. (source: Building Owners and Managers Association)."

Some of the things we're currently exploring include...

SIPS (structural insulated panels) fit really well with our plans to build a post and beam home. SIPs are incredibly energy efficient and provide much better insulation than your standard frame. SIP Panel buildings are "66% more energy efficient than standard frame construction, 2-1/2 times stronger than standard building materials and cut framing time by 2/3rds. Panels are made from a thick layer of foam (polystyrene or polyurethane) sandwiched between two layers of Oriented Strand Board (OSB), plywood or fiber-cement. The result is an engineered panel that provides structural framing, insulation, and exterior sheathing in a solid, one-piece component."

We're totally jazzed about this particular green building strategy. "Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) are rigid plastic foam forms that hold concrete in place during curing and remain in place afterwards to serve as thermal insulation for concrete walls. The foam sections are lightweight and result in energy-efficient, durable construction. ICF walls provide higher R-values (between R-17 and R-26) and lower air infiltration rates than typical wood frame construction (typically R-12 to R-20)." People have built entire ICF homes (walls and all). At this point, we're thinking of using ICFs for our foundation at a minimum and perhaps the entire house.

Radiant Heat Floors
"Radiant heating has a number of advantages: it is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts. The lack of moving air can also be advantageous to people with severe allergies. Hydronic (liquid-based) systems use little electricity, a benefit for homes off the power grid or in areas with high electricity prices. The hydronic systems can also be heated with a wide variety of energy sources, including standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, solar water heaters, or some combination of these heat sources."

We're also trying to minimize the use of wood that does not come from sustainable sources. It would also be great if the wood is harvested locally to reduce the carbon footprint of its transport. For our flooring, we're considering polished concrete for the first level (especially good for those with allergies and for dogs-no scratches!)and either wood or bamboo for upstairs (a renewable resource and recognized as a green material under LEED).

We also plan to buy Energy Star appliances and low-flow or dual flush toilets.

We're really hoping to receive the EPA's top Energy Star rating for our home.

Vermont has a phenomenal green building resource in Efficiency Vermont:
"Efficiency Vermont is the nation's first statewide provider of energy efficiency services. Efficiency Vermont provides technical assistance and financial incentives to Vermont households and businesses, to help them reduce their energy costs with energy-efficient equipment and lighting and with energy-efficient approaches to construction and renovation." Everyone in VT pays for the service via a small fee on our electric bills. Gotta' love this state.

We're also considering applying for LEED certification (more stringent and comprehensive building standards than the Energy Star program).

More building green resources:

Just getting started...

So we've decided to take the plunge--Ryan and I are planning to build a house next summer in Williston, Vermont. After looking at existing homes in the area for over a year, we realized we couldn't find anything that fit our needs and our budget and that the only way we could really achieve the home we wanted was to build. Ryan's parents were generous enough to allow us to 'slice' off a corner of their lot for our house. We made it past the first hurdle--receiving initial approval from the Williston Development Review Board. Unlike some towns in Vermont that have no zoning regulations at all, Williston (perhaps the result of rampant growth and development in recent years) has unleashed on us unsuspecting want-to-be-builders an arsenal of rules and requirements. I have to say, though, that I would rather live in a community that has a growth plan and that is concerned about development. So, in some way, we are happy to participate in this process. [Note added 2/6/08: We recently learned that Williston takes into account energy efficiency when granting phasing to developments. So hats off to them for factoring that important element into their rating criteria.] The town has reviewed our initial subdivision plans favorably and we're cleared until the next hurdle, the phasing meeting in early 2009 (probably February). The hope is that we are approved for phasing at that meeting, meaning we could break ground July 1, 2008.

Things we must do between now and our next meeting:
  • Work with an engineer to design our septic/waste water system
  • Ensure that our building envelope does not encroach upon the wetlands bordering our land
  • Designate space on our land for a 'primitive path' connecting the land behind the Hayes' to Butternut Road so that hikers, etc. can move across our land easily

They've also instructed us to paint our house in natural colors and to provide landscape screening ("to soften its views from Butternut Road"). However, we are not to plant any vegetation that "obscures or will eventuall observe" the views to the north. So some shrubs and trees...but not too many. Oy vey.

I suppose it's too early to be choosing shrubs anyway...we first need a house plan!