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Green and Sustainable Building and Remodeling Trends

High Utility Bills and Energy Prices Drive Tighter Envelopes and Energy Star Appliances

© 2012 by ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

An LG WT5001CW high efficiency large capacity washing machine; photo © Kelly Smith

An LG WT5001CW high efficiency large capacity washing machine; photo © Kelly Smith.

This article was updated on 10/03/20.

In the not so distant past, the green and sustainable lifestyle movement was notably a left wing political religion. But now it has become a real mainstream concept. As such, it has changed new construction as well as residential and commercial remodeling. Technology and building materials and processes have evolved and become much more practical because the return on investment (ROI) is there.

But now that’s changing in a big way. More and more architects and building contractors understand the value and see it as a tool to drive more business and revenue. When consumers demand something and vote with their wallets, there will be someone to fill the void. Plus, it had become a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

Yes, they are responding to consumer demand. Real estate buyers as well as owners are seeing the benefit of making the initial investment in green equity. tells us that there are some interesting trends emerging. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.

Homes with a Tighter Envelope

A tight envelope simply means that not only is the home well-insulated, but further, as many drafts as possible have been sealed. New homes are being built this way but older ones may be retrofitted.

With this in mind, one of the best things you can do to save money on utility bills every month going forward is invest in and install a radiant barrier to keep the cold out in the winter and the heat out in the summer. You can use foil, paint, or prepared roof sheathing. Your call.

What is the best way to approach a retrofit? Contract with an energy auditor contractor. They have specific tests they can perform, such as an air infiltration rate test. Also, a thermography check using an infrared scanner that you can use yourself to locate problem areas is helpful.

Lifecycle Analysis Provides Valuable Metrics

The sustainable and the energy-efficient building material industry is maturing. This now makes it increasingly possible to assimilate more accurate and informative metrics.

This data is informing the industry as to what really works in the long term and things don’t. The resulting information works to stimulate ongoing innovation. Folks, this is our free enterprise capitalist system at its very best.

Let’s take home insulation as an example. We have come a long way from just stuffing our outside walls with fiberglass. Believe it or not, there is the interesting development of spray foam insulation made out of soy beans. Yes, it sounds very odd, but it has proven to be very effective, being energy-efficient, relatively inexpensive (easy crop to grow), and it is inert so it doesn’t promote either mold or insects. Some insulation is actually made out of denim.

Water Conservation Using Rainwater Harvesting and Gray Water

Many municipalities suffer from serious water availability concerns. Two popular techniques that help this concern are installing a rainwater harvesting barrel as well using gray water.

Ideal uses are watering the lawn and irrigating. The harvesting of rainwater is simply collecting rain running down the slope of your roof and storing it in a rainwater harvesting barrel or a cistern.

One of the advantages of rainwater is that it is much better for your lawn and raised bed vegetable garden because the PH of rain is better for plants than tap water.

Gray water is defined as all used water from the home except, of course, for the raw sewage from the toilet. By reusing it instead of just routing it down the sewer will drastically lower potable water use and mitigates the strain somewhat on municipal water treatment plants.

Grid-Aware and Energy Star Appliances

Whenever replacing an existing appliance or purchasing one for a newly constructed house, you have two simple choices—buy a conventional (cheaper) model or one that is dressed up with the Energy Star label.

Energy Star is clearly the superior choice. Of course the price tag will sting a bit more, but on top of saving money on utility bills (appliances that will soon pay for themselves), in many cases you will be able to claim an energy tax credit when you file your federal income tax.

The LG WT5001CW high efficiency large capacity washing machine pictured at the top of this article is a good example. Not only does it use less electricity, but it senses the size of the load and adjusts the volume of water accordingly.

Just what exactly are grid-aware appliances? At this point it might seem a fuzzy concept. But the idea is that the appliance has the capability to monitor its own energy usage and can either self-adjust or simply report details. Although this concept has often been used with thermostat-equipped appliances, manufacturers are expanding the use of this exciting technology.

Awareness of ongoing green and sustainable building and remodeling trends will allow you to make informed decisions as you upgrade or remodel your home, your most important investment.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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