Green Home Building & Remodeling Technologies

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What-is-green-technology, by industry expert Marla Esser, CGP, LEED, AP, discusses the basics, then migrates to the WOW FACTOR in green home building and remodeling technologies. Marla discusses energy, the building envelope, specific products and lighting considerations to make your new home, or remodeling project greener, saving you money in the long run.

Green Technologies – From Basics to Wow Factor

By Marla Esser, CGP, LEED AP

Green is the new black in home technologies. They’ve touched all parts of building or remodeling a home, and choices abound. It’s not just the obvious technologies, such as home automation systems, solar panels or energy-efficient lighting, but also the less obvious: advanced paint formulations with little to no VOCs, or many insulation choices.

Figuring them all out is becoming a job on its own. There are many third-party certifications to help, such as Energy Star® for energy-efficiency products ranging from appliances and heating/cooling systems to windows, insulation and roofs, and WaterSense for water-efficient products.

The NAHB Research Center also offers the Green Approved Products program for products that contribute to meeting one or more practices of the National Green Building Standard®.

These programs and others like them help the home building industry and homeowners sort through thousands of products to determine how a product or material qualifies as green. It also helps to look at the different categories of products and see if these categories have one or more third-party certifications that help qualify products.

What we typically think of as green technologies — the advanced controls and automation — are available to help reduce the operating costs of a home. And they are way cool. Who can resist the lure of a snazzy new technology to help perform a mundane task such as managing energy usage or controlling lighting?

These green technologies take the burden off the homeowner for tasks that are often forgotten, such as programming the thermostat or turning off lights. The growing use of smartphones and electronic communications opens doors to new ways of controlling and managing our homes.

These three women in different aspects of the industry shed more light on the green technologies arena – but all agree that the building envelope comes first –and then selecting green technologies such as radiant heat, smart thermostats, solar PV and thermal, lighting control, daylight harvesting, and energy dashboards and management.

A green verifier and rater’s perspective--

Talking to Pam Worner, top dog at Green Dog Enterprises, a Seattle-area green verification and rating company, is like talking with a green building encyclopedia: She is full of great information and experience.

Worner was the first female HERS rater in Washington and founded Green Dog in 2006; her background in marketing and sales, combined with top-level building science credentials, gives her a unique perspective.

Proper insulation and air sealing of the building shell comes first – and the capability to construct a well-insulated, sealed envelope involves practices and materials that depend on green technologies.

Advanced framing is also key, Worner said. By framing with wider cavities (24 inches on center instead of the traditional 16 inches on center), less lumber is required for framing, which saves money. Less lumber means fewer places for thermal bridging and better thermal performance.

In addition, Worner now uses smaller sheets for sheathing and places them horizontally rather than vertically, saving even more money and helping address what can be a water and moisture concern with traditional vertical sheathing.

Moving the heating and cooling ductwork inside the conditioned part of the home also improves both energy-efficiency and indoor air quality.

Worner is seeing ductless heat pumps (also known as mini-splits) in many projects, especially as a replacement for electric resistance heat. Heat recovery ventilators are also becoming more common.

She’s also seeing increased interest in keeping pollutants out of a home, especially formaldehyde. Look for a program such as GREENGUARD Environmental Institute Formaldehyde Free Verification. Removing the pollutant at the source makes a lot more sense than trying to mechanically remove the pollutant, Worner pointed out.

A green home builder and remodeler’s insights--

Sarah Oudman, president of Treasure Homes, built “The Gem,” the first home in Indiana to meet Emerald certification under the National Green Building Standard. Not only does she understand the essence of building green, Oudman knows how to sell it by showing potential buyers The Gem was sustainable, practical, affordable and accessible. She now is translating this knowledge to her current projects, including a recently completed green remodel.

“It all starts with the envelope – even with a remodel,” Oudman said. Good windows, state-of-the-art foam insulation, basement insulation and sealant all form the basis of a well-insulated and sealed envelope for this green remodel.

The project included installation of a mini-split, or ductless, air conditioner unit that heats the home too. These systems have long been in use in many parts of the world; they just now are gaining more acceptance in the United States.

The project also illustrates two growing trends for lighting —LED fixtures and lamps were used for some of the lighting, and daylight harvesting was accomplished with solar tunnels. Combining LED lighting and daylight harvesting not only reduces energy costs, but brings abundant light into the home.

Observations from a green building program leader--

Michelle Desiderio leads the national green building certification program at the NAHB Research Center. She sees thousands of green residential projects come through for certification. She possesses a broad knowledge of the housing industry and has developed a unique perspective that addresses the environmental, land use and financing issues that confront builders and developers.

Like Oudman and Worner, Desiderio emphasizes that builders have to figure out the envelope, especially in light of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code and how it no longer allows trade-offs between the envelope and mechanical systems.

The “sexy” green technologies will attract homebuyers and help create the buzz that makes a green home stand out, Desiderio says, while the basics – like a good building envelope – will continue to advance under the radar.

But will people want to buy green homes if they look and feel just like their neighbors? Desiderio thinks not. “Honestly, when was the last time you brought your neighbor over to see your high-tech insulation? Bring in the home automation system, and the household is the talk of the neighborhood,” she said.

Green technologies offer a greater impact on remodeled or retrofitted homes since many elements of the envelope may be inaccessible or cost prohibitive. Radiant heating, ductless heating and cooling, and home automation may help reduce operating costs and maintenance for an older home, giving it new life. Older fixtures and appliances can be replaced with high-tech, resource-saving counterparts. Other green technologies, such as energy-efficient lighting and home automation, add further cost savings and a little buzz.

Like any other home improvement or building project, figuring out the priorities and the budget will help determine which green technologies make the most sense for your home or project.


What-Is-Green-Technology was adapted from the original story that appeared in the Spring Issue of Building Women Magazine, published by NAHB Professional Women in Building. Professional Women in Building member Marla Esser is the owner and founder of HomeNav, an application of Sustaining Spaces. You can reach her at 877-828-1827.

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