Energy Efficiency and Green Building

Today's homebuyers are increasingly interested in green building. Green building can improve the way homes use energy, water, and materials, to reduce negative impacts on human health and the overall environment - both during construction and over its lifetime.

Compared to a conventional home, a green home:

  • Uses less energy, water and natural resources
  • Is located and built with as little impact on the environment as possible,
  • Creates less waste, and
  • Is healthier for the occupants

What Makes a Home Green?

  • Energy Efficiency

    The most important element of green building is energy efficiency. Higher levels of energy efficiency reduce carbon emissions - both from power plants and the home's own energy systems. Look for a home that has been certified as meeting strict energy-efficiency guidelines, either through a local utility program or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR program. According to the EPA, a single ENERGY STAR qualified home can keep 4,500 lbs of greenhouse gases out of the air each year.

  • Location, Size and Building Design

    Green building starts with environmentally-sensitive land use. High-density and "in-fill" developments (using vacant properties like parking lots, shopping centers and factories) reduce the home's overall environmental footprint. Locations with access to public transportation or within walking distance of shopping and schools help reduce transportation energy and pollutants. Smaller homes use less energy and fewer construction materials, and smart building designs maximize solar benefits and daylighting while reducing energy use via efficient landscaping and shading.

  • Green Building Materials and Waste Reduction

    Green building materials include non-toxic materials and furnishings, recycled-content or salvaged materials, and wood and other materials from renewable sources. Using green building materials can help ensure a healthy indoor environment while reducing the home's overall environmental impact. Careful design and planning, combined with the use of prefabricated components, can help reduce construction waste that would otherwise need to be disposed of, often in landfills or by burning.

  • Water Efficiency

    Green homes also help conserve one of our most vital resources - water. Features like water-conserving irrigation systems, reduced lot size and low-water-use landscaping, and water-efficient indoor fixtures all contribute to overall water efficiency.

  • Indoor Environmental Quality

    The use of non-toxic materials, combined with natural ventilation and effective air filtration, can help improve indoor air quality, control indoor moisture levels, and protect occupants from mold, chemicals, combustion by-products and other indoor pollutants.

    The EPA's new Indoor air PLUS program has been designed to address the indoor environmental aspects of green building. Qualifying homes must first meet the efficiency guidelines for ENERGY STAR, and then incorporate additional design and construction features to control moisture, chemical exposure, radon, pests, ventilation, and filtration.

Green Home Programs?

There are a variety of green home programs available, depending on where you live. Several states and a number of municipalities have green building guidelines that focus on both overall environmental objectives and local concerns. Check with your state's environmental office or your local utility for information about these programs.

There are also several national organizations that promote green building and offer their own green home certification programs.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a consensus-based national green building program that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in cooperation with national experts and experienced green builders. The program uses a home environmental rating system, verified by qualified third-party raters, to quantify the environmental benefits of green homes. The USGBC can provide information on participating builders and program providers in your area.

In 2007 the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish a National Green Building Standard that defines green building for single and multifamily homes, residential remodeling projects and site development projects, while allowing flexibility to address local and regional environmental concerns. Contact NAHB for information on this standard and NAHB's green building program, including any participating builders in your area.