The pressure is on to adopt green building practices. However, green building might seem overwhelming if you associate it with unfamiliar building methods, new technology, and higher costs. You might wonder where to start.
Breathe a sigh of relief, because green building does not require dramatic changes immediately. What it does require is a commitment to better building and greater attention to installation. With a few easy strategies, you can begin building greener homes that are more energy-efficient, durable, and healthier for homeowners. For instance, consider upgrading your insulation and air sealing, installing a vapor barrier under the slab, and installing fluorescent light fixtures. These steps will help you improve the energy efficiency, durability, and indoor air quality of your homes. As a starting point, begin implementing the easy green building practices below.
Insulation: A simple way to boost energy efficiency
The green benefits: Insulation reduces heat loss from a home, contributing to a more comfortable indoor environment. Insulation that's installed correctly can have a significant impact on the home's energy efficiency.
Installation: The more insulation, the better. Insulation should be installed at the correct depth and density to be effective at resisting heat flow. Batts should not be compressed or installed with gaps; instead, they should be flush with the framing. Similarly, blown-in insulation should be installed with consistent coverage and depth and fit completely around wires and electrical boxes.
Vapor barrier under the slab: Durability and IAQ benefits abound
The green benefits: A vapor barrier under the slab mitigates moisture related problems, such as mold growth under carpets, grout staining, and wood flooring de-lamination. These problems impair the home's durability and indoor air quality.
Installation: Use a 10-mil polyethylene vapor barrier to fully cover the foundation footprint. For basements, extend the vapor barrier 2 “to 4” up the foundation wall, and fix it to the wall with construction tape or adhesive. Overlap the seams 12 “, and seal them with construction tape. For slab-on-grade foundations, lay down the vapor barrier on top of the gravel, and extend it into the footer, continuing the vapor barrier 12” up the formwork.
Fluorescent light fixtures: An easy way to cut energy usage
The green benefits: Fluorescent lighting is the most practical energy-efficient lighting option available to residential builders. Fluorescent lights reduce the home's overall energy usage; in turn, the environment benefits from fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Installation: Install Energy Star high efficiency light fixtures and hardwired fixtures that are designed for use with fluorescent lamps in locations where lights remain on for extended periods of time: kitchens, living areas, and outdoors. Incorporate efficient task lighting into kitchens and bathrooms.
Air sealing: A strong step to energy efficiency
The green benefits: Air sealing is another critical component of an energy efficient home. It ensures the effectiveness of insulation; therefore, ensuring healthy indoor air. Without air sealing, cold air, moisture, and pollutants can leak into a home through cracks and penetrations.
Installation: Seal all gaps with low-expanding foam, foam strips, weatherstripping, weatherproof tape, and caulks. Make sure that no leaks remain at each step of the construction process. Conduct a blower door test to determine leakage paths.
OVE framing techniques: Green building at the frame
The green benefits: Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) framing techniques reduce the amount of wood needed to build a home. Framing members are placed only where they're absolutely needed, reducing the amount of wood waste. OVE framed walls also provide more room for insulation.
Installation: OVE typically involves framing 24 “on center (oc) as opposed to 16” oc, and using 2×6 studies as opposed to 2×4 studs. If you're not ready to adopt these changes, start integrating open corners and ladder panels into homes. Orienting the studies at a corner horizontally can allow you to install more insulation there. When framing a partition wall, rotate the stud to create a ladder panel, which helps accommodate more insulation.