Beyond Traditional: Home Building Goes Green

With so many eyes looking toward how to reduce the harmful effects of our population's excesses on our planet, many people are looking for ways to go green in every aspect of their life. This also extends to the types of homes that are now being built. While traditional site built homes involve wood, stucco and / or brick, homeowners and builders alike are getting more creative using less traditional home building items, such as one home here in the South made out of straw bale. No, it's not owned by one of the three little pigs. In fact, the goal is to be less of a pig when it comes to the environment.

This little straw house was designed much like any traditional home. It has standard doors, windows and, of course, a roof. But the walls themselves were created out of straw bales (the remnants of grain harvesting) and a stucco mixture of sand, dirt and pigment (for color). It took approximately 240 bales to create this 1900 square foot home. And the homeowner has seen a significant savings in energy costs within just the past year of living in it.

A Traditionally built home's walls are only about 6 inches thick. However, a straw bale is 18-23 inches thick and solid. This helps regulate the temperature of the home, keeping it warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. The positioning of the home also helped keep energy costs down. By placing the side with large windows pointed to the south and using a ceiling fan to move the air around, the straw home was able to maintain a comfortable temperature inside (69 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit) even when temperatures dipped to 54 or soared to 95 outside. This allowed them to spend a grand total of around $ 500 on their utilities for the whole of last year.

While hay may be for horses, straw is definitely great for houses. I do not see the Big Bad Wolf coming around and blowing this one down anytime soon either. Recycling is a great start to helping our planet, but we have to think much broader. Owning a home is an important part of so many people's lives. Finding new and interesting ways to re purpose used articles as building materials or finding natural alternatives like this straw house can save us money while also helping save our planet. It's a win-win situation for everyone!

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Cordwood Houses – A Green Alternative

Cordwood masonry construction consists of taking uniform lengths of wood and stacking them to form some sort of wall held together by masonry. It's really that simple, but there are lots of variations.

The name “cordwood” comes from the material: uniform lengths of wood like the sort you'd find in a firewood stack, which, of course, is measured in “cords” and hence sometimes called “cordwood”. The technique is also called “stackwall” construction or “stovewood” construction.

The pieces of wood are stacked just as you would stack a pile of firewood, except that with each course you lay down two parallel lines of mortar along the outside edges of the stack. The mortar is rough 4 “wide. If you're using 24” long pieces of wood you end up with a space between the mortar, inside the wall space, of about 16. “This should be filled with some sort of insulation. can use fiberglass, rockwool, sawdust or just about anything else that will restrict air flow and heat loss.

If you're building in a remote area with little manpower remember: getting a 10 “thick 15 foot log you can be pretty tough. two people imagine how much easier it is to build the same 15 'long wall with 16 “pieces.

Before you begin building you need to collect materials. You will need a source of wood rounds, some sort of mortar materials (cement, lime, sand, sawdust and paper can be used, but other materials will work as well). If you're able to do yourself a favor and get a small cement mixer. You'll also need some lumber to frame windows and doors, and you'll need some sort of structure for the roof. If you can acquire whatever windows and doors you're going to use, all the better, as you'll be able to frame the rough in holes properly.

The wood should be dry, and de-barked. Remember that cutting, stripping and drying the wood to optimum conditions could be a three year project. Also remember that you can build with green wood if utilitarian shelter is the goal (you can build the cordwood mansion once you're established)

Like all building, you need to start with a foundation. The type of foundation depends on where you're building. Something that's going to be inspected and has to meet a building code will almost certainly require some concrete work, even if only sono-tube piers. A more remote area will allow you more flexibility. In fact, in a very remote area it would be feasible to dig a shallow trench along the perimeter of the building and fill it with rocks a few inches higher than grade level, and then start building the wall on top (the key in this sort of environment is to get past vegetative soil and into mineral soil – sand, gravel or hardpan – which will not deteriorate and move after you've built on it.

You could also right on rock, if a large enough space is available, or construct a frame of timbers or logs laid on top of large rocks. Keep an eye on drain, and remember that you can build a level interior floor afterwards, whether of wood or fill.

Once you have the foundation you can begin building the walls. Walls run from corner to corner, corner to an intersection with another wall, or between two intersections. Corners and intersections are structural opportunities. If you've created a frame of large timbers your structure should be solid before you start filling in the space. If you are not using a timber frame you'll have figure out how to tie corners and wall intersections together. It's possible to create interlocking corners, log cabin style, with lengths of wood long enough to be structural but small enough for one person to handle and place.

The walls can consist strictly of log rounds, of split rounds or a combination of the two. Placement of each piece of cordwood can be random or planned, in order to accomplish a tight fit and an eye pleasing design.

Doors and windows start by placing a frame on the wall at the lowest level of the opening, and then stacking and mortaring the cordwood to the side and then over the top of the frame. The frame can be temporary, and removed once the wall has set, or it can be the permanent frame to which the doors and windows get attached.

Thickness of the walls depends on climate. In warm areas thinner walls are acceptable, but the further north you go the thicker you need to make the walls. In some parts of Canada a two wall system (one exterior and one interior) are sometimes used.

The style of roof depends on personal taste, location, the environment and the structure. If snowload is high it makes sense to use a steep roof, if water collection is part of the plan then different materials will be needed, and a large roof will need a string structure to keep it up. One common character, however, is big overhangs. The less weather Touches the walls, the better. Make it a minimum of 16 inches.

Roofing material can be almost anything. There are tin roofed cordwood homes, as well as earthen roofed ones. Again, creativity, strength, safety and low impact are the goals. There are many solutions available.

Cordwood home technology has been around at least 1,000 years, and probably longer. They can be very affordable to build, and can be built by one person if need be. As such, they are an excellent option for someone going off grid.

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Green Building Products Will Get Your Buyers Attention – Success In The New Marketplace

The use of green building products even for remodeling has gained the attention of many in the past several years, what have been a challenge for most homeowners is knowing where to find eco-friendly building products. There are many companies that are promoting quote green and energy efficient products, but do they really live up to their claims? Substantiating these claims would make it easy to know where to look.

Lumber is necessary building material in most projects and if used in the right way can produce a tremendous amount of energy and environmental savings.

Sustainable Lumber Products

· Dimensional Lumber
· Wood Flooring
· Plywood
· Paneling
· Cabinetry

Green building materials as mentioned above can be produced using diverse materials from different parts of the planet. The question is, How can the average homeowner tell whether these materials they're selecting are prepared properly? Firstly, there must be a FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certificate to give the homeowner the confidence that they're purchasing a legitimate environmentally friendly product. FSC is a non-profit organization and operates independently, their certification process offers the forestry professionals a higher level of social awareness and responsibility for the environment. This certification is important to the homeowners; because it identifies that the wood that was used has been harvested in accordance with the standards that have been set by the forestry management.

Green Interior Products

Because of some products such as flooring, countertops and cabinetry which are used from raw material can also be considered ecologically friendly, although they may not have a certificate labeled on them. This also includes an array of other interior finishing. Consider bamboo and cork, they're rated at the top when it comes to green building flooring products due to their renewable nature. Notwithstanding, these raw materials are grown in certain countries in the world which means the transportation fees would me astronomical. Also the glue that is use to put these products together will emit VOCs. So, a homeowner needs to consider carefully when selecting those interior finishing.

Recycled and Recyclable

The products that are getting a lot of attention today are the recyclables; the marketplace is full of them. They are actually carpets and wall-coverings. Shaw and Mohawk which are two large carpet manufacturers in the US have come up with a solution to recover used carpets for recycling by removing the backing from them. The Vinyl wall-covering companies have also got into the field of recycling by creating products of such nature. Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams are two paint companies that have given serious consideration to their product by developing products that give little fumes and toxins. Green building products are available it all depends on where you are in the world, for it differs in the region or country you belong, homeowners have many options.

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Malaysia – Top 5 Green Properties

Eco-friendly properties are gaining a lot of attention worldwide, and in Malaysia, the Green Building Index which is quite similar to LEED of the United States are setting up courses and standards to help architects and designers understand and use their brain powers to create buildings that are safe for the environment. While some companies may target the Frost & Sullivan Malaysia Green Excellence Awards, which is supported by ZDNet Asia, acknowledges some of the most distinguished property developers, others may seek for recognition by overseas awards for green buildings.

1. GTower

One of the buildings with international recognition as being a green building is GTower. It is a new working concept, which combines offices, a private club and a boutique hotel called the G City Club Hotel. The building is the first certified green building in the country and was awarded the BCA Green Mark (Singapore's Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Scheme).

The building is constructed with the idea of ​​cutting carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, maximizing energy and water efficiency and to provide high standards of indoor environmental quality. It was given Grade A ++ by BCA. The first “plus” is for achieving an international standard of “environment-friendly” as defined by BCA Green Mark GOLD certification (provisional) and the second “plus” is for being a Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) compliant building and connectivity specifications.

2. KEN BANGSAR Serviced Residences

Ken Bangsar is the masterpiece of KEN HOLDINGS BERHAD, which is a reputable, award winning Green property developer. Its property division, KEN PROPERTY SDN BHD, was responsible to transform KEN BANGSAR into the Number 1 GREEN rated building in Malaysia, receiving the BCA Green Mark GOLD Award in July 2009. The GOLD Plus award was, at that time, the first and highest award for non-Singapore companies. In 2010, KEN BANGSAR was also announced as the winner of the Malaysian Green Building Index (GBI) Gold Award, recipient of The Edge's PAM Green Excellence Award 2010 and Best Green Developer 2010 title by New Straits Times.

The 15-storey luxury apartment is low density with only 80 units of freehold serviced residences at its dispense. Each unit is equipped with water storage heater, laminated Low-E glass and energy efficient air conditioning. The airy double volume lobby is kept cool and breezy by a system called CHEEL which recycles the condensate water from air-conditioning onto an evaporative feature wall. The heat pump harvest waste heat from the air cond units to produce hot water for the public washroom.

3. 1 First Avenue

1 First Avenue of Petaling Jaya with MSC Status is another “Green” property of the country. It is solely office buildings, certified as a Green Building by the Malaysian Green Building Index. It is a building with 25 stories of GRADE office tower, strategically located in the Bandar Utama City Center, just beside one of the largest shopping mall in Bandar Utama, the 1 Utama Shopping Center. The building has raised flooring for flexible provision of power supply, and a landscaped lobby at every single floor. It also has excellent ICT infrastructure, with dedicated power supply for secured IT UPS backup during power failure. It also has a dedicated secured telecommunications ducts.

4. Sunway Rymba Hills

Sunway City has always been trying to incorporate 'green' ideas into their projects, and by far Sunway Rymba Hills is probably the one with the most expectations to bring out the 'green' idea. As the name itself unfolds the idea of ​​the residential properties, this Sunway City property attempts to embrace the Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability (LOHAS) philosophy. It is a gated and guarded low density leasehold zero-lot bungalow, developed within a 6.5 acre of private forest park. It claims to use green building materials, and includes a reading room and informative labeling of plants and trees. The project claims 60% of green spaces overall, and some units will also enjoy a Sky Garden which is great for garden parties or converted to a private sanctuary for a little quiet time. It is located not in any faraway land, but in the midst of the Sunway Damansara neighborhood.

5. 11 @ Mont Kiara

11 @ Mont Kiara, or MK11 is a project by Sunrise Berhad, and is said to be the country's first residential property to gain the BCA Green Mark award. It is built on 6.7 acres of freehold land with 338 units within its three towers of luxury condominiums. The 43-storeys luxury condominium is located within the high-end Mont Kiara area, and incorporates energy and water efficient systems and beautiful landscapes. There are a lot of facilities in the project: a lap pool, children's playroom, multipurpose halls, air-conditioned gymnasium, water jet splash pool, wading pool, sawna, children's playground, badminton court, squash court, half basketball court and tennis court .

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Affordable Green Homes

Green homes are made affordable in two different ways. The purchase price of the home itself can be affordable for most middle class families, and even people looking to buy their first house. The other way green homes are made to be affordable is the actual cost of living after you move in and purchase one of these very well built houses. When people buy a house that is meant to save them on energy costs, it will lower the impact on the environment that you will have as you live in your home, and it will significantly lower the amount of money spent each month on your bills.

The average price for a green home is 250,000. This makes these types of homes accessible to nearly every income bracket out there. Energy efficient homes can start as low as 140,000, making it a perfect option for a first time home buyer. Some of the green homes available can have a price tag close to the half a million dollar range, which is appealing to families that need a larger home, but still take advantage of all the positives and savings of a green home.

The other major selling perk of a green home that makes it very affordable is the fact that your monthly bills for energy, gas, and water will be much less per square foot than a traditionally built home. This can allow someone to live in a larger house but with the same monthly cost, or simply save money overall because you are receiving these savings each month.

The two major areas of energy savings when it comes to your monthly bills is derived from energy savings with your HVAC system, and savings from the way your plumbing has been installed. Your HVAC system will run less often, yet keep your house at more than a constant temperature when it is built by a green home builder. All the plumbing in your house is installed properly with no leaks, and the pipes are all located to waste less water. Both of these systems are significantly cut out wasting energy in your home which will directly translate into dollars saved.

Green homes have the special character of helping out your environment and community, and also helping out the homeowner each month by not wasting energy. This makes the home very appealing for any family, and makes these types of houses very affordable overall, for almost any income level.

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‘Lost Tribe’ Discovered Living Off The Land In Wales

Lost middle-class tribe's 'secret' eco-village in Wales proves that Eco Straw Bale homes embody the essence of living simply and sustainably.

The Preseli Mountains of West Wales: Brithdir Mawr, a community of roundhouse known as Tir Ysbrydol (Spirit Land).

Pioneering: Eco-bucketer Emma Orbach is facilitated planning has been approved

Who would have thought that a 'secret' eco-village could exist in the countryside of Wales, for years, without anyone knowing !? Well, it did and has! Unbeknown to anyone until recently, this village was undiscovered and is occupants lived their lives without any interference from the outside world.

That is the simplicity of this style of building and living: very minimal cost, using local, natural resources available, growing their own food, using only solar power and living off the land.

Discovered by a survey plane, happening on the area, and probably a very observant pilot, they were finally exposed. After close scrutiny by the planning department, it was realized that planning permission had never been applied for in the past. So, a long drawn out battle ensued and the residents were facing being evicted and having to bull doze their homes.

Thanks to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority's 'sustainability' policy, these roundhouses have, after a decade of battling with the authorities and red tape, been given the green light, so to speak. They no longer have to demolish their homes that they have been living in for over a decade.

This style of building, although very primitive, does certainly embody the essence of 'simple' living. So, it is possible, depending on how much you want to do it and what you are willing to give up in the form of 'creature comforts'. This group of people were living their dream of reducing their 'carbon footprint' on the earth and living as simply as possible. They built their own straw bale homes with living roofs and lived off the land. They probably would have remained 'secret', had the survey plane not happened up them.

It begs the question how many other people my being living 'under the radar' so to speak, and out of the prying eyes of building officials. If there are other communities like this I say “Good on them” and just leave them alone. These people were not hurting anyone and by the looks of it, not dependent on society to sustain them. Maybe more of us could take a leaf from their book and try to live more simply ?!

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Living Off Grid in British Columbia

Going off grid is becoming increasingly attractive, especially to people who have not done it yet. There are ls of reasons to consider going off grid.

First, it's more sustainable and has less impact on the environment (most of the time) than modern, urban living.
Second, it offers a simpler lifestyle.
Third, it requires less money.
Fourth, it may offer more security, especially if the current financial crisis becomes worse.
Fifth, its kind of romantic.

All that said, its not easy. If you're ready to take the plunge, British Columbia is a great place to do it if you like fantastic scenery, you are not afraid of bad weather from time to time, you like wild and remote areas, freedom and hard work.

BC has many different areas where you can go off grid. The first is the coastal area, either on the Mainland or on Vancouver Island. You can be by the sea and enjoy a moderate climate. Temperatures will seldom go below freezing, but there will be lots of rain coming in off the Pacific during the winter. As a plus, marine scenery is outstanding, and there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy crabs, salmon, cod, halibut and prawns (you'll need a boat).

Once you cross the Coast Range and get into the Interior of the province you will experience more blue sky, but in the winter you'll also get colder temperatures, and in some areas, much more snow.

The Okanagan / Kamloops area is dryer, and warmer, year round, with the understanding that as you climb in elevation it will get colder.

The Kootenays are snowier, generally, and more remote. Large valleys between mountain ranges define this area, which is fairly remote even though its in the southern part of the province.

The Cariboo / Chilcotin is in the center of the province. Winters are long, but the area is huge, with thousands of lakes and rivers. Its great cowboy country. If you want horses and a log cabin, this is the area for you.

North of Prince George the province becomes very remote, in ways that someone from the Lower 48 of the US or Europe might find hard to imagine. Let's just say its really remote, with few roads, and really long winters.

Let's say you pick an area. Now what? If you're going to live off grid you need shelter, heat and water, not to mention food. Water and heat are not a huge challenge in most of BC. There is lots of fresh water and that creates lots of potential heat on the mountain side in the form of trees. That means lots of wood cutting, however, and splitting and stacking. Wood that you cut in the summer and let dry is more enjoyable than wet winter wood.

Shelter is a different challenge. No matter where you are in BC you can die from the cold in a few hours during the winter if you are not prepared. You absolutely require somewhere to get warm and dry. That could be a tent, or a trailer, or a camper, or a cabin, or a yurt, but you will need something. If you do not bring it you'll have to build it. Building off grid is very hard.

Here are a few things to remember: most off gird sites in BC are not within walking distance, or for that matter, easy driving distance, to a building supply center. If you're driving off a grid in a pick up truck with a trailer, then you're halfway there. You can load up on tools, nails, chainsaws, generators and redi-mix. However, if you're using a boat to access your build site, or worse, a horse, a plane, or walking, it can be very hard to get heavy stuff where you need it to be. You'll either do without or be very creative.

Do not get me wrong – people have done it many times, and you can too, but its hard, and progress will be slow.

Some options are:

  • Finding a property with existing buildings.
  • Building in stages before you take up permanent residence.
  • Using a trailer, bus or camper as a base.
  • Making a small shelter that is weather tight and then making use of tents and taps to keep equipment and supplies dry.

Other things to consider are that you will not have power tools off grid unless you bring a chainsaw or a generator, at least until you get your micro-hydro, solar or wind system set up. You also will not have electric lights or satellite access to the internet to get questions answered (unless you plan for that).

On other words, do not under estimate the challenge.

If you're still willing to try it you have to ask: where do you get the land?

Can you just squat? As a matter of fact, yes you can. BC is huge, and you can easily get yourself lost. However, if someone owns the land, or wants to log it, or guides in it, you might get kicked out. Its a risky business.

You can also rent a place, but the market for that is very unorganized. It is not easy to find someone who has property who will rent it to you for a long enough term for you to make the improvements you'll want.

That leaves buying, which you can always do. The issue is price. Waterfront properties can be expensive, but they can also be very reasonable. Smaller places cost more per acre, but large remote acreages can sell for less than $ 1000 per acre. You can find out about property for sale by simply starting with Google. There are lots of for sale by owner sites catering to rural BC. You can also contact me for help – again, Google me; I'm easy to find.

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Environmentally-Responsible Homes

Even if you're sick of the term “Going Green”, it's likely that you are at least aware of the benefits of preserving our resources and trying to do our part in keeping the Earth clean on a certain level. Environmentally-responsible homes are a great way to start this process, especially if you're having your home built for you. A few things here and a tweak or two there can do wonders for you in the long run. Here are few advantages of setting up your new home in this fashion:

Save Money: You may not realize it, but adapting your home to the environment around it and taking steps to ensure efficiency really does not cost much more than standard procedures. Even if there is a slightly larger monetary cost at the outset, you will find that within a few months, you have already made up the difference in efficiency. In today's economy, many people worry daily about their future financial situations and what the road holds for them three years down the line. You can realistically save thousands of dollars in a few short years by attuning your home to environmentally-responsible standards.

Breathe Better: If your home is environmentally friendly, the air inside will be free of much of the debris and harmful particles that are in everyday homes. This can be especially beneficial in homes that host the elderly or individuals with inherent breathing problems such as asthma or emphysema. There are ventilation systems with earth-friendly filters that are much more effective than the current systems, and they are available for less than you may think.

Less Maintenance: As you build your home, planning ahead is key. We've all seen the implementation of numerous city councils and planners around the country, and how year by year they are taking steps that demand environmentally-friendly homes. Many have told the tale of being required to upgrade something either in their practices at home or at their business that did not meet “industry standards” anymore. Seeing the current trend and taking action now rather than later can save you a bundle. It's much cheaper to install such products initially rather than having to take down existing schemes and replace them later.

It's not that serious and it does not have to cost that much. All it takes is a little planning and a little initiative and you can have an environmentally-responsible home that will save you loads in through this next generation.

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Save Your Money/Energy With Solar Panels!

In troubled times like these when saving money can be essential to keep your head above the water, a long-term solution for a French property has revealed itself to be successful: solar panels. With greenhouse effect campaigns, it is worth introducing green technology to save money as well as energy.

There are two types of solar panels:

-> Photovoltaic solar panels

It produces renewable solar electricity for either stand alone or grid feed systems. These tools are easily connected making them ideal for battery charging, camping and remote power applications. The photovoltaic may be connected in strings for higher voltage. If you invest in your home and your energy future with on-grid connected PV solar panels, their typical life span is of 30-40 years. But solar panels in general have never made much financial sense as their purchase is very pricey.

-> Solar Water Heating

Unlike PV solar panels, solar water panels are far cheaper. Furthermore, they look discreet (as you can see on the photo opposite). These panels heat domestic water; they are reliable and provide unrivaled performance. For the average household, a 2sqm solar panel is sufficient to produce domestic hot water for the majority of the year. For hot tubs and swimming pools, larger or multiple solar panels systems can be used for larger cylinders. A solar panel's installation is like converting a car into a hybrid. After the initial investment, your car or in this case your home will run efficiently and cheaply for the next 30 years.

Cost comparison: taking into account that a given house has electricity, is equipped with an oil heating system and a wood-burning stove:

Price * without solar panels: € 1,100 per year

Price * with solar panels: € 472 per year

-> Cost of installation

It is by no means expensive contrast to what we use to hear everywhere. Depending on the brand of panels, a couple of solar water panels could cost between £ 4,300 and £ 5,000 (between € 5,000 and € 6,000). You should receive a grant of around € 1,000 and € 2,200 in the form of credit d'impots * . It's similar to a heat pump: the installation cost is about € 13,000 but you are granted € 4,000 of credit d'impots , meaning it'll really cost you € 9,000.

Energy-efficient systems still need to be improved in terms of their characteristics and efficiency but are definitely opening a new era for energy saving and the development of green properties.

* Depending on the conditions of the company you buy your solar panels from.

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What Is the Correct Way to Make Green Homes Increase in Value?

Every once is a while I get to appraise some type of energy efficient home with built in solar panels, wind turbines, light bulbs, furnaces, and home construction. Most of the time, these types of items will bring you nothing in extra value to your home in the Northwest. Do you know why? There is a disconnect from the Realtor databases and a lack of data in the MLS databases, and a sheer lack of similar sales for these “green” items.

I understand that the market will consider these types of improvements positive. With my professional evaluation experience and after speaking to several Realtors that have listed or sold these types of properties, it is clear that it could take the home owner 8 to 20 years to get their money back out in the terms of energy savings.

In terms of home value, your home will be appraised like any other home. If the real estate appraiser can not prove that the market is willing to pay for these types of homes, the value will not increase, nor decrease. In these cases, green homes are trumped by the next best thing in the market, similar homes.

Here is one of the few ways I see green homes increasing in value. There must be an endless development that is significant is size that makes up an entire community of green homes. Let's say a developer put together a development that only offers green homes. One part of the land is used for both RV storage, but on top of each building there are solar panels. Around the entire perimeter of the 10 acres development, there were wind turbines. On the roofs of every home in the development, there will be more solar panels. All homes in the development are made from green products and energy efficient items. Do you get the idea? With a big enough development, hopefully, there will be at least one or two sales to support the value.

The cost of the initial development for this type of development may be 30% more than the cost of a regular built home. If the market is willing to buy into a development like this, they will pay more for homes like this. There benefits will be energy reduction, environmental reasons, and money savings. The negatives may be ugly wind turbines around the property and acceptance of solar panels located on everyone's home and the cost to maintain something like this.

But when it came time to appraise homes like this, there will develop that support this type of technology. There will be comparable sales to select and compare to the subject and an appraiser which can clearly conclude what the market is will pay for homes in this type of development and outside the development. In other words, the appraiser can prove it. That's how to make green homes increase in value.

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An Eco Friendly Home In The Shetlands With No Heating Necessary

A couple, Michael and Dot Rea, from Wiltshire decided to buy a house on the island of Unst, one of the most northerly owned Shetland Islands. It is on same latitude as Alaska and Southern Greenland, yet it is extremely cozy inside. The outside temperature in August barely gets above 14c and there is often a 100mph gale coming in off the North Sea. So how do they manage to keep the house so warm with relatively little costs?

The couple admit that even when there was snow on the ground they did not need to put the heating on, the timber framed house has sunlight streaming through its windows and Michael explains that insulation and heat recovery is the key. He believes that the easiest way to become zero-carbon is to use less green energy and not harness it. He wants to light the whole house with just 100 watts, the same amount used by a single traditional bulb, but in extreme weather conditions on the Island he hopes to use the same as having just three 100 watt bulbs on.

Michael's home is generating interest due to the high energy costs and the oil crisis, so much so that the housing and regeneration branch of the Scottish Government is using its house as a model for sustainable building and living. Officials in London are also monitoring the house as they want all new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2016. China has also expressed interest as the area Guanzhou is to have 5,000 eco homes built there and may want to utilize some of Michael's innovations.

The house cost very little, the off the shelf timber frame flat pack cost just £ 37,000 to which they added a customized sun room at £ 3,500. It is made from Scandinavian redwood which is a renewable resource and chosen by Michael because it is lightweight which makes it easy to heat compared to traditional stone. Labor costs and the green technology used took the overall cost to £ 210,000. They did win sponsorship from companies so Michael estimates that the true cost would have probably been £ 270,000 without those.

He hopes to have all his energy for free, apart from maintenance costs. The couple stumbled upon their idea after talking with someone from the Energy Sustainable Development who suggested using their new project as a demonstration. The insulation is 140mm of Celotex foam that lines all of the walls and has aluminum foil on each face. This means that no heat is left in or out of the house. The windows of the house are filled with argon which is a gas that acts as an insulator, he only paid an extra £ 1,500 for this. The windows are also very large to allow radiant heat from the sun.

Planning caused some problems for the couple and the weather added to them, also because of how remote the Island is they have to wait for certain things that anyone would take for granted when building a house. Such as their need for a digger, there is only one on the neighboring Island of Yell and at the moment it is being used to build a car park for their Nature Reserve and so the couple just have to wait.

The quickest way to get to Unst is by flying to Sumburgh and then a further three hour drive, there is an airport there but the other way is quicker. Locals did think that the couple from Wiltshire were a bit strange but they were years ahead of many developers in terms of going green. Michael believes that new builds will never reach the new energy targets without having heat recovery systems which involves a heat exchanger. It replaces the used air from inside with fresh air from outside and therefore no heat is actually lost.

The house also has a fuel cell storage system which can store four and a half days of energy for the house. The house has LED lights instead of light bulbs and rainwater is used for the garden, washing machine and toilets. Wind turbines allow the house to be totally self sufficient which he believes gives the house 95% of its energy.

If you wanted to be collectively self sufficient this house is a shining example of how it can be done. Michael grows his own food in the garden and even though it took a long time in the making it is now completely finished.

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Prince Charles’s Natural House

Prince Charles has spoken for years about the importance of both sustainability and tradition. He hopes that the two can work side by side in towns, cities and villages to reflect a fundamental harmony between nature and human beings. Through developments such as Poundbury and Newquay he hopes to have put some of his ideas into practice.

The Prince has The Foundation for the Built Environment which is the architecture, design and educational charity wing of the Duchy of Cornwall. Through these he hopes to build places which are versatile and have enduring appeal, he wants villages where people can walk from their house to the shops or to the school where design is rooted in local identity. Prince Charles thinks that these sorts of principles should be the basics of design but they are often not by professionals, but he hopes that times are changing.

Prince Charles's main concerns are that the planet is becoming more and more urban hence its resources are becoming scarcer. Even though we are adding solar panels to our homes to try and save energy, this is not enough. He feels that we should rethink the way we plan our homes, shops and schools and their relationship with one another. Eco-engineering can learn from Nature and we need to put emphasis on the design of our homes within our communities and use natural resources. Wind turbines and solar panels do not solve the fundamental problems, we need to be building homes designed to demand little or no energy from the beginning.

Prince Charles has worked with his foundation and the Building Research Establishment and Kingerlee Homes to produce the Natural House. It is designed to demonstrate the most effective route to low-energy and low carbon homes built with longevity in mind but with a traditional appeal. Prince Charles admits to being very proud of the Natural House.

The emphasis of the Natural House is on natural low impact substances that not only work well together but can be produced in this country. Although it is based on a traditional approach it has the best new technologies and it built on site by local workforces. The Natural House uses clay blocks and lime based plasters. These reduce the risk of poor air quality and the House also has a breathable wall system which stops mold and damp accumulating. This is blamed on many asthma and respiratory problems so the design in the Natural House helps both the environment and the health of those in it.

The Natural House is being shown at The Ideal Home Show and will be centerpiece there. Prince Charles hopes to show those who visit the House that not all eco homes are strange looking and out of the ordinary and that eco homes are a nice place to live in.

So what are the benefits of his Natural House:

· The House has natural clay tiles which will make the roof last longer and the tiles will not fade in the sun.
· The roof and also the floor will be insulated with sheep's wool.
· Honey-comb like clay blocks will make up the walls which will keep the Natural House warm in the winter but also cool in the summer.
· Heat is retained through the chimney flue which is made of insulated volcanic pumice rock from Iceland.
· The Natural House has triple glazed windows and high ceilings to flood the house with daylight.
· No fans are needed in the house in the summer due to the natural “stack” ventilation which prompts air flow.

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Prince Charles’s Eco Village in Newquay

Prince Charles first dumbled in property developing back in 1994 when he built Poundbury, his model town in Dorset. Soon Tregunnel Hill on the outskirts of Newquay in Cornwall will become another Duchy of Cornwall development. It looks as though the planners there will give the go ahead this month for 170 homes to be built on a 10 acre plot on the southwest edge of the town. Occasionally 1,000 homes will be built there but this is just the first stage of the development.

This model village has been decades in the planning and whilst many of the big volume house builders scaled back on their construction, Prince Charles is stepping up his. So far Prince Charles has built 1,200 homes on 250 acres of Duchy of Cornwall land and in the next decade he is building to build 17,000 more. This time he hopes to be building all over the country. An important property fact is that Prince Charles built more homes in 2009 than the volume builder Persimmon Homes.

The development that he is building in Newquay is being nicknamed “Surfbury”, it will be pedestrian friendly and materials used from local suppliers. There will be terraced cottages and grander two storey detached homes, these will be made from Trevillet slate. Everything in the village will need to have the royal seal of approval as it is well known that Prince Charles does not like modernity but favors traditional materials. The project manager of the development admits that Prince Charles has received lots of different samples of materials ranging from Hemcrete which is hemp bound with lime to blocks made from recycled waste clay and straw.

The main emphasis of the development at Newquay, as with other developments that he has been involved in, is sustainability. The architect involved stresses that the key to it is to use local materials and to build in the traditional ways. The idea is to have a house which is cool in summer and warm in winter. Ground source heat pumps and solar panels are only economically viable as long as the feed-in tariffs are maintained but the government is already thinking of reducing these in the near future.

Prince Charles knows what he is talking about after his success at Poundbury. The “eco village” is made up of townhouses, cottages, shops and businesses and is now called home to 1,500 people. There have been critics of the village, some calling it “toy town” but there are always buyers willing to live there. Three bedroom terraced properties go on the market for £ 249,950. Many talk of the community spirit of the village and all ages tend to settle there.

Prince Charles's other development is Coed Darcy, a development built on 1,400 acres of brownfield land between Swansea and Neath. The £ 1.2billion site was once the first crude-oil refinery in Britain and work began in 2008. Residents have already moved into some of the houses on the development last Christmas. Many of the residents took advantage of the shared ownership scheme offered which meant that they only had to come up with a 5% deposit. The agent looking after sales of the new homes there has stolen from how popular the traditional houses are to buyers. Prices start at £ 79,995 for a studio and go up to £ 199,995 for a four bedroom family home.

Another development is based in Knockroon near Cumnock. The 69 acre site used to be an old mining village but will now house 600 new homes, however there are tough rules to adhere to like Poundbury had. There are to be no satellite dishes allowed and the lettering of houses should be no bigger than 3in high. There are also restrictions on hedges in terms of color and species. Prince Charles's developments are not without their critics, many architects say that his view equates to “old looking.” Even if something is eco friendly but is modern they feel that Prince Charles will not approve. This has not stopped the Prince, he is now looking to re-build 50 blocks in the old quarter of Port-au-Prince after the Haitian earthquake and there are plans for an eco-town in Calcutta. This will provide 15,000 sustainable homes for the people there.

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After Renovating, Don’t Waste – Recycle!

Plenty of British people want to buy a house to renovate in France either because they love a good project, or because they want their French property exactly as they wish. But when renovating or improving a house – on a large scale or not – there is one thing you can be sure of: the builders will leave a mountain of rubbish …

Here are a few tips to reduce the quantity of rubbish that will be generated:
Reuse your rubbish:

The very first thing to do is to take care of this matter in the contract by including an express clause requiring the builder to be responsible – at no additional cost to you – for disposing of the resulting rubbish. Depending on the nature and the size of your project, this may often consist of wooden floors, brickwork, roof and floor tiles, and bathroom fittings that have been replaced, among other things. Make sure you have a clear understanding with the builder and his men with regard to any items that may be reusable.

For example, wooden floor slats can be cut up and used as fire wood. Here, you could use any floor joists of old barns or rotten beams that have been replaced if they are full of woodworm, sunken or in very bad condition. Knowing that oil prices have skyrocketed, suppliers of wood for burning have also increased their prices; so much so that you are getting a 'free' source of heating.

Remember that such items are supposedly to belong to you: make sure the builder does not dispose of anything that you want to keep or reuse.
The way to deal with your rubbish is … the déchetterie:

Any items left in a barn or outbuildings that have been cleared and restructured need to be disposed of. In such cases, the builder may be related to dispose of any TV sets or other unusable objects. You will have no other choice but to go to the local tip (déchetterie as it is called in France) and get rid of the items there yourself. A visit to the déchetterie could be quite an experience as you are entering another world- you'll find Christmas trees next to fridges, old sofas next to paint tins. Be aware of the opening hours, as of course it will close for lunch like every other establishment in France does. Within the déchetterie, you will need to identify yourself and say in which commande you live and give your address to the person in charge.

What to do with items made of iron

If the builder does not take away metal items, it may not be the best idea to take them to the déchetterie as it will not always be accepted. If your French property is deep in the countryside, you may meet a well established custom: a rag and bone man (known as a chiffonnier in France). This man comes round your village once or twice a month but does not ring his bell, so you have to watch out for him! Sometimes the municipal dustman will do a special collection and take away various unwanted items left outside your property. These may include iron objects, bedssteads and fridges but do not worry, you will be informed of the times of such visits.

As you can see, the disposal of waste is a universal problem and permissions are generally quite strict on the matter. This is why it is a good thing to recycle!

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Are PassivHaus’ The Way Forward To Zero Carbon?

Passive homes are a German design but can have a British location with a tropical climate, how is this possible? Because PassivHaus' are super efficient and their construction makes for warmer homes which translates into lower energy bills for the homeowner. Sounds too good to be true does not it. So if a PassivHaus offers this why are not all new builds built this way?

Passive homes, as they are known in the UK, were designed in Germany in the 1990's by the PassivHaus Institute. Since then more than 30,000 homes, schools and offices have been built to their standard, although most of the buildings have been in Germany and Austria. One of the first certified PassivHaus' in the UK was a three bedroom house in Denby Dale, Yorkshire and was completed in May 2010. The owner of the house says that it is as easy to run as any house as the technology is in the building of it. The PassivHaus is ideal for new builds as the high levels of energy efficiency are embedded into the house when it is being built. The end product is a house which uses 90% less energy than a standard house. The owners admit that the only big difference between their house and a normal one is the bills.

The first gas bill that the couple had for the house was just £ 26 for the quarter and the electric bill was even lower at £ 17. Compare these bills to the couple last lasts when they lived in a 300 year old terraced house where their bills were £ 1,800 a year and you can really notice the difference, as the owner said the difference was “phenomenal”.

So what sets a Passive House apart from a typical eco-house which is becoming popular now? A PassiveHouse has no obvious green giveaways as it is the invisible components of the house that make it green. A PassivHaus works like a tea cozy, wrapping the house in continuous insulation rather than just the loft and walls. The company also insists on stringent levels of air tightness to create minimal thermal bridging or “the tea cosmetic effect”. Like other eco homes a PassivHaus is designed to optimize the heat generated from the sun and they also have a MVHR system installed. This system provides the house with fresh air and helps to warm it by recovering heat from the extracted air and transferring it to the incoming air. Heat from inside the house, generated from humans or cooking etc. . is then retained within the building. Therefore this means that the house needs very little heating or air conditioning.

The owner of the house said that when the house was being built he visited it at night, it was 14C in the garden but the house was 10C. The Denby Dale PassivHaus is a pioneering project as there was, at the time, nothing similar in the UK. They visited ones in Austria instead and found them modern and light. It is possible to import them from Germany but builders over here are not familiar with tracking them and planning can be an issue. So the house was built locally with the stone from the builder's yard up the road and this house has cavity walls so it is like a traditional British house but with a Passive twist. The budget was £ 141,000, which proves those eco homes are not just for the wealthy. They have been tried and tested for twenty years and have proven methodology in achieving low energy buildings.

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