What Does It Mean to "Green" Your Home?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about greener and more energy-efficient buildings. But what exactly does this mean for your average homeowner? And what are the best ways for people to “green” their homes?

According to the EPA’s report, Our Built and Natural Environments, one of the most effective energy-saving strategies is to install an energy-efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in homes or buildings, which alone can reduce energy use by 30% to 75%. Another technique is to add insulation and windows that create a barrier between indoor and outdoor air and limit heat loss or gain. Moreover, minimizing artificial lighting can also reduce excess heat from light bulbs, which in turn lowers the energy demand for air conditioning. Energy-efficient lighting involves not just using better technology, but also minimizing the need for artificial lighting through daylight techniques. For example, incorporating skylights, solar tubes, and north-facing windows into the building design can illuminate the interior space without consuming electricity. Even just positioning spaces and furniture to maximize sunlight that enters the structure can help reduce energy consumption.

The EPA also describes passive strategies to save energy, which involve modifying design elements such as building size, orientation, the height-to-floor area ratio, and the wall-to-window ratio. Other passive strategies include using natural ventilation to reduce the energy needed for cooling. For instance, orienting buildings on a site to take advantage of the wind direction, topography, and the positioning of the sun also affects the energy efficiency of a building.

Construction materials are another important part of the equation. For instance, sturdy materials like concrete and steel are energy-intensive to produce, which can account for 15% of a building’s lifetime energy use. Even for exterior paving, clay tiles require 85% less energy and produce 66% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than ceramic tiles. For insulation, rock wool has an energy footprint four times lower and emits 4.7 times fewer greenhouse gases than polystyrene tiles and rigid polyurethane foam. Furthermore, using recycled, refurbished, or salvaged materials reduces the demand for raw materials and energy use in manufacturing, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even using locally or regionally sourced construction materials to shorten the distance between the suppliers and construction sites can reduce emissions from transportation.

Click here to learn more about what you can do to make your building more energy efficient.

In next week’s edition of the Carbon Pollution, Climate Policy, and the Built Environment blog series, we will take a look at the Better Buildings Initiative and learn about some of the federal programs available for green building.


-Written by Jiin G. Park

**Jiin G. Park is an intern at Earth Day Network and a MA candidate in Environmental Conservation Education at New York University.