Communities that implement environmentally friendly practices to meet the needs of their residents are commonly known as green communities. These communities work to protect future generations from land, air and water pollution while reducing their carbon footprint. Major components include creating livable and walkable neighborhoods with multiple transit options, green spaces and sustainable infrastructure elements.
Enacting sustainability practices into your community is easier than you may think, and the benefits for both this generation and the next make the endeavor worthwhile.
What a green community can do for your family
Why should you be the voice for a green community? Residents can benefit from the energy-efficient methods to save money on their utility bills, specifically electric and gas. This can include using solar panels to power homes to avoid burning fossil fuels.
In your own home, choose energy-efficient machines, such as those certified by Energy Star, when shopping for major appliances, and consider investing in solar panels. The initial investment may be higher, but your family will save money annually in energy costs. Combine this tactic with insulation made from sustainable or recyclable materials, and your energy consumption and costs may lower even more. As more homes save energy, it lowers the carbon footprint of the whole community.
Green communities rely on biodegradable and recyclable materials for buildings, playgrounds and insulation. They incorporate compost for fertilizer and community gardens to feed residents. By planting trees, vegetables and flowers, the community benefits from an oxygen-rich atmosphere and pesticide-free food. Children can learn gardening skills and the importance of contributing scraps into a communal compost heap.
Also, communities choose to use vendors and manufacturers who practice sustainability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other chemicals during the manufacturing process. This is important for specific structures, such as playgrounds, to ensure safety in the neighborhood.
How you can get involved in the community
Your community can aspire to become a green community by seeking LEED certification. LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) can assist you in marketing and funding a green project to financiers, public officials and others. You can also apply for LEED certification if your project is close to completion or was finished in the last three years.
The EPA provides a guide to homeowners, builders, neighborhood groups, utility companies and organizations to assist in green infrastructure planning. Published in 2014, the guide suggests steps you can take including organizing stakeholders, developing a community vision and establishing goals.
Get further involved in your community by volunteering to create and maintain a community garden and compost heap. The scraps will benefit the garden as fertilizer, and your family won’t have to worry about chemicals in the produce.
Whether you are a homeowner or a contractor, you can use these green tactics to improve and grow your community for generations to come.
We all know that clutter isn’t a good thing. We’ve read articles about how a cluttered space can affect our moods or make allergies worse. As if that weren’t incentive enough to get rid of all the extra stuff, there’s another great reason: Clutter is bad for the environment.
Consume less, fill less space
Often, discussions about climate change and “going green” center on the concept of your carbon footprint, or the overall impact that your daily activities have on the environment. The more fossil fuels you use, the higher your carbon footprint. And it’s not just our cars that use fuels, either. Fossil fuels are used to create electricity to power appliances, as well as create the items we use every day—and the items that we don’t actually use, the ones that form clutter.
It’s not only the manufacturing of items that affects your carbon footprint, either. When your home is filled with clutter, it can actually be less energy-efficient. When furniture, boxes and other items block vents or windows, you may consume more energy, as your heating and cooling systems will have to work harder. Not to mention, when your windows and doors are blocked by “stuff,” you’re less likely to keep them maintained, meaning that you could be letting cold or warm air out and increasing energy usage.
We all have a responsibility to work together to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and protect the Earth, and a good place to start is by clearing out your clutter. Fortunately, it’s easy to do, and you’ll have a healthier home in the process.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
As you clear out the clutter, your first instinct might be to throw away things that you don’t need, but before you do, consider whether you could recycle or donate them instead. Old electronics, for example, should not be thrown away because they can leech harmful chemicals into the soil, so it all should be donated or delivered to an electronics recycling center, which will appropriately dispose of the items.
Clothing, toys and household items are obvious candidates for donation, but you can also donate larger items such as boats and cars. In fact, older vehicles can be harmful to the environment in many ways, so donating them to be properly disposed of or restored reduces your footprint in several ways. If you have older equipment such as lawn mowers or snow blowers taking up space in your garage, look for programs that will allow you to trade them in for newer, more efficient models.
Recycling your clutter will also reduce your footprint. You might be surprised at what your local recycling center will accept. Paper, metal, glass and cardboard can all be recycled. At the same time, commit to reducing your consumption of these items. Look for products with less packaging, buy in bulk or bring your own reusable containers to limit the resources you use and the clutter that you bring into your home.
Keeping your home clutter-free requires thoughtfully considering your purchases and thinking about what you need. Whenever possible, borrow items that you will only use once, and look for local, sustainable products. Not only will you have a cleaner, more organized home, but the Earth will thank you.
A new study from The University of Texas at Austin and USGBC found that new homes in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (Austin-Round Rock MSA) built to meet green building standards such as LEED are worth an average of $25,000 more in resale value than conventional homes.
According to the study, homes built to LEED standards between 2008 and 2016 showed an 8 percent boost in value, while homes built to a wider range of green standards saw only a 6 percent increase in value. In the Austin-Round Rock single-family home market, a 6 to 8 percent "green premium" can be a major gain for those selling their homes, as well as developers and real estate agents.
Based on an analysis of more than 230,000 homes in the area, it was determined that the 3,800 green-certified homes (LEED and other green rating systems) delivered the extra 6 to 8 percent resale value.
The LEED Homes rating system was created in 2008 as a way for single-family homes and multi-family buildings to achieve LEED certification. Nationwide, the residential green construction market is expected to grow from $55 million in 2015 to $100.4 million in 2018, representing a year-over-year growth of 24.5 percent. Currently, there are more than 6,890 homes certified or pursuing LEED certification in Texas alone.
As a homeowner, you take pride in your lawn. A bright green, luscious lawn is a badge of honor: It shows that you not only care about the look and feel of your surroundings, but you also make sure that important outdoor tasks get done. Mowing the lawn to the right height, watering it properly, raking away leaves and debris—that takes time and effort.
Another reason to gloat about your verdant lawn: Natural grass helps the environment in many ways. Here are a few of the biggest effects a healthy lawn has on its surroundings:
1) It produces clean air.
Like most plants, grass breathes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, detoxifying the air and making it easier for humans to breathe. Even a small amount of grass can have a significant impact on the quality of air: A 50x50-foot lawn produces enough oxygen to keep a family of four breathing clean.
2) It reduces dust pollution.
Another major contributor to air pollution, dust is limited and maintained by areas of turf. Grass traps dust in the soil, preventing wind, humans and other creatures from kicking particles into the air. Plus, grass tends to attract airborne dust and smoke, pulling it out of the air as if by magnetism.
3) It moderates ground temperature.
Gravel will reflect the sun’s light and heat, making a gravel-filled space unbearable hot. Conversely, lawns absorb the sun’s rays to use as energy, and in doing so, they can produce their own evaporative cooling mechanism, keeping their area temperate. Dry soil can get as hot as 102 degrees Fahrenheit, but grass tends to hover between 88 and 75 degrees, even on the hottest days, so it modifies the environment by controlling specific temperatures.
4) It filters groundwater.
Turf’s final major environmental impact occurs below the surface. As water seeps into the ground through grassy areas, the leaves and roots of grass filter out most contaminants. As a result, water passed through a lawn tends to be more than 10 times less acidic than other runoff, allowing clean water to nourish the environment and return to human homes.
How to keep your lawn healthy
Humans don’t gain the benefits of grass if they let their lawns go fallow. Turf requires some maintenance every season, so every homeowner should consider keeping a summer, fall, winter, and spring lawn maintenance schedule. Furthermore, you should care for your lawn in environmentally friendly ways, which means using organic fertilizers, chemical-free pesticides and even eco-friendly grass varieties.
What you can do:
- Water deeply and infrequently. In most regions, grass doesn’t need water every day. Instead, pay attention to your lawn and water only when you must.
- Mow high. Tall grass might need mowing more often, but it tends to be stronger and healthier, too. Set your mower to about 2.5 inches.
- Allow thatch to form. A lawn is an environment in itself, filled with safe bacteria and beneficial bugs. A lawn needs these critters to live in its thatch to be healthy.
Did you know that most of the furniture used in homes and offices can be recycled? Many people already recycle common household materials such as paper, plastic, cans or glass bottles, but there are numerous ways to recycle your old furniture as well. Millions of household items are sent to landfills every year, and recycling will help in bringing this number down.
Here is a rundown of several ways you can recycle old furniture, instead of just kicking it to the curb for the trash truck to pick up:
1. Donate the item.
If you don’t need your old furniture, donate it to charity or give it to someone who needs it. There are several websites, such as Freecycle, that allow you to list unwanted items that people can collect from you if they are interested. You can also ask a store like Goodwill or Salvation Army to pick it up, or you can take it to their store location and drop it off.
2. Sell the item.
If you're planning to get rid of some other items, add your furniture to a garage sale or neighborhood yard sale event. You'll generate some cash while also ensuring the rocking chair or dresser you've outgrown has a new home. Just make sure they're still in usable condition. You can also sell your furniture on websites such as Craiglist.
3. Refinish or reupholster it.
Before you decide to get rid of it, consider refinishing your furniture to get a brand new look. Take the furniture to a professional restoration expert or go the DIY route. Use a little imagination and turn your old furniture into something new and amazing. Put on shiny new paint, or go the opposite route and get a vintage look by creating an artfully cracked or distressed look. For old couches and chairs, consider reupholstering the pieces with a fresh new fabric.
4. Repurpose it.
Some creative ways to repurpose your old furniture:
- Use a ladder to hang towels or blankets.
- Reinventing an old door as a headboard for your bed.
- Repurpose a wooden packing crate as a side table to stack magazines.
- Reuse old lockers as shoe storage.
- Elevate your mattress with wood pallets.
- Use old travel trunks as bedside tables, coffee tables, side tables or display pieces.
5. Recycle it.
You can recycle the material of the furniture itself. If it’s made of wood, metal or some other recyclable material, you can take it straight to your nearest large recycling bin or community recycling facility.
This article was originally published as "On the Home Front" in the May/June issue of USGBC+. Read the original version.
After installing high-efficiency appliances and lighting during renovations of her Eichler home, Elizabeth Milne, a lawyer from Palo Alto, California, was shocked to see her electricity bill actually go up. The culprit? A newly installed instant hot water heater on the sink that immediately provided boiling water—but that also relied on an always-running heating coil that kept the water at a high temperature 24 hours a day.
“I just unplugged it and my utility bill went down,” she says.
Like many, Milne is on a journey to green her home. In addition to installing better appliances, she also repainted the walls with low-VOC paint and replaced the kitchen backsplash with tiles made from recycled glass. But she wants to do more—on a reasonable budget—and has questions about things like graywater reuse, the most environmentally friendly furniture, the life cycle of different products, and the overall impact that different “green” decisions make compared with others.
USGBC's second quarterly roundup of the top research and news on residential green building offers a new green and energy-efficient home appraisal tool, a lively primer on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, a Department of Energy profile on hurricane-resilient housing and research into the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on American homeowners.
Appraisal Institute Improves Tool to Aid Valuation of "Green" Home Features | Appraisal Institute
This recently released tool for appraisers will allow realtors and lenders to better analyze, report and understand data for green and energy-efficient homes. The updated Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum will help standardize appraisals for high-performance features and residential properties, including properties with a green certification such as LEED.
Alexander Casey of Zillow has an excellent primer on Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), a federal tax credit program for rental housing for lower-income households. Created by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the program has contributed to the acquisition, rehab or construction of nearly 3 million housing units. Learn what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next, given our current political landscape.
Can this House Survive a Hurricane? It SURE Can! | Department of Energy
With hurricane season in full gust, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy published a timely profile of the SURE House, winner of the DOE Solar Decathlon 2015. Designed by the Stevens Institute with residents hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in mind, the SURE House is a resilient, solar-powered modular home ready for life on the coast.
As the White House announced its intent to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Zillow’s Krishna Rao examines the impact global warming and rising sea levels could have on American homeowners. Her research, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Zillow data, gives “underwater homes” a whole new meaning. If sea levels rise by six feet by the year 2100, nearly 1.9 million homes—worth a combined $882 billion—are at risk of being submerged.
Labels, Certifications, and Scores, Oh My! Following the Road to Green Real Estate | 2017 Better Buildings Summit
At the 2017 Better Buildings Summit, a national meeting showcasing solutions to cut building portfolio energy intensity, the Appraisal Institute, Elevate Energy and the Real Estate Standards Organization presented a multitude of tools available for greening residential real estate. From The Home Energy Score to green financing products and tools to better capture green features in real estate appraisals, this slide deck outlines new resources available in the growing green residential sector.
If you have suggestions for future studies we could share, please contact Nick Brousse.
By choosing to remodel, you have already made a green choice. Instead of building a home from scratch, remodeling allows you to reuse materials in your home that are already in place. Remodeling your home with sustainability in mind will contribute to a positive impact on the world’s energy consumption.
Having an environmentally friendly home will allow you to avoid many negative aspects of renovating, such as
- Hurting the environment with newly harvested and wasted materials.
- Off-gassing of toxins.
- Increasing the amount of construction and demolition waste and debris.
Having an eco-friendly home can change the quality of life for you and your family in many drastic ways. Sustainable appliances will ultimately reduce your bills thanks to their energy efficiency. There are even incentives offered by local, state and federal agencies for going green in your lifestyle. Windows, doors, roofing, insulation, and HVAC are all items of a home remodel that are subject to tax credits. Local utility providers sometimes offer rebates for green upgrades as well.
Refresh instead of replacing
Recycling is a huge aspect of living a green lifestyle. Repurposing items and materials prevents unnecessary purchases for your home upgrades. Saving natural resources and reducing the emissions from the manufacturing and transportation of these materials does the environment a huge favor. Many green products and materials are also more durable and effective compared to non-sustainable products.
Deconstruct instead of demolishing
Demolition has an immense impact on the environment due to material waste. Before remodeling your home, think strategically about what to deconstruct and what items to keep. Thinking sustainably ahead of time can save you money by minimizing your long list of materials to buy and reduce waste. Walk through your home and see what you can re-use. Light fixtures, molding, cabinets, and even doors can be repurposed.
If after doing your research you realize that you just can’t sustainably remodel your entire house at the moment, think about it in phases. If you want to start with running a more efficient household, focus on
- Energy-efficient appliances.
- On-demand water heaters.
- High-efficiency insulation.
- Solar technology.
The next step of your green remodel can tackle things like using
- Sustainably harvested woods.
- Reclaimed lumber for system rebuilding.
- Reclaimed fixtures.
- Rainwater collection as part of your home plumbing system.
If you love the idea of renovating your home to be more energy-efficient, but can’t take on a full house remodel, think about remodeling on a room-by-room basis. It may feel more realistic to take on the upgrading of kitchen appliances to be more sustainable, instead of picturing all of the things in your home that need to be addressed.
Photo courtesy of Norstone USA.
You can also take a step back and conceptualize how much space you actually need in your home. If you have a room that doesn’t get much use, you can either reduce your overall square footage or repurpose it into a space that would be further enjoyed. Smaller living spaces are ultimately more affordable, and have less negative impact on the environment by using less materials and emitting fewer toxins into the air.
Another idea that is mindful of space is to double up on the purposes of your rooms. You can easily add a washer and dryer to a kitchen or bedroom in a discreet way, or even into a hallway or a closet. Open-concept homes often have one large room that serves as the kitchen area, living room, and dining room.
An eco-friendly kitchen possesses a design that embodies healthy living as well as energy efficiency. Nontoxic materials used in the kitchen are central to having a sustainable kitchen as well. From cabinetry to flooring, these products often have added urea formaldehyde, which emits gases and endangers healthy living. Glue, sealant, paint and coating may also have toxins that should be avoided.
When designing your kitchen, it is advised to go for more classic looks. Not only will it cost you money to replace out-of-style colors and countertops, but it also fuels waste buildup by frequently ripping out and replacing these materials.
A stone backsplash is a favorite final touch for many homeowners. This can be one of the most sustainable elements in your green kitchen. Rock panels are commonly used for stacked stone backsplashes as they have one of the most durable finishes, and use a natural stone sealer.
Photo courtesy of Norstone USA.
One easy way to have confidence that your appliances are sustainable is to use Energy Star, the EPA’s defining, voluntary program in the energy efficiency movement. In addition to having only the most sustainable appliances in your kitchen, it will also make a difference where you place them. Choose to locate your refrigerator in an area of your kitchen where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight to optimize its energy-saving capabilities.
Twenty-seven percent of household water is used in toilets. Installing and maintaining efficient water and plumbing systems are critical factors to consider when sustainably remodeling your bathroom. Your shower and sink faucets can also be swapped out with low-flow devices in order to save on water.
Low-volume and dual-flush mechanism toilets are becoming more popular as well. As for sinks, know what materials are safe to use in your green bathroom. Natural ceramic and nontoxic cement are popular options for hardware and sink basins.
Knowing what you are purchasing when it comes to remodeling your home is arguably the most challenging aspect. Homeowners need to know what to look for when purchasing products, materials, and appliances. Keep in mind that there are currently no EPA regulations around terms like “natural," “organic,” or “sustainable.”
Photo courtesy of Norstone USA.
All sustainable products are not created equal. Like Energy Star, there are certifications that indicate a level of sustainability, such as the Greenguard certification. This will help optimize the indoor air quality of your home. The best way to do this is to look for materials that will not emit toxic chemicals into the air.
Avoid volatile organic compounds (VOCs). According to the EPA, VOCs pose long-term health problems. In general, natural home products are more durable and effective than man-made products. For instance, a wool rug will outlive a synthetic rug by about 45 years. In the same manner, natural linoleum lasts twice as long as vinyl flooring. Granite is one of the most popular countertop materials, since it can last for generations.
It is wise to do your own research to be able to offer suggestions on eco-friendly materials when it comes to your remodel, but there are countless designers that are fully informed and have a driving principle to make people’s homes more sustainable.
Enlist a designer who knows your need to be green. Here are some sample questions that an environmentally friendly designer should be able to answer:
- “What is your process to incorporate my needs into a successful kitchen design?"
- “How are you positive that the selected design and new architecture of my home will last a lifetime?”
- “What materials do you find to be more durable, and also do not emit toxins into the air?”
- “What are some fads you are seeing that we should avoid when creating a green living space?”
Articulating your needs and expectations are a must to be able to have your builder put your vision into motion. Visit building supply stores to look into Energy Star appliances, recycled material options and efficient lighting. You can also take tours of local green homes near you to scope out designs that match your dream home ideas.
Sustainability on a budget
Contrary to popular belief, remodeling your home sustainably does not mean it has to be expensive.
- Use reclaimed materials. Buying reclaimed materials, like wood, is an environmentally friendly choice. It saves not only time and energy, but money. Refacing instead of replacing will also save you money. Find ways to salvage what is already yours to help your budget remain conservative.
- Shop local. Having green materials shipped can quickly add up. By searching locally for handmade materials, you will save money. Buying pre-owned materials is another general way to cut renovation costs. There are many local sources for used hardware, plumbing, cabinetry, appliances and countertops.
Choosing paint for your home that is safe for your family and indoor air quality can seem like a mystifying quest. Is there a real difference between "low-VOC" and "zero-VOC"? What is "off-gassing"? If you choose the safest kind of paint, will it stand the test of time?
Here's a breakdown of the factors involved in buying green paint.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are carbon-containing substances that easily become vapors or gases. They can be present in paints, coatings and cleaning products.
In coatings, the solvents containing VOCs assist with the quality of application and drying, so that a substance like paint does not streak on a surface. However, they can cause respiratory and other health problems for occupants, when used indoors. Their release into the indoor atmosphere is called off-gassing, and it occurs over time, not just during paint application or drying.
Paints labeled "low-VOC" should contain fewer than 50 grams per liter of volatile compounds, if they meet the Green Seal standards. Since there is no one regulatory standard, the low-VOC designation means different things depending on which body is certifying it, but 50 grams is the common bar for architectural flat paints. You can compare standards for other types of coatings in the influential South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1113. Most low-VOC paints are latex-based. Adding pigment to a paint base may also increase its VOC levels up to an additional 10 grams per liter.
Paints labeled "zero-VOC" may actually contain a small amount of VOCs—usually fewer than 5 grams per liter. There are also completely natural paints, such as milk paint or chalk paint, that carry no VOCs.
Sometimes, you have to make a trade-off: lower VOCs for more frequent paint applications. The substances that can make your paint more toxic are also sometimes the ones that cause it to dry faster and to stick better, for longer. For example, if you apply milk paint to your nursery wall, it may take several days to dry, and may need to be recoated sooner.
However, paint formulations are always changing and improving. Chances are, the paint you buy today has already solved some of the formulation hurdles of two years ago. Companies are increasingly focused on creating more low- or zero-VOC interior paints.
As paint formulators balance the needs of human health with those of durability, they come up with better products, so it's worth staying on top of the latest by looking for online resources of top products and checking with approved lists from GreenSeal and GreenGuard.
- Try the Consumer Reports list of best-performing interior paints. The publication only evaluates products that claim to be low- to no-VOC.
- Look up Green Seal-approved paints.
- Check out GreenGuard-certified paints.
- Read this resource from "Better Homes and Gardens" on the GreenGuard site.
- Looking to go super green? Buy recycled paint. You'll be helping to lower consumption and reduce our overall footprint.
Electric vehicles (EVs) need electricity to charge them, and auto company Tesla has created a new way for people to charge their EVs overnight. The new "Solar Roof" can also be used as a power source for any electricity generation needs you have.
You might have noticed traditional solar panels on roofs in your neighborhood. The Solar Roof is different, because it uses small solar panels that look like roof tiles, making them a kind of invisible power plant on top of your house.
Close-up of slate Solar Roof tiles. Photo courtesy of Tesla.
Here are the simple steps to turn your roof solar.
Get online. Get a price quote online based on the size of your roof. That, along with your regional address, will also tell you roughly how much energy your roof would generate.
Get in line. There is a waiting list, because this is a first-edition product. A $1,000 down payment will save your space in line.
Consider the life span of your roof. Common asphalt roofs last about 15–20 years before they require a facelift. Try to find out the age of your roof—is it due for a replacement anyway? The Solar Roof warranty is for "the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first.”
Do some more math. This type of roof should ultimately pay for itself with the electricity savings they produce, but to decide if this is a wise investment for you, work out exactly when that day will come. That way, you can start the countdown!
Pick your favorite style. Roof tiles are part of the overall look of your home. The smooth gray glass and textured black glass styles are the current available options. Next year, slate glass and Tuscan glass will be released.
Check for tax credits. The Solar Energy Industries Association is a great place to search for Solar Investment Tax Credits. This can shrink the price tag by 30 percent.
Permitting, installation and maintenance of the Solar Roof is handled by Tesla, and the process takes about the same time as a regular roof, 5–7 days.