Just the facts on “Green Building” in Colorado

What does it mean to go Green?  Green Building has been catch-all phrase for years in Colorado.  Here is a primer on the basics.

Revised Oct 14, 2014, Revised May 01, 2016

Green Building is so much more than foam insulation, double pane windows or recycling the packaging that building materials came in. So what exactly is it?  In the new homes business, Green Building in Colorado is a full and systematic process that involves constructing homes in a way which conserves energy, is sustainable, improves indoor air quality, and has a lower impact on the environment than traditional building practices.  Fully applied, this process is a quantum shift in building philosophy, but market forces nearly always prevent builders from fully integrating all of the elements they’d like to.  A typical 2000 square foot rancher would cost significantly above it’s typical market price if  every element of Green Building were employed in its design and construction.  And that’s not really financially sustainable, despite everyone’s best intentions. So, the best builders find a middle ground in design, inclusions and offerings.  Many builders in Douglas County, for example, are leading the way in this effort.

Green building! Roof-mounted solar panels
Green Building! Roof-mounted solar panels

We all know this: Green Homes not only benefit the environment, but they can save you money long-term through reduced costs.  However, a smarter perspective says that there are frequent cases in which the economic return on certain Green investments may take a longer period of time to pay you back than you plan on being in your home.  In those instances, where the likelihood of owning the home would be for a shorter period of time than that financial return, many elements of “Green Building” might not make any monetary sense. Sure, do it for the environment, but it does not take long to find yourself in an untenable position if a non-compromising perspective like this  were adhered to completely.

Green building: I think I’d like it. Or, I have to have it. Or, is it just another expensive luxury item being creatively marketed today?

On the other hand, many homebuyers simply want to go Green: there is more to it than just the economics for them, and that is to be celebrated. The most common problem Realtors see is the reality that more expensive Green Options can take critical budget dollars away from essential items, like needed square footage.  Consumers often have to turn down Green Items they’d really like to have in favor of the legitimate needs of the family. There is no cause for guilt in these instances, since any home you build these days will be at least twice as efficient as even a few decades ago – and that’s with no energy upgrades or options, just improvements in materials and building codes!  And more good news: there are Green Building technologies you can choose that won’t break the bank. Sure, some choices do border on being labeled as luxury items, given their 20 year payback timetables. As with everything else, the informed consumer is the happiest consumer. Give me a call and I’ll help you objectively sort through all of the details on the often complicated cost-benefit relationships.

Some Key Elements of Homes with Elevated Energy Efficiency. (Many of these items are even standard inclusions with some Colorado builders.)

  • Thermal envelope technology including Tyvec or equivalent
  • Air infiltration testing and compliance
  • High efficiency heating and cooling systems
  • Foam or cellulose insulation, increased R-values in same cross section
  • Instant hot water systems
  • Low-E windows offer summer solar blockage and winter solar gain
  • Reflective sheathing in some geographic areas
  • Structural moisture mitigation
  • LED’s or older CFL bulbs
  • Insulated garages and garage doors
  • “Above Code” efficient appliances
  • LEED certification
  • Smart household management controllers and apps
  • Low VOC materials
High efficiency tankless water heating system
High efficiency tankless water heating system

 

Here are some pricier “Green Building” offerings with varying cost recoupment timelines. In the past, these items were almost exclusively found in higher-end homes. As their costs come down and energy prices rise, they are finding their way into middle price point homes more and more. 

  • Solar cells and coatings for electrical generation
  • Complete/integrated household management software
  • Geothermal heating  and cooling technology
  • Solar water heat
  • Reflective roof technology
  • Energy recovery heat exchangers for HVAC systems
  • Zoned or split heating and cooling
  • Mini HVAC units for conditioning only occupied portions of homes
  • Triple pane windows
  • Highly insulated doors
  • Sheep’s wool insulation (believe it or not)
  • Small wind turbines
  • Strong commitment to low VOC carpets, paints, finishes and adhesives

 

Workers install a closed loop geothermal system

Not only does energy efficiency help the environment by using smaller amounts of scarce resources, but it will save you money in the long run through reduced water and electricity bills.  It can also add value to your house, as appraisers have begun to recognize the intrinsic value of energy efficiency to purchasers of resale homes as well as new homes.   Many builders have begun going Green, but some still have yet to incorporate these methods.  At Colorado New Home Specialists, we work with you when selecting a builder and an energy efficient home.

What is Green Building Sustainability?

  • Sustainable homes use fewer scarce resources in construction
  • Use of more locally-produced construction materials
  • Environmentally friendly, nontoxic construction
  • Allows home occupants to use fewer resources
  • Renewable energy usage such as solar power, recycled grey water

We only have one planet, and we must preserve and take care of it.  Going Green implies sustainability: recognition that change is required and past building practices cannot continue the course they are currently running without serious future environmental consequences. Home buyers can play a part by choosing builders that emphasize Green Building technology, selecting the latest appliances, and considering solar energy.

Green residential water filtration system
Green residential water filtration system

Understanding Indoor Home Air Quality, the most often neglected aspect of Green Building.

  • Better Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems to remove airborne toxins
  • Elimination of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) which are commonly found in paint, carpets, adhesives and insulation
  • Better insulated homes to remove drafts and prevent loss of cool or heat

Most people are aware of the dangers of outdoor pollutants such as smog and exhaust, but few are aware that indoor airborne toxins have always been there, and still are.  Attention please, Green Building enthusiast : The tighter homes of today actually can make this problem worse!  Airborne VOCs are microscopic particles which are found in many paints, carpets, and insulation.  These toxins in homes severely diminish health and can contribute to asthma and allergies.  Fortunately, many builders are now using “cleaner” materials in home construction.  Proper ventilation can remove many of the remaining airborne toxins as well.  The better systems can even make indoor air cleaner than outdoor air.  The practice of Green Building  generally address these concerns in some way, but not always fully: especially for those with serious allergies/conditions. Remember, builders cannot deliver all things they’d like to into a competitively priced home. Therefore, research and diligence are essential if this subject of air quality is critically important to you.

In closing, I clearly recognize the importance of going Green to homeowners, builders, and the environment.  This topic is part of building science technology, which is a personal passion of mine. Green Building practices can save money, conserve resources, and promote health when compared to traditional practices.  They can also cost more than the reasonable return on investment.  With all that in mind, it is critical to have someone on your side who can help out in understanding the complexities of the product offerings as well as the cost/benefit analysis.  True Green philosophy has to make sense from many perspectives – green is after all the color of money too.  There are many other aspects to consider when evaluating Green Building than there is space for here, so give me a call today to learn more.