The health and cost-saving benefits of implementing green strategies in your home and your daily routine are obvious. Unfortunately, it is not always immediately evident what constitutes a truly eco-friendly house plan.
Many green features are not obvious to the eye but if you understand the concepts you will be able to discern the real deal from the faux.
Bigger is not better: A large home consumes much more energy than a small one and there is no way around that, regardless of all other green strategies implemented. Try to make your home efficient by keeping it just as big as necessary. A custom home designer can create a small house plan that takes into consideration your family dynamics and how each space will be used to avoid wasted space.
Fill-in your home into the existing fabric: Properties such as former parking lots, shopping malls or factories are the greenest to build your home on. Building on fragile sites like prime farmland, wetlands and endangered species habitats is not only often restricted by law but also harmful and the least green. Choose sites with densities of at least six units per acre.
Access to transportation: If you can walk to public transportation and other places such as parks, schools, stores or use your bike you could consider giving up your car and join a car share group instead. Not only will you get a lot of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise but you will save a lot of money by eliminating the cost of owning a car. Plus insurance companies often offer lower rates to residents that live close to public transportation.
Siting and natural light: Your home should be laid out to capitalize strategically on natural daylight. A home designed to capture southern sun exposure can lower energy costs. Plan for sunshades, overhangs and vegetation to block sun during summer months on the facades facing south and west. Allow for windows and skylights and other means to capture natural light. Invest in properly installed, insulated dual glazed windows to reduce heat gain in summer and heat loss during winter. Light colored roofs reflect heat instead of absorbing it, making it a greener option. Landscaping with large trees provides shade. Try to minimize hardscape surfaces by using plants which do not require constant irrigation.
Materials matter: Pay attention to using nontoxic building materials. You want to avoid volatile organic compound (VOC), so look for low or zero-VOC paints and sealants. Use natural products such as wood responsibly by ensuring that they come from rapidly renewable sources such as bamboo does. For exotic woods they should be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Also consider salvaged materials or materials with a high content of recycled components.
Insulate, insulate, insulate: Formaldehyde is used as a binding agent in most products, so you want to avoid that and look for cellulose, recycled-content or formaldehyde-free insulation. Look for insulation made from materials like soy or cotton and be sure it has a high R-value. The R-value indicates an insulation’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.
Use less energy: When buying appliances, look for Energy Star rated appliances. You can save energy by using energy saving light bulbs, efficient heating, cooling and water-heating systems.
Renew energy: Consider strategies that are self-renewing such as drawing energy from photovoltaic solar panels or geothermal heating systems.
Save water: Pay attention to the flow rate of kitchen and bathroom fixtures and install a water-conserving irrigation system. Some rainwater collection and storage systems are also great ways of reusing rainwater.
Indoor light and air quality: A green home receives at least 75% of natural daylight. Natural ventilation is also very important in a green home, think about operable windows and fans. Filters in your HVAC system provide fresh incoming air, stale air should be vented directly to the outside.
Although not all of these green strategies are immediately obvious, they are very intuitive. With a little bit of common sense, they are not difficult to achieve. The health and money-saving benefits are absolutely worth the effort.
You are excited about building your new small home and have endless ideas of what it is going to be. Chances are you have been clipping images from magazines and did some research online to find inspiration. Now you need to sit down with your designer and communicate your vision to her. Designers are creative by definition but are trained to listen to your vision, too, to help you organize and refine your ideas and then translate them into a feasible reality. Be sure you ask your designer the right questions to ensure that you are getting exactly what you want.
You want to work with somebody who not only has experience with green design but stays current with industry trends and is truly committed. A custom home designer that is knowledgeable about green building can help you design a home that will save energy and be sustainable, plus qualify for LEED or other energy programs.
Since any type of building requires many players, it is important that your designer is a good team player and can communicate well so that the experience is a pleasant and effective collaboration between all consultants.
It is essential that your designer will make a schedule that contains milestone dates and a realistic time frame for completion. It’s also important to understand your designers ability once your custom home is being built for any changes that may be needed.
Some designers bill hourly, some bill hourly with a maximum cap while others charge a flat fee or a percentage of total construction. Before signing an agreement, you should fully understand how and how often you will be billed.
Different designers have different styles and specializations. The best way to see if your designer and you are a good match in regards to personal stylistic preferences is to ask for a portfolio of work. It is also a good idea to ask for references.
If you can get satisfactory answers to all of your questions, you should be very comfortable with your selection of home designer. Do not hesitate to ask as many questions as you need to during the design process, a good designer should be able to have or find answers for you. It can be a complex process, do not be shy to also get explanations for issues you may not fully understand at first.
A smooth collaboration between your designer and you will make your dream of your own custom small house come true.