Plan Carefully When
Building Green Homes
Get it Right First Go!
Use my Green Home Design Checklist
Building green homes is now one of the fastest growing industries in the
western world. Going green is also a great way to boost the value of
your home! So the last thing you want when building a green home or
doing a green home remodel is to be making mistakes or forgetting
something important. When you have finished, you want to know that you
have done it right and forgotten nothing!
So I have put together a Green Home Design Checklist so you can check off all the important things as you plan, design and build your green home or launch into that green home remodel, and avoid making any costly mistakes.
Now you will have to choose where you want to be with it - keep it simple or go the whole way and build a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified house or building - or as most people do, somewhere in the middle.
- Print out your Green Home Design Checklist so you have it on hand and can use it for your process. You will also want to print out my Interior Design Checklist.
- Rule No.1: Get complete written quotes for everything from the paint, to cabinets, the carpets and yes the kitchen sink! Do not compromise on this; if a contractor won't give you a written quote, pass him by and find a contractor who will. The reputable ones who run a good business will be happy to do this for you. Also ask to see certifications where appropriate. Then check off that this is done for each item on the Green Home Design Checklist and also the Interior Design Checklist.
- ARE THERE ANY GOVERNMENT GRANTS OR TAX REBATES you can apply for? I live in Australia and we have had grants and rebates in place from time to time to help with the costs of installing solar panels and solar water heaters. These change with elections etc so ask your local, state and federal government representatives for information on this. You might save yourself a bundle.
- Have a budget and factor in some leeway. Budgets are great but you need some extra in reserve just in case it is absolutely needed. Budgets can be blown by shopping without researching first and going shopping without your list. They can also be blown out by contractors not finishing on time and the next trade not able to start, extended rain periods, and by breakages and incorrect measurements etc. So remember to keep some money in reserve. This reserve is NOT for if you find something you want to buy that wasn't factored in (unless it is a necessity), it is for unforeseen calamity. . Do your homework well, have it all typed up neatly, ask experts for advice; get written quotes and file them.
Make sure your spouse or partner knows where they are filed! A portable expander filing case with a carrying handle would be a good option and file them under categories like Electrical, Floor covering etc. If you file them under the name of the contractor you may not remember the name. Have a telephone & address book for all contractors and professionals you will be dealing with. This may be a physical book or on your iPad, iPhone or computer but always do backups; if you only have one copy and lose it you are up the creek! Same goes for the Project Brief and this document.
- The Project Brief: If you are building a green home or doing a green home remodel and you are project managing, you must get each trade involved to come to an agreement about who does what and when for your project! Each job must be done in the correct order. Draw up a project brief they all can sign and give each contractor their own copy. This is for your protection and to assure a smooth building process that stays within your budget guidelines.
- The Timeline: This is an important part of your Project Brief. The timeline is the sequence of jobs on your project. You must consult with your contractors on who does what, when. For example, you don’t want to lay all your floor coverings and then get the painters in. All the contractors will know when they should be booked in and try to get a date fixed for them all. Don’t make it too tight a schedule in case they go over time or come in a day late. Let them all know if there are delays. Type this out, GIVE EVERYONE A COPY and put one up on the office wall, fridge or wherever you will see it every day.
- Employ Green Professionals: They are; architect, designer, contractors, and tree surveyors who know Green Home Designs and Buildings! If they have the right credentials and experience in their fields (check these and the projects they have worked on), AND they know how to put together a GREEN home; then they are the people you want to work on your project with you. It is also a good idea to get a Feng Shui Consultant to check your plans before you go ahead with the build or remodel.
- When it comes to measuring and estimating materials quantities, unless you have experience with this, HAVE AN EXPERT DO IT! Having lots of leftovers is not economical and having not quite enough to do the job is frustrating. It is better being the responsibility of the contractor, not you. This is how a lot of expensive mistakes are made.
- Are your demolished materials toxic? If doing a green remodel, have an expert check to see if the materials you are demolishing and taking away are toxic. You do not want yourself and your family to be poisoned by lead paint or asbestos! If they are toxic, then hire an expert to remove them. ALWAYS. If you poison yourself it can take many years (of illness) to clear it out of your system, if ever!
- Consideration of space: Remember in your design to allow for enough space to be comfortable and allow for some privacy and peace, but not be so big that you lose energy efficiency. Large spaces need a lot more materials, maintenance, heating and cooling, and are more expensive in construction. Go for efficiency and productivity.
- Ask your architect for a SOLAR PASSIVE DESIGN to allow winter warmth and summer cool to come inside, and winter cold and summer heat to be kept out. This one important factor is the major key to a Green Home and energy efficiency to keep your energy costs down and lower your carbon footprint.
- Insulation is a necessity in a green home. It should cut down your heating and cooling requirements. There are a few choices out there when it comes to this; pure wool batts, blow in insulation etc. The questions you need to be asking are, what is it made of, what happens to it in a fire (eg toxic smoke), how does it perform, how long does it last, and is it environmentally disposable or reusable? Remember to instal the most insulated garage door you can find too! Polyurethane or polystyrene is the most standard insulation in garage doors. Mighty Garage Doors think a steel backed polyurethane is best.
- Speaking of energy efficiency, include some solar panels or shingles etc and solar hot water and generate some or all of your own power. You may need an efficient gas hot water system as back-up in cloudy weather. If you have chosen a solar passive design for your home, then there will be plenty of roofing facing the direction you need it to for your solar panels. For your solar needs, talk to as many experts as you can, salespeople AND industry experts and really understand what you need and can afford. The industry experts should also know if you can get any government rebates for your solar equipment.
See Solar Power for Homes
- The Electrical and Lighting Design is an important consideration when it comes to any home and especially in a green home. Know where you need lights, points and switches and check they are correct on the plans.
Don't connect multiple lights to one switch as every time you turn the light on, they all will go on and waste power!
* Install Solar Tubes in areas where you may require extra lighting so you are not relying on artificial lighting during the day.
* The incoming power supply and the main electrical panel should be situated away from all main living areas and especially bedrooms. The exterior wall of the garage is the best place for it.
* Ensure the electrician doing the work is familiar with principles to eliminate electrical fields and electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that can harm health.
* All bedrooms should have kill switches installed to cut off the electricity. To set up a Sleep Sanctuary you must eliminate all electrical fields which cause sleep disturbances; this is a necessity. Sleep deprivation and exposure to EMR when sleeping causes long-term health issues.
* A kill switch installed by an electrician or Ecostrips allowing for all electrical items such as TV's, stereos etc in the living room to be turned off with one switch, can save your $s on electricity usage.
See my Certifications page for Certification Labels and energy ratings to look for on your electrical products to ensure you are getting a safe, energy smart product!
* Electric lighting burns up to 25% of the average home energy requirement so make sure you choose energy efficient lighting. Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs are a good choice.
* LED bulbs are long-lasting and durable, cool, more energy efficient, mercury free, and cost effective over the long term.
* CFL bulbs are four times more efficient and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents. They are less expensive in the long term and reduce air and water pollution. If everyone in the U.S. used energy-efficient lighting, we could retire 90 average size power plants. The new CFLs give high-quality warmer light especially the ALZO Digital Full Spectrum Light Bulbs; good for treating S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), photo studio lights, or starting plant growth.
* When it comes to design, spot lighting of work stations, reading and eating areas are a better choice than a light bulb in the middle of the ceiling like we had growing up! Mood lighting and soft lighting for watching TV is easily achieved with lamps.
- Water Catchment is becoming a high priority for households in areas with lower rainfall and low pollution. I grew up in Australia and back then everyone had a water tank. It went out of fashion but now is seeing a resurgence as water has become expensive! So consider getting a water tank at least to provide water to your toilets, showers and gardens.
- Renewable materials are substances derived from a living tree, plant, animal or ecosystem which have the ability to regenerate themselves. A renewable material can be produced again and again. When choosing wood, it should be from sustainable/renewable sources, or recycled and not treated with arsenic or formaldehyde. Although there are exceptions like CDX plywood, which contains phenol formaldehyde and will pass the bar for LEED certification as it only outgases at very high temperatures like in a fire. Untreated wood, steel, cement, and stone are not toxic and do not offgas.
- Cladding: There are many ways to clad a green home and some research will bring up options that you will have to weigh up. The main boxes you will have to tick are: is it made of sustainable/renewable materials; no off gassing of dangerous fumes; does it have high insulation properties, for heat, cold and sound; is it low maintenance; will it last your lifetime and your children’s; at the end of it’s life will the materials be reusable and not harmful if returned to the environment? Straw-bale construction as an example, fulfills these requirements as do ecologically sourced mud bricks.
- Heating should be considered at the construction stage because one of most efficient and pleasant ways to heat a home is to install radiant floor heating before the cement floor is finished. It uses plastic tubing laid in loops on the foundation, and then hot water (solar heated of course) is pumped through it to provide heat in the floors which rises up to heat the entire house.
Other forms of heating: Wood heating, Forced air heating, radiant heating. Many indoor air quality problems can be caused by forced air heating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. Radiant heat delivery is more efficient than HVAC systems and can solve a number of those indoor air quality problems. Wood heating avoids these indoor air quality issues and has even more benefits than radiant heating; eg. wood heating is less expensive than fossil fuel, and a correctly installed combustion heater burns cleaner.
- Ensure all exhaust fans vent to the outside and not into the ceiling space to reduce possibility of mold infestations.
- The entire plumbing system should be energy and water efficient. Beware of having your hot water systems too far from the kitchen, laundry, bathrooms and toilets. It can take several minutes of water running before the hot water comes through. Install the
best water filter in the kitchen for your drinking water; tap water contains many chemicals which you DO NOT want to drink on a regular basis. You will love the taste of clean, clear water. Make sure you are choosing insulated pipes, water-wise shower heads, duel flush water efficient toilets, and Energy Star appliances of the best quality you can afford. They might cost more in the beginning but will save you much more money in the long run.
When choosing the paint for your new or remodelled green home, always go for paint that meets LEED and Green Seal standards. You want zero VOC paint that will not offgas toxins into your home and also has no toxic residue when washing the brushes etc. Find out how long the paint will last and choose the better quality longer lasting paint. You will find a full range to suit every need.
Click here to visit Eco Safety Products, Your Green Building Supplier!
- SURFACES: When building green homes the interior materials should be chosen with great care. Cement, untreated wood, plaster, stone, ceramic tiles and grout, steel, untreated bamboo, and environmental plasterboard are all non-toxic and will not offgas. Also check on whether the materials have been sustainably sourced. This is just your standard question with every purchase.
Marmoleum is the new linoleum and is a great choice for floor covering. It is produced from renewable materials; linseed oil, wood flour, rosins, jute, limestone and ecologically responsible natural pigments. The harvesting/extracting of the materials consumes relatively little energy. It is easy to clean, has no adverse affects on your health, helps to prevent household mites from multiplying (great for allergy sufferers) and has anti-static and anti-bacterial properties. It is soft to walk on so absorbs sound and shock, and doesn’t get really cold like ceramic tiles. Linoleum can also be used to finish walls, door panels, cupboards and furniture.
Cork has become one of the most popular flooring materials because it provides natural thermal insulation, thus helping to lower energy consumption. Like marmoleum, cork is soft to walk on so absorbs sound and shock, and doesn’t get really cold like ceramic tiles. It is a type of flooring that suits most allergy sufferers and is very durable.
Non-toxic carpet: Look for wool, bamboo, coir carpet and rugs that are non-toxic. Also there is a range of carpet and rugs made from recycled materials but check the toxicity of materials and dyes before you buy. These days most carpets are colored with dyes that are very toxic. Also check on long-term durability. Remember – do your research and if it costs more at the purchase stage, just remember how much you will save on energy and health costs.
- Soft furnishings will need to be sourced in a similar way. Look for natural fibres like silk, bamboo, cotton etc. When buying linen for the beds, organic cotton sheets is definitely the way to go! When choosing a mattress look for one that is non-toxic (yes most of them are), prevents the build-up of dust-mites, has washable covers, and is orthopaedic of course. The only one I know of that fits the whole bill is Wenatex. They also have pillows and doonas which do the same job. This system is a must when creating a sleep sanctuary.
With all soft furnishings and fabrics, ask how they are cleaned and what wear will they withstand.
- Furniture can contain formaldehyde amongst other toxic ingredients so look for pieces made by local craftspeople you can talk to about the finishes and stains etc. You also do not want to be buying furniture made from old growth forests, rainforests etc so choose furniture made from sustainable forests or recycled timber. Older pieces can be refurbished to make beautiful recycled pieces. Some companies are now making kitchens and bathroom cabinetry that is non-toxic. I strongly advise you look for them.
- Building green homes means that your garden now deserves the same treatment. I read a survey that concluded that the garden is the most toxic "room" in most homes. A green home MUST have a chemical free garden. . Landscaping and garden supplies also come in a non-toxic and organic range. Make sure you source these from garden centers and organic gardening websites and magazines. Your garden design should include space for planting vegetables and some fruit trees. If you have limited space you can get a dwarf variety of almost every fruit tree now that will also grow in containers.
- Starting a garden, especially a vegetable garden is also one of the best green things you can do. The best way I have found to make a vegetable garden and grow chemical free nutritious veges, is The French BioIntensive Method. The book How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine will tell you everything you need to know to use this system. Using this method will minimize your water requirements and the space needed to grow all your vegetables. It is tried and tested and while it requires some hard work in the beginning, it becomes easier and easier as you progress.
- Composting, all explained in the book, is something everyone should be doing. All of your kitchen waste can go into the compost heap to eventually become a part of your vegetable garden, and ultimately back in your grateful bellies! Home grown veggies are THE BEST – the taste is supreme, and the health benefits and self-satisfaction you will receive will astound you. Give it a go. It will lower your carbon footprint too.
- Now you have a new green home, be very careful about what you bring into your home. You now will not want to spray air fresheners, insecticides, nor use toxic cleaning materials and personal care products as these are what make the average home more toxic than the streets outside! Go to the Eco Friendly Products page to source your eco-friendly kitchen, bathroom and laundry products.
- Choose a cleaning system that also cleans your air for you. Most vacuum cleaners actually contribute to poor indoor air quality because they are pumping a lot of dust and mites back out into your home. This can cause asthma, allergies, eczema and a whole range of problems.
- Use only 100% safe, natural, organic cleaners; you can even make your own cleaners.
- If you live near a well trafficked road or you can't implement all the green checklist items, get yourself the best air cleaner for your home; a multi-function air purifier...Multi-Tech XJ-3000C Air Purifier so you are breathing fresh clean purified air.
- Buy Organic Cotton or Bamboo bedding
and Organic Clothing for your family.
You can now buy a wonderful range of organic cotton, bamboo and wool clothing and bedding for adults, children and babies. Cotton is now one of the highest sprayed crops in the world. The main cotton farming practices are not sustainable and are poisoning our environment. You will absolutely love the feeling of organic cotton and silky bamboo clothing and bedding.
- Consider also Natural Health Remedies to heal illnesses and disease and to maintain your increasing health. Bad reactions to prescription and over-the-counter medicines kill more than 100,000 Americans and seriously injure an additional 2.1 million every year. ~ Associated Press, Chicago.
- Choose organic, chemical free and natural wholesome foods from a trusted source like Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage - Real Natural Food Store and do your best to only eat and drink to nourish yourself. Chemical laden, poorly cooked and nutritionally dead foods are NOT treats. They rob you of your health. A treat is something that should be extra nourishing, like a punnet of strawberries or blueberries, a bag of warm macadamias, etc.
This list may not be complete as I am always updating it, and there are always new innovations and materials emerging onto the marketplace. So do your own homework as YOU are ultimately responsible for your project.
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.
Well there you go! When you are building green homes, if you follow this Green Home Design Checklist and the Interior Design Checklist the results will be amazing, and remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. All of this is a process and the more you immerse yourself in it, the more you will love this lifestyle.
Yes it is a lifestyle! You are not just building green homes; all of these are lifestyle choices and many people (who just don't get it yet) will pooh-hooh it but just ignore them and continue on. You will feel the benefits, your appearance will improve daily, and your health will blossom. And by the time the masses catch on to all this, you will be a pro, and they will be coming to you to find out how you have done it!
PS, if they do, remember to give me a plug :)
May you be Blessed with Health, Wealth
and much Happiness.
I have never met a “former environmentalist.” It’s true! Once you understand the truth and complexity of our environmental challenges, you are forever changed.~ Ray C. Anderson