The Green House
Cleaner air, healthier water, a beautiful landscape that will last for generations to come—all these are goals of eco-friendly construction. But building or remodeling with low environmental impact has immediate personal benefits too.
“What’s good for the environment is good for personal health,” says Walker Wells of Global Green USA, an affiliate of Green Cross International.
Cleaner air, healthier water, a beautiful landscape that will last for generations to come—all these are goals of eco-friendly construction. But building or remodeling with low environmental impact has immediate personal benefits too. “What’s good for the environment is good for personal health,” says Walker Wells of Global Green USA, an affiliate of Green Cross International.
Using environmentally friendly building materials, such as bamboo and wood from certified renewable forests, means there is less chance that building materials will release fumes that can make you or your family sick. Home-borne illness has become a real concern these days. “That’s partly because of how much time we spend in our homes,” says Ellen Tohn, principal of ERT Associates in Wayland, and an expert in environmental and health policy. “Recent research tells us that most of us, especially children, spend more time in our home than ever before. If we are to be healthy, we need to focus on our home environments both during construction and in the way we maintain them.”
Madeline Fraser Cook, vice president of the Cambridge-based advocacy group New Ecology, says that when the idea of green building comes up, “People automatically think solar power, but there are lots of things that you can do as an individual homeowner.”
The key, she says, is concentrating on five main areas: site choice, energy use, water use, materials and indoor air quality. The first of these may be the trickiest, but with new construction, you may be able to make some smart choices about siting. If you’re building a country escape, take advantage of a naturally sunny slope rather than a waterlogged valley to minimize heating bills. Energy-efficient appliances can save homeowners serious money; look for Energy Star ratings. Opting for low-water-use systems, both in internal plumbing and irrigation, means smaller water bills, as well as less waste.
In choosing materials for building and finishing your project, opt for paints and floor finishes that don’t release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The EPA considers VOCs a contributor to indoor air pollution. “You know that ‘new paint’ smell?” asks Cook. “There will be a lot less of that.” Ask your contractor about finishes with low VOC makeup, often those without formaldehyde. Many Web resources, including Global Green USA (www.globalgreen.org) and the Enterprise Foundation’s Green Communities Initiative (www.enterprisefoundation.org), have more information on building with low-impact materials.
Other green options may not be immediately apparent. Linoleum, for example, is a natural, biodegradable material made with rosin. Vinyl, on the other hand, is made from petroleum byproducts, releasing hazardous chemicals as it is produced. In fact, fumes may continue to be released for months. Look for labels that indicate materials have been recycled; many hardwoods are now harvested from renewable forests, and carry certification. While some eco-friendly materials are more expensive, advocates like Cook advise considering not only the world’s future, but the longevity of your home. “Greening is always good to take a look at from a long-term cost perspective,” she says. “We’re talking durability.”