Below are the contents of an article written by Wendy Koch for USA Today that appeared on Earth Day titled, "Blueprint for a green house". Wendy also writes for a USA Today blog titled, "Green House".
I've taken snippets of her 10 tips with a few comments by me in italics, but I highly recommend reading her whole article and following her blog.
1. Don't do what we did.
Obviously, selling a house in a horrific market is not a capital idea. I also wouldn't recommend building a custom green-certified home unless you have time, money and patience......
2. Consider your goals.
If you want a greener home, look at retrofitting rather than building new. That's probably more eco-friendly, because you're not tearing down a house. (We're disassembling, piece by piece, the old rambler that stood on the lot we bought in Falls Church, Va. We'll salvage whatever possible.)
You can save a lot of energy and water with simple, low-cost changes: programmable thermostats, low-flow shower/faucet fixtures, dual-flush toilets, compact flourescent or LED lighting....
(Mapawatt has tons of posts on the above topics)
3. Look at production and pre-fab homes.
If you're still intent on a new home, there's good news. An increasing number of major builders such as Pulte and KB Homes are offering eco-friendly houses at competitive prices, many of which carry the U.S. Energy Star efficiency label and some even a USGBC certification.....
(My townhome is a Pulte home and I sure wish they put more efficient products in it before we bought it. For instance, we have a standard AC unit, but I would have jumped at the chance to get a high efficiency unit - and paid more for the house - if given the option.)
4. Buy a flat, sunny lot in a walkable neighborhood.
Building green isn't just about efficiency and recycled materials. It's also walkability. If you're close to stores and public transportation, you can drive less. Before buying a lot, check its rating on walkscore.com.....
(I've never heard of walkscore.com but it's a great idea. I can walk to the library and restaurants and ride my bike to a 40 mile "rail-t0-trail". Not having to rely on the car is freedom.)
5. Hire architects you like and builders who know green.
Want a distinctive house, one that stands out from the crowd? Then spend the money and hire an architect. Good design, which can obviate the need for bigger spaces, is worth the cost.....
6. Be prepared for change.
If you build a seriously green house, and you're hip-deep in the process, you'll change....
....The epitome came a couple of months ago at 11 p.m., after I finished blogging about a new $6,000 home windmill. "I really want it!" I told Alex, as he finished brushing his teeth. "We could go net zero!" I gushed, meaning our house could produce as much energy as it uses.....
(Mapawatt has covered windmills - which should actually be referred to as wind turbine, but... - and where they work several times. There are many manufacturers making unrealistic claims and you need to make sure you do a wind survey before you buy!)
7. Not all green makes sense.
Turns out, as Alex surmised, the windmill wasn't a cost-effective idea. Given our area's wind speed and our utility's relatively low price per kilowatt, the windmill probably would never have paid for itself, or even produced much electricity.
I was more disappointed to find that geothermal heat pumps didn't make economic sense. I got three bids, two for about $70,000 and a hybrid version for $50,000. Since we're building a tight envelope (exterior), our energy modeling showed geothermal would save us only a few hundred dollars a year at current rates.
If our house were bigger, less efficient and had higher electric rates, geothermal might have been worthwhile. Instead, we'll use a high-efficiency gas furnace.
Perhaps surprisingly, we'll save almost as much energy as we would have with geothermal by switching from double-pane Jeld-Wen windows to super-efficient Serious Windows, which have an insulating film.
So our green home, modeled to earn top ratings, won't have any chic green features such as solar panels, windmills or geothermal heat pumps.
8. Think passive.
New to the USA, but common in Germany, are "passive" homes that need almost no energy, because they are so well insulated. They use mechanical ventilation to circulate air and avoid sick-building syndrome.....
(Keep in mind that you need a fairly mild climate for a passive home. Unfortunately it's very tough to be passive in Atlanta when it is 99 degrees outside with 80% humidity. It is definitely worthy to get as close to passive as possible!)
9. Be ready for delays and cost overruns.
We naively thought we'd be in our new house by now. We were told getting permits would take four to six weeks, but after three months, we're still waiting....
10. Life goes on.
...I never doubt our decision to right-size our life. But sometimes, as the project gets bogged down, I question our decision to build a custom home. In those moments, I pull out the sketches and picture myself sipping tea at the breakfast bar and writing in my cozy, light-filled office. Would we do it again? Time will tell.
So what has your experience been building or upgrading your green home?