Green Home Guide

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Illustration of an energy-efficient home

This guide was developed by Atlanta Home Improvement using information from Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council and numerous other sources. It was reviewed and updated by: Carl Seville, Seville Consulting; and Abby Schwimmer, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance.

If you could use a few cost savings on your energy bills and believe in doing your part to both reduce waste and protect the environment, you’re likely already sold on the idea of implementing green practices in your home. Need more reasons? Try improved water quality and long-term energy efficiency, among others. To help you on your journey to go green, here are some eco-friendly improvements for each room of the home.

 

Green Home

Air Sealing and Insulation
❍    To increase energy efficiency and prevent conditioned air from being lost or wasted, get a BPI-certified (Building Performance Institute, Inc.) home energy assessment, or energy audit, to identify areas where air is escaping and insulation may not be adequate.
❍    Select insulation made from recycled, natural or eco-friendly materials.
❍    Cellulose insulation is made from 100% recycled paper.
❍    Fiberglass insulation is made from 30% recycled glass.
❍    Look for low- or zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and formaldehyde-free insulation and air sealants.
❍    When using spray foam insulation, follow manufacturers’ guidelines on ventilating the house during application and allow enough time, usually two to three days, before returning.
See the “Green Exterior” section of our guide for additional tips on air sealing and insulation.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning

❍    Install a programmable thermostat or add temperature control to a home automation system to maintain an efficient temperature setting throughout the day.

❍    If members of your household suffer from allergies or unexplained respiratory symptoms, have air ducts inspected for leakage and seal the leaks. Duct leakage can pull pollutants into the house and can be the largest source of energy waste in a home.
❍    Have your ducts tested for leakage and sealed for better air quality and higher efficiency. Ducts that are hidden in walls and ceilings can be sealed from the inside.
❍    Replace fiberglass filters with high-efficiency pleated paper filters, making sure they do not restrict airflow through the furnace or heat pump. Using 4- to 6-in.-thick filters will provide better results than 1-in. paper filters.
 

Water Heating

❍    If you wait a long time for hot water, consider installing a demand-operated pump below the sink or relocating your water heater close to the main bathrooms.
❍    When your water heater is ready for replacement, consider a newer, efficient model. If you don’t use a lot of hot water, a gas or propane tankless heater may be a good option for energy and space saving. Energy-efficient traditional tank heaters are available in propane, electric and heat pump models. Solar water heating is another good alternative if you have enough south- facing roof space. There are significant incentives available for solar, heat pump and other high-efficiency models.
See “Air Sealing and Insulation” and “Green Exterior” sections of our guide for more HVAC tips.
 

Flooring

❍    Old wood floors can be refinished many times, often lasting 100 years or more. When they are worn or damaged beyond repair, consider salvaging or recycling them after removal. Organizations such as Atlanta’s Lifecycle Building Center can help.  
❍    When replacing floors, avoid wall-to-wall carpet to keep indoor air cleaner and for a more durable finish. Area rugs that can be removed and cleaned are a better option.
❍    If carpet is preferred, look for wool or a synthetic that is GreenGuard-certified.
❍    Choose a new flooring product that contains primarily renewable and sustainable materials and avoid buying products made in countries with low environmental standards.
❍    Buy flooring from a local manufacturer to reduce the emissions and costs associated with shipping and transportation.
❍    Make sure any glues or chemical finishes are low-emissions and low-VOC.
❍    Select a flooring product that is long-lasting, easily repaired or able to be refinished.
❍    Find out if the flooring is easy to clean and if non-toxic cleansers can be used on it.
 

Eco-friendly flooring products to consider include:

❍    American hardwoods that are grown locally such as oak and cherry
❍    bamboo (Look for products finished with no formaldehyde in glues and finishes.)
❍    tile (Ceramic and porcelain are non-toxic and easy to clean, and small portions can be repaired tile by tile.)
❍    cork (a natural and resilient renewable resource)

Paint
❍    Choose low- or zero-VOC interior and exterior paints.
❍    Water-based paints are preferred to oil-based paint, as they contain fewer VOCs.
❍    Avoid fungicides and biocides in paint, which can be toxic.
❍    Dispose of unused paint at designated recycling centers to prevent it from entering the water system.

Lighting
❍    Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFL bulbs, which are long-lasting, energy-saving and provide soft lighting, or LED bulbs, which produce less heat and are durable and energy efficient.
❍    Install dimmers, motion and occupancy sensors and programmable lighting systems to conserve energy use.

 

Green Kitchen

Countertops
❍    Select durable, GreenGuard-certified materials.
❍    Check salvage yards and resellers such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores, for discarded pieces.
❍    For wood countertops, look for salvaged woods that are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified, and be sure the sealant used is a low-VOC, water-based product.
❍    For composite countertops, look for products that contain recycled tile, paper or glass.
❍    Other eco-friendly countertop materials include ceramic and porcelain tile, which can contain clay, an abundant natural resource, or recycled materials, and stainless steel countertops, which are recyclable.

Cabinetry
❍    Refinish or reface existing cabinetry.
❍    Use old wardrobes, tables and shelves for kitchen storage.
❍    For new cabinetry, select products made with no added urea-formaldehyde panels and low- or zero-VOC finishes.

Appliances
❍    Purchase the smallest size refrigerator that you need. Full refrigerators and freezers run more efficiently than empty ones. If you replace an old model with a new, more efficient one, make sure to recycle the old one. If space is a concern, go for a bigger model.
❍    Only run clothes washers, dryers and dishwashers when they are full.
❍    For new appliances, choose Energy Star-rated products.
❍    Recycle old appliances.

Green Bathroom

❍    Install mold- and moisture-resistant drywall in wet areas to avoid mold formation.
❍    Install an Energy Star-rated bath fan vented outside the house. Use a motion sensor, timer or humidity sensor to operate it long enough to remove humidity after showers.
❍    Choose WaterSense-labeled toilets, faucets and showerheads.
❍    Choose tile made with natural clay or recycled materials.
❍    Select eco-friendly countertops and cabinetry.
See “Green Kitchen” section for more information.

Green Basement

❍    If you have a vented crawlspace that stays dry, consider encapsulating it by installing a complete vapor barrier on the floor and insulation on the walls. If you have a furnace or water heater in the area, have a BPI professional confirm that it vents properly and removes carbon monoxide from the area. Encapsulated crawlspaces must be conditioned or use a dehumidifier to keep moisture levels low.
❍    A good alternative to sealing a crawlspace is to seal and insulate the floor, making sure to fill all the gaps completely.

Green Living Room/Bedroom

❍    Choose high-quality furniture constructed with FSC (Forest Steward Certified) wood when available and with foam padding without fire retardants.
❍    Upcycle. Take materials usually considered waste and convert them into functional pieces such as lamps, tables and art.
❍    Repair rather than replace.
❍    Select natural-fiber linens, mattresses and textiles such as bamboo, hemp, soy and organic cotton.
❍    Cover windows with curtains, blinds and/or shades to keep heating and air conditioning from escaping and keep out the sun on hot days.
❍    Turn off and unplug electronics such as TVs and DVD players when not in use to avoid wasting energy. Use a power strip to deactivate multiple devices at one time.

Green Exterior

Roof
❍    Make sure the attic is properly insulated and air sealed. Knee walls that separate attic spaces from the interior should have a rigid air barrier such as drywall on the attic side and be air sealed from the bottom of the wall to the ceiling below.
❍    Consider roofing made of metal or recycled content.
❍    Choose a light-colored roof, which reflects light and lowers outdoor temperatures and minimizes heat transferred into the home.
❍    When removing old shingles, ask your contractor to recycle them instead of throwing them in a landfill.

Weigh your roofing options:

Asphalt shingles Wood shingles Slate roofs Metal roofs Faux shingles manufactured with recycled rubber or plastic

Most popular

 Lowest cost

❍    Lowest insulative value

❍    Shortest lifespan

❍    Least eco-friendly

High insulative value

❍    Natural resource

❍    Expensive

Most durable, can last 100 years

❍    Expensive

❍    Recyclable

❍    Look for salvaged, reclaimed slate

Generally “cool roofs”

❍    High insulative value

❍    Twice as durable as wood or asphalt

Made to look like slate or cedar but half the weight

❍    Durable (Most have a 50-year warranty.)

Finding a roofing material that meets all environmental criteria is unlikely, but choose one that best reflects your commitment and parameters.

 

Windows

❍    Avoid windows on the west and east sides of the house, as they can be difficult to shade from the sun. South-facing windows can be shaded with a short overhang, and north-facing windows don’t allow excess heat to enter the house.
❍    Look for Energy Star windows, and make sure they are installed properly to keep moisture out of the walls and are air sealed to the framing.
❍    Seal any air leaks, and replace weather-stripping to increase energy efficiency.
❍    Instead of turning to heating, venting and air conditioning equipment, open windows when the weather is nice for natural ventilation and to improve indoor air quality. However, be careful to not turn the heat or air conditioning on and off frequently, as re-warming and re-cooling can waste energy.

Doors
❍    Seal any air leaks, and replace weather-stripping to increase energy efficiency.
❍    Choose a door made with an insulating material that is long-lasting and contains recycled or renewable content.

 

Green Landscape

❍    Choose native, shade-providing, wind-protective, drought-tolerant plants.

❍    Divide, re-root and re-plant existing plants instead of buying new.
❍    Use permeable pavement for patios, sidewalks and hardscaping to prevent soil erosion from runoff, filter pollutants and allow tree roots to grow. Too much runoff also can prove a burden on storm drains and lead to localized flooding.
❍    Place rain barrels under downspouts to collect water for plants and other household uses.
❍    Consider xeriscaping, which uses water conservation strategies to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental irrigation.
❍    Use solar energy to heat pools and spas.
❍    Save healthy, old-growth trees when renovating to help shade the house.

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