What Makes a Home Sustainable? 4 Pillars of Green Home Construction

green home

The word ‘green’ has been thrown around so much over the last decade, it’s lost a lot of its meaning. How do you define a ‘green home,’ for instance? Individual definitions range from calling a conventional home fitted with a few solar panels and low-flow toilets ‘eco-friendly’ to reserving the term for structures that have been LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) according to a strict set of criteria by the U.S. Green Building Council. When you’re looking to make your home more environmentally friendly, which features matter most? Here’s a quick overview of some of the most basic elements of a ‘green home.’

Local, Non-Toxic, Recycled and Renewable Materials

Many conventional building materials off-gas toxic substances into home interiors, or consume a lot of energy or contribute to pollution during manufacturing. For example, the cement industry is one of the primary producers of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Since it’s natural, renewable, recyclable and consumes very little energy during processing, wood can be a much greener choice – but only if it’s grown, harvested and distributed sustainably. For example, you can’t call a home made of a wood sourced from clear-cut Amazonian forests ‘green.’ Choose sustainably managed wood, like Eastern White Pine, from regional sources when possible.

Compact Size

Smaller homes aren’t just more affordable to build and maintain – they also consume fewer resources over time. When you build a compact home that’s just large enough to suit your needs, you use fewer materials in the first place to build it, enabling you to budget for higher quality. It’ll also cost you less to heat, cool and provide electricity to the home in the long run, not to mention saving your own energy keeping it clean and organized.

Reducing Energy Consumption

While renewable energy is a great choice to replace or supplement power from the grid when possible, there are all sorts of ways you can reduce your energy consumption at home. LED lighting may cost a little more initially, but the bulbs last years longer than incandescent or even compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, and they use a mere fraction of the energy. Energy-efficient appliances can make a big dent in your consumption, too. Have your heating and cooling system serviced regularly, and employ passive methods of reducing or increasing heat gain depending on the time of year, like using blackout curtains.

Passive solar home design is a great way to build energy efficiency right into your home plans from the start, reducing heating and cooling loads by orienting the roof and windows to provide shade or let in sunlight at various times of the year. Learn more about passive solar at Energy.gov.


Insulating and weatherizing your home will go a long way toward making the interiors comfortable in all weather without letting precious heat or air conditioning escape through the cracks. Choose high-efficiency insulation like radiant barriers, wool, cellulose and structural insulated panels. Seal windows and doors with weatherstripping, caulk or plastic film, and check the exterior for air leaks around vents and pipes. Efficiency applies to water consumption, too – choose water-smart appliances and fixtures.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Forest Facts: Making Green Buildings Greener with Wood

Green Wood Building

A lot of energy is spent in the green building industry on innovating new materials that made of eco-friendly materials, easy to transport, and reclaimable when a structure must be torn down. But many of these materials have problems of their own in the manufacturing process, and in the meantime, there’s a natural material that’s already strong, insulating, sustainable and recyclable: wood. Using more wood in both new construction and renovation can help make green buildings greener, driving demand for sustainable forestry.

All materials, no matter how sustainable, have some adverse impacts on the environment. The use of wood, when it’s not grown and harvested sustainably, can be devastating on an ecosystem and the surrounding community. But modern forestry practices ensure that even when wood is harvested in large quantities, healthy, balanced forests can be maintained. Maximizing timber yields might be important for a forest owner’s bottom line, but protecting rivers, the soil and wildlife habitats while minimizing erosion and planting plenty of new trees helps ensure their business will last well into the future.

Naturally occurring and renewable, wood does the important job of storing carbon from the atmosphere, playing a crucial role in the fight against climate change. The energy required to manage, cut, transport and process it is minimal compared to other popular building materials like steel. That energy can be minimized even further with the use of local wood species.

For all of these reasons, and simply its unparalleled beauty, wood is becoming even more popular to incorporate into modern architecture or even as the sole material for high-rises.

Photo: andrew_writer