2014 Habitat for Humanity Builders Blitz Is Underway
June 5, 2014
Moving into the Evergreen: Green Living
March 19, 2011
Two Homes, One Week
June 19, 2014
Building “Green” Can be Affordable
August 19, 2015
Many people believe that building “green” costs much more than standard construction. Well, that’s not entirely true. Certain green building aspects can be very expensive, but we believe that when planning ahead, many green building techniques can be incorporated for low cost. This is especially apparent in Habitat for Humanity homes, where the focus is on providing simple AND affordable housing for the homebuyers. Incorporating affordable green building technologies is critical to help reduce utility costs and help ensure the home remains affordable for the owner.
For example, over the past two years, we have partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County & Greater Apopka for their national Homebuilders Blitz. Our goal when we first agreed to participate was to build LEED-H Certified homes on the original construction budget. We succeeded, and last year we completed two LEED-H Sliver homes in one week within budget. We have the same goal for this year’s two homes and hope to achieve LEED-H certification on both. Our preliminary HERS index shows that the project will perform about 50 percent more efficiently than a typical code-compliant new home. This translates into real savings - every month - for the homeowner. Below are a few of the green building techniques that we incorporated into the Habitat for Humanity homes.
Thermostatic Radiant Barrier Sheathing (Plywood)
One efficient and cost-effective way to reduce heat gain in the home is installing a radiant barrier in the roof system. Best installed in hotter climates, such as Florida, radiant barriers are clad with a reflective material, which reflects up to 97 percent of the sun’s radiant heat from the home, rather than absorbing it. This means less heat is being transferred into the attic/home which will allow your cooling system to work more efficiently, possibly lowering your home’s energy consumption by up to 17 percent. Although radiant barrier roofing systems are typically installed in new homes, they can also be installed in existing homes – if there is an open attic.
Solar Water Heater
If you’re looking for the most energy-efficient option for water heating, then a solar water heater is your best bet. Although the upfront cost is high ($4,000-$5,000 before tax incentives), these systems can save families 70 to 90 percent on their water heating costs compared to a traditional unit. Today, families who purchase a solar water heater can get up to $1,000 in rebates from local utilities, as well as a 30 percent federal tax credit, which helps reduce the upfront cost. The average payback period for a solar water heater is approximately three to six years.
Air Conditioning and Duct Location
One simple way to lower energy costs is to place air conditioning units and ducts within an air-conditioned space. This is something that many people don’t think about during the design process, but can have a significant effect on the efficiency of the AC system. For our Habitat for Humanity homes, we modified the truss design to allow for a recess in the trusses that could be clad and insulated to ensure all of the ductwork to run through conditioned spaces of the home. This is a much lower cost method than using spray-foam insulation for getting ductwork out of the hot attic, but this is not always an option on more complex custom houses.
We installed LED can lighting and decorative fixtures in the Habitat homes, as this is a simple and relatively low cost way to reduce energy use. LEDs can save up to 85 percent of the electricity as compared to incandescent bulbs, 50 percent of electricity used by compact fluorescent bulbs and up to 30 percent used by fluorescent tube lighting. To put this in perspective, a 12-watt LED has the same light output as a 60 watt incandescent, but uses 85 percent less energy. Since LEDs are more efficient, they give off very little heat, which reduces the load on air conditioning and cooling systems. Even though LED lights are a bit pricier up front, their costs continue to decline and can offer a payback within one years – depending on the amount you use the light. LED can lights are designed to last about 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs, so this means less hassle, maintenance and money caused by changing out bulbs – especially hard to reach ones. On top of this, LED lighting does not contain hazardous materials, such as mercury, like fluorescent bulbs. So, by buying LED lights, you will not have to worry about disposing them in a certain way so that harmful waste is not infiltrating our public dumps or landfills.
Many appliances sold today are Energy-Star certified, which makes saving money even easier. To be an Energy-Star certified appliance means it needs to be more efficient than federal standards (the exact percentage depends which type of appliance). Appliances, along with electronics, attribute to 20 percent of your energy bills. Let’s take clothes washing for example. A typical household does nearly 400 loads of laundry per year at 40 gallons of water per load (with a conventional washer). An Energy-Star clothes washer uses only 20-25 gallons per load, giving you a chance to save up to 7,000 gallons of water per year. You will also reduce the amount of heat needed to heat up the excess water from a conventional washer. On top of this, an Energy-Star washer uses less detergent and is gentler on clothes, ultimately saving money in the long run. Whirlpool donated all Energy-Star appliances for the Habitat project.
Low or No VOC Paints
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, poor indoor air quality is one of the top five hazards to human health, with paints and finishes among the leading causes. Once installed within a home, paints can release low levels emissions for years after which affect air quality. Today, several paint manufacturers offer a low or no VOC (volatile organic compound) product. As part of the LEED certification process with any of our homes, it is required to use a low VOC paint and helps to improve air quality within the home. The low odor also may mean you can occupy the area sooner without complaint. A great paint choice is Benjamin Moore’s new Natura collection of paints, offering no VOC’s and no emissions, winning 2015 Product of the Year, but there are also many lower priced options as well.
Drought Tolerant Landscape
Irrigation, maintenance, and pesticide use in the yard can be a very costly aspect of owning a home. One way to alleviate this cost is to incorporate drought tolerant landscaping. In most of North America, over 50 percent of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. By integrating a landscape that does not demand high water usage, the lawn’s necessary amount of water can be reduced 50-75 percent. Plants such as African Iris, Agave, Fakahatchee Grass, Coontie, and Bulbine and the use of mulch are some great alternatives to high maintenance plant varieties and turf. Another good quality of drought tolerant landscaping is their tendency to be more disease and pest resistant – resulting in lower pesticide and fertilizer use.
The techniques listed above were some of the ways we achieved a healthier, more energy efficient home during the Habitat for Humanity Blitz build. Some of these ideas can be incorporated into existing homes, while others are really most cost-effective in new construction. The sooner green building ideas are considered, the easier (and cheaper) it is to incorporate them into your project.