EarthTalk: How do I learn how to build an all-around
“eco-home?” My wife and I have some land in
Delaware and would like to build a state-of-the-art green
home on the site.
-- Zachary Jahnigen, Frankford, DE
are many ideas as to what constitutes an “eco-home,”
depending upon how pure one wants to be. But certain common
elements—such as energy efficiency, responsible materials
sourcing and minimal landscape disruption—must be
in place to meet most environmentalists’ criteria.
And with technologies improving and prices coming down,
eco-homes are no longer the domain of the wealthy, as even
a modest building can incorporate green features.
to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit
network of practitioners of environmentally friendly construction,
a green home “uses less energy, water and natural
resources; creates less waste; and is healthier and more
comfortable for the occupants.” The organization is
continuously updating its Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design (LEED) guidelines, which help realtors, developers,
architects and builders create high performance green buildings
of every stripe.
recently launched a special set of benchmarks—LEED
for Homes—devoted specifically to the design and construction
of residential buildings. Builders or owners can evaluate
every step of the home design and construction process according
to standards set forth under these guidelines, which aim
for sustainably sourced materials, lower energy and water
usage, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less exposure
to mold and other indoor toxins. USGBC research indicates
that the net cost of owning a LEED home is comparable to
that of owning a conventional home. Since LEED for Homes
was launched in 2005, more than 375 builders representing
6,000 homes across the U.S. have built according to its
organizations also weigh-in on what constitutes an “eco-home.”
Juliet Cuming, of the Vermont-based nonprofit Earth Sweet
Home Institute, lays out several criteria that anyone can
use when planning the design and construction of an environmentally-friendly
home: Does the home plan reduce energy and resources? Does
it re-use existing resources? Are materials used recyclable
or biodegradable once no longer usable? Is the home healthy
to producers and occupants and also to the installers of
the materials? Is the plan affordable and available? Will
the resulting home be durable?
ideal eco-home would be built in a place where it will have
as little negative impact as possible on the plants, wildlife
and humans in the area,” says Cuming. “The home
will be sited and designed to take advantage of shade in
the summer and sun in the winter.” She adds that a
true eco-home should be crafted out of materials derived
from local sources.
looking to learn more about eco-homes have lots of information
to wade through online and in print. A good place to start
is Environmental Building News, a monthly newsletter on
green design and construction published by Building Green,
Inc. It features comprehensive, practical information on
a wide range of topics—from renewable energy and recycled
materials to land-use planning and indoor air quality.
for Homes; Earth
Sweet Home Institute; Environmental
EarthTalk: I’m moving in eight weeks
and am trying to find some “green guidance”
for making my relocation as eco-friendly as possible. Any
-- Holly, Elizabethtown, PA
Moving may be
inherently unfriendly to the environment given that carting
stuff around means expending lots of fuel and emitting a
lot of pollutants, but there are ways to “relocate
responsibly.” For starters, the less stuff we accumulate
in the first place the less we have to pick up and move
elsewhere—so fighting the pack-rat urge and minimizing
trips to shopping malls in the first place are good prerequisites.
Beyond what may
already be too late to undo, though, one can lessen their
environmental footprint when moving by first giving away
or selling any non-essential items. Neighborhood yard sales
and giveaways are one way to go, while websites like Ebay,
Craig’s List and Freecycle provide virtual ways to
unload unwanted stuff. Books can be donated to local libraries,
and most schools will be happy to make use of old computers.
And Goodwill and other charities will gladly take old clothes
for resale in thrift outlets.
While all that’s
going on, the environmentally-conscious mover would also
want to be hoarding bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, padded
envelopes and other packing materials instead of going out
and buying them new. Many liquor, grocery, hardware and
other retail stores are happy to give away large cardboard
boxes they no longer need and would have to otherwise discard
or recycle. Calling around first will save the headache
and the emissions of driving around to individual stores
one-by-one to ask them.
As to the move
itself, if you’re fortunate enough to be relocating
within Orange County, Los Angeles one green option is to
rent “RecoPack” moving boxes from Earth Friendly
Moving. The company, which has plans to expand nationwide
over the next five years, provides five different stackable
sizes of durable moving cartons made from recycled plastic
bottles. The rental cost is just a dollar per box per week—and
the company’s biodiesel-powered trucks will drop-off
and pick-up the boxes before and after the move.
Not in southern
California? Rent-a-Crate, which has 13 U.S.
locations coast to coast, also rents re-usable (though not
recycled) plastic moving crates that they’ll deliver
to and pick up from any location. The company works extensively
in the office relocation business, too, and rents other
reusable accessories such as dollies for rolling heavy crates
and crates for delicate items like computers and even medical
there is more to moving green than just moving. Use only
eco-friendly cleaning products when scrubbing down the old
place. If you live in the Washington, DC or Baltimore, MD
area, a crew from Green Clean will send a professional crew
that uses only nontoxic, biodegradable cleaners. Otherwise,
health food stores all carry green cleaners that you can
use yourself or instruct the hired help to use.
A tip from the
Care2 “Green Moving Guide”: File a temporary
change of address with your post office rather than a permanent
one to cut down on junk mail at the new place. The U.S.
Postal Service sells lists of permanent address changes
to direct marketers, but doesn’t bother doing so with
Friendly Moving; Green
Green Moving Guide.