Construction

3 Things to Know About Building a Green Home

The increased desire for healthy, sustainable, efficient, or green homes catalyzes some long-overdue innovation in the home building industry. With this innovation, however, comes a degree of risk. Both for homeowners who are selecting features that are the best expenditure for their budget and for the builders. Who are trying new methods that may leave them legally responsible for failing systems.

After working on high-performance products and passive-standard projects for over ten years on three continents. I wanted to share a few ideas about where we should focus our attention. What high-level lessons we can learn. Homeowners and homebuilders who know what to watch for can take advantage of the newest sustainable building technologies without leaving themselves liable to the Interior fit-out company in London potential failures of new methods.

1. Building to Code Does Not Eliminate Risk of Moisture Damage or Poor Indoor Air Quality

The most recent energy-efficiency codes have started to require air sealing to conserve energy losses. It is an excellent development in the movement toward consuming less energy. Still, it has unfortunately left many homes subject to moisture damage due to a lack of understanding about vapour movement and ventilation.

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In other words, even though local building codes are improving incrementally over time, you shouldn’t assume that building to code will provide you with a healthy or comfortable home, much less a green one.

Air sealing is good. Buildings should not breathe through their walls. The mechanical ventilation system is in charge of this, much like we live through our respiratory system, not our skin.

Fewer air leaks mean better building durability, higher energy efficiency and lower energy bills. With airtightness, however, we need to understand moisture control and ventilation better to avoid condensation, mould, poor indoor air quality and, eventually, health concerns.

Household air pollution

Household air pollution was rated the third most significant cause of ill health for the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization. Exposure to poor indoor air quality can cause headaches, dry throat, eye irritation, a runny nose, asthma attacks, infection with Legionella bacteria, carbon monoxide poisoning, cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, myocardial ischemia, and angina, high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also cause a financial burden from decreased productivity due to poor sleep.

What can you do as a homeowner?

Consider a third-party building code, like Passive House, that sets performance criteria above and beyond what your local code requires, based on international best practices.

Ask your professional team involved in your home project many questions. Try to obtain the results of your home,

Generally speaking, a builder that can build more airtight is often more meticulous with other details and will have a higher quality of construction. If your builder doesn’t inspire confidence in these subjects (or even if they do), consider you and help the builder meet the project goals.

What can you do as a home builder?

Continued education in building science can help you get a grip on heat and moisture flows through assemblies.

Consider courses like the Certified Passive House Tradesperson workshop, which my colleagues, pictured here, and I put on a few times a year near Denver, and where you can learn about air sealing, moisture management and indoor air quality.

Check out the global events calendar for training opportunities if you want to combine your continued education with an international trip.

2. The Biggest Bang for Your Buck Is in High-Performance Windows

That is starting to change, with some truly unique products now made, but you may need to search a little deeper and save in other areas of your build to offset the expense. Instead of spending your budget on systems that compensate for consumption, like larger photovoltaic systems or geothermal heat pumps, you could allocate those funds to better windows that also bring more comfort to your home.

High-quality windows guarantee comfort and contribute to a consistent indoor environment, which is easier to ventilate, purify and keep clean and healthy.

What can you do as a homeowner?

Do your research and prepare yourself mentally. Yes, high-performance windows cost substantially more than code windows, and there’s no way around that.

We must shift our mentality to think about the entire building assembly as a highly engineered product. Investing in the thermal envelope will allow you to save money on heating and cooling equipment, energy bills and long-term health bills. Not to mention, high-performance buildings are quiet, less dusty and more comfortable.

What can you do as a home builder?

Rely on your professional network. Hire experts early and often to model performance. The aerospace industry doesn’t build a plane; it sees how it flies and then makes another. It creates virtual prototypes.

A builder who is not modelling the performance of a building before construction is at a competitive disadvantage and cannot fail fast enough to iterate to a better prototype.

Find yourself a building science consultant who will do their job to check your designed assemblies for heat and moisture flow so you can focus on the business of building.

3. Remember That Buildings Are for People

I always start projects by reminding my clients that buildings are for people. It seems an obvious statement, but somewhere in the discussions about how to meet code. How to metre energy usage and how to stay within budget, we tend to forget that small fact.

For me and many others specializing in passive building, the green building movement is not about energy balance. It’s more about health and comfort.

Design strategies

Passive design strategies like proper orientation, compactness of form, well-designed shading and high-performing windows can help you conserve before you compensate.

Using passive strategies throughout the design process helps streamline the pathway to reaching net-zero (when your home annually produces more than it consumes) because you have less consumption that you need to compensate for with renewables. And along the way, you’re paying attention to health and comfort instead of only the energy balance.

What can you do as a homeowner?

Use your power as a consumer to push for transparency in the process. Get an indoor air-quality monitor, precisely one that measures Particulate Matter PM2.5. Such as the Awair monitor and app pictured here.

Being involved as an informed client means you better understand. The massive amount of information your builder is trying to juggle. So, manage your expectations, and prioritize.

And remember, these principles can be applied to retrofits and new construction. The best way to think about any home-improvement project is to have it be a stepping stone toward a larger goal. So, if you can afford to take only small steps. Make sure you are making those steps in the right direction. So you don’t have to redo or undo work later.

What can you do as a home builder?

Communicate more and better. So, as you’ve probably figured out, home ownership is an emotional journey for many. Managing expectations can go a long way. Discussing potential areas of concern early on can avoid disputes later in the process.

High-performance building requires a more integrated approach to designing and building, and ideally, to the storytelling aspect of client management. Get them on board by learning with them as they ask questions.

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