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Designing Green from the bottom up

leaf By incorporating basic principles of green housing into the design of the home as a part of construction, we can get a real jumpstart on being eco-friendly. We will explore a number of ways in which the architecture, design and orientation of the home in it's specific environment can green a home. The topics on this page will relate more to gross structural concepts and not specific finishes. For information on green finishes, please see the green remodeling section.

Structural Green & Framing

Most homes have wood frames. Common home exteriors use brick, stucco, siding and/or stone. Interiors use drywall and paneling. Foundations are either concrete slabs or raised foundations using wood and concrete. These may be what has been common, but there are many alternatives that may soon be gaining popularity. Here are a few alternatives:

Salvage: If you must use wood, you can use resawn lumber with excellent results. With forests being torn down at alarming rates, effecting our eco-systems in ways we can only hypothesize about, salvage wood is an economically and environmentally smart alternative.

Insulated Panels: Foam panels are a core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) between two sheets of composite oriented strandboard (OSB). These panels are stronger, do not off-gas harmful chemicals, nor do they burn or sustain a flame. Because they are pre-cut, waste is reduced and they contain about 75 percent less wood than a framed wall. Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) have higher insulation value, reduce air leakage, and resist moisture and rot. They also act as a sound barrier.

Concrete Forms: There are several Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) block systems on the market. Most use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) blocks or panels that are laid up, installed with rebar, and poured with concrete. Concrete-filled ICF block walls are very strong and earthquake-resistant. They also have high insulation values, are airtight, sound resistant and moisture resistant.
One of the members of my green home meetup is a distributor for Integraspec ICF and you can contact Chic Hume via his meetup page.

Steel Framing: Steel is often a recycled material, and as framing it is strong, lightweight and can go up fast. Steel is rot- and insect-proof and resists moisture damage. Exterior finishes and interior drywall can be attached with screws. Steel framing is fastened together, so it can be disassembled and reused. Steel members can degrade insulation R-values, however, so manufacturers have developed a variety of ways to reduce heat loss, such as cladding outside walls with foam board insulation.

Working with the Sun

There are a number of ways in which we can maximize or minimize the sun's effects to green a home. Here are a couple of the main topics:

Natural Light: building a house with excellent natural light reduces the need for electric lighting. Higher ceilings with more windows properly oriented along the sun's path will allow for better lighting throughout the day. Skylights and solar tubes can bring light into typically dark spots like the middle of the home and bathrooms that don't usually have windows.

Passive Solar Energy: Passive solar design involves building a home in a manner that helps heat and cool the home naturally without using mechanical energy. You can build a home that stretches lengthwise in a east-west direction to maximize southward facing glass windows. This helpts attract solar heat during the cooler winter months when the sun is low in the southern hemisphere. Use materials like concrete or stone floor slabs that collect heat from sunlight exposure during daylight hours, then slowly release this heat by night. Conversely, in the summer, use shading over windows to prevent summer sun from entering the interior and overheating, causing the need for energy consuming Air Conditioners.

Active Solar Energy: Having southward facing roofs accentuates your potential to capture energy from the sun by using photovaltaic solar panels. Visit the Solar Energy page for more on this.

Renewable materials

Use recycled or salvaged materials whenever you can. This saves landfill space, keeps natural resources in place and minimizes additional carbon output associated with production of these materials. The next best thing is to use highly renewable materials.