While "green" has become quite the buzzword when it comes to home building and design, what exactly it means isn't always clear. There are a few standards for eco-friendly homes, but the term "green" doesn't have a universal definition beyond being a color made by mixing yellow and blue. So how does a consumer know when a home the builder is calling "green" is actually built with an ecological focus, or at least enough of one to justify its price?
Some of the standards for ecologically minded homes include increased insulation. To be really energy efficient, a home should be insulated beyond the minimum local requirements. This includes floor insulation, which in some cases is built right in to the concrete foundation. In addition to the walls, floors and ceilings, windows should also be insulating. Therefore, double paned and/or vinyl windows are becoming the "green" standard.
Energy efficiency should be continued throughout the home. Low water use toilets are a must, and those that have different flush options are extra eco-concious. These options allow you to have a more efficient flush for solid waste, while liquid waste just gets much more conservative flush. Shower heads, washing machines, faucets and dishwashers can also be equipped to limit the water used without compromising function. Air conditioners, refrigerators, heaters and all other appliances within the home should be of the highest standard of energy efficiency. In addition, compact fluorescent lights should be used throughout the home, or replaced by LED lights wherever those are suitable.
Beyond energy efficiency, use of non-toxic, ar at least less-toxic, materials is important in "green" homes. Look for a home with low VOC paints. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which are toxins that gas-off from conventional paint. Remember the lighter the pigment, the lower the VOC's, so white or off-white walls are healthier than some of the bolder, trendy colors. This is because it is the paint base that is quality controlled, but it is impossible to take the VOC's out of some pigments.
Another finishing detail that is popular for eco-friendly homes is bamboo or cork flooring. Bamboo is popular because it grows so quickly. It takes about five years to grow bamboo to the right size to make flooring. It is versatile and comes in a variety of styles and colors. Cork is an option because it is sustainable to harvest - removing cork does not damage the cork tree, as it replenishes its cork bark every year anyway. Cork makes a lovely, soft and springy floor surface that is also naturally warmer than many other flooring options.
For our final indoor consideration, eco-friendly homes will use more natural fabrics such as wool and cotton for carpets and window dressings.
Outside the home leaves plenty of room for "green" considerations, too. Xeriscaping is a popular means of landscaping utilizing plants native to the area being built in. These plants are naturally drought-resistant because they are acclimatized to the local environment, needing less watering and maintenance than lawns or beds full of foreign flowers.
Another "green" outdoor trend is utilizing permeable paving stones. These actually absorb water, which then is naturally filtered through the earth and goes back into the ground-water supply. These avoid the toxic run-off that can be caused by water rushing over cement and into drains, carrying oil and exhaust residue straight into the drainage system, which ultimately ends up being a nearby body of water.
If a home you are looking at is being promoted as being "green", don't hesitate to ask the builder about some of these features. If they don't measure up, don't buy it.