Building Green, Sustainable & Environmentally Friendly in Colorado
Colorado is known for its natural beauty and many of us live because of our love and respect for this amazing environment we call home. So, building your new sustainably built custom home in a way that respects nature, maximizes the natural beauty of a building site, and as much as possible, building in a way that is environmentally friendly in both process and materials, is important.
HomeWrights Custom Homes’ clients like to do things their own way. That’s the beauty of being your own general contractor. Our owner-builders from Boulder to Colorado Springs and everywhere in between, get to decide what sustainable building materials will be used and who will install it. Perfect for anyone considering green home design.
But before we dive into your green home considerations, let’s demolish a few of the myths about sustainable building and review some of the important considerations of protecting mother earth while you build the custom home of your dreams.
Why Green Home Design and Sustainable Building Materials Good Ideas
- Green buildings consume less energy – Likely the most obvious benefit but a big one. Energy efficient lights, heating and cooling systems, insulation, etc. are huge benefits to the environment and your budget. The purpose of green home design is to consume less of everything.
- Green building reduces environmental impact – Less carbon emissions, energy efficient, lower water use, less landfill waste and an overall smaller footprint.
- Green building saves money – Using recycled, green certified or second hand materials helps. Minimizing building size and maximizing natural sunlight and ventilation will save a lot.
- Green building is healthier – Choose toxin-free building materials when possible. The right sustainable building materials emit few, if any toxins such as mold spores, carcinogens, and VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds).
- Green building saves the forests – When materials are sourced properly, environment impact is minimized. Wood is an amazing building material and not all wood comes from destructive clear cuts. There are many choices to consider – reclaimed wood from old buildings and flooring that can be re-purposed. Bamboo and cork products are sustainably grown with little environmental damage.
- Green buildings have a higher re-sale value – There’s no guarantee on that but the trend toward sustainable building practices and green home design is growing.
Green Homes With a Not-so-Green Mess
In areas like Denver where there are many aging neighborhoods, scraping an old building is a common practice. But, when you demolish a 75-year old, 800-square foot house to make room for your new custom home, you haul away about 10 big dump trucks worth of stuff. You also make a heck of a mess of the existing yard, and most often you lose some trees, bushes, and disrupt a little wildlife.
Construction of a new custom home in the Denver area creates one heck of a waste stream, including lumber scraps, paint cans, boxes, paper, plastic, etc. You have potential lead in the paint, asbestos in insulation, and a few other hazardous materials that are suddenly disturbed and dispersed in the demolition process. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it; it just means nothing is pure. Sometimes green home design starts with not-so-green home demolition.
Building a sustainable home may be a great idea but there’s an environmental cost to any construction project. Minimizing that impact should be a consideration in planning of your green home design, whether you’re in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Loveland or in Denver metro. Maybe you or others could recycle some of your demo materials.
Salvageable Building Materials From Demolition Include:
- Wood and tile flooring
- Stone countertops
- Windows and doors
- Bricks, stone, concrete
- Dimensional lumber – studs, joists, beams
- Light fixtures
- Weathered wood from outbuildings, decks
- Plumbing fixtures (toilets, claw foot bathtubs, oversized farm sinks)
- Hardware such as doorknobs, hinges, fans
- Valuable recyclable materials – copper, aluminum, glass
- Baseboards, trims and casings (older materials were often mahogany, teak, walnut and cherry)
- And much more!
Green Home Builders and Green Building Practices
Any good Denver area general contractor can certainly practice some green-building techniques. There are those who claim to specialize in green building practices. But at HomeWrights we put our clients in the green building driver’s seat.
A traditional home builder may have a bit of a conflict of interest in green building over his tried and true building methods. Not that he doesn’t respect nature nor care about your carbon footprint but it’s because asking your builder to change his methods, suppliers, and materials will change his costs, building procedures, and the timing of your new home construction. That’s another reason to consider the Owner-Builder Program from HomeWrights. Why don’t you become the green builder yourself?
The Denver Green Home Building Solution
We certainly don’t want to oversimplify the green-building process and the challenges of finding and using sustainable building materials, but that is one of the reasons so many of our clients come to us in the first place. Choice.
Simply put, when you act as your own general contractor, you get to decide what building materials are used. You get to decide every aspect of the building process. Remember that with a HomeWrights Project Manager on your team, the do-it-yourself-approach is not a do-it-alone approach!
Our Homes Have a Big Environmental Impact
- Electrical Consumption – Buildings in the US represent about 70% of all electrical consumption.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Buildings create nearly half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, consuming more than 70% of the electricity generated by power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration.
- Debris Generated – 136 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris is generated each year according to EPA estimates.
The True Costs of Building Green and Sustainable Building Materials
The reality is that before you begin your sustainable building project, you have to create a starting point. That means sending things to the landfill and expending a lot of fuel ordering appliances and supplies from distant lands.
That’s not to mention the fuel involved in delivering all of the new materials to the house, as well as the fuel consumed by all of the trades people. And, of course there’s the raw materials and fuel involved in manufacturing the appliances, hardware, flooring materials, etc.
Average new home in the U.S – 2500 square feet.
Average new home in Europe – 1600 square feet.
The change that we impose on our world when we create new housing is substantial; especially in America where the average new home is about 2500 square feet (our European counterparts by the way are content with about 1600 square feet). Real “green building” tries to take all of these things into account and goes beyond just simple energy efficiency.
Green Appliances, Well Maybe …
Keep that in mind the next time you are looking at an appliance made in China with an Energy Star sticker on it. That appliance may be “green” in the fact that it is far more efficient than a comparable appliance made ten years ago, but it was built half a world away, packed to endure a 10,000 mile journey, loaded in a steel container with 100 others like it, and shipped across the open seas and through the seaport to get to your kitchen or laundry room.
A new home makes a big footprint. Every little bit you can do to re-use, recycle, re-purpose and think through the entire building process helps reduce that footprint. When you work with HomeWrights, we help you explore all your options. You are the ultimate decision maker about just how green you can go but if you want to go green then you’ll want to call the HomeWrights team!
A Checklist of Green Building and Sustainable Building Materials
– R-value. That’s the measure of heat flow through a given thickness of material. There, now you finally know what R-value means! It’s all about Insulation of walls, floors, basement, and ceilings. Pay me now or pay me later. Investing in the best insulation materials is going to cost you up front but save you money and our environment in the long run. Here’s another post we have on insulation importance in the Denver area.
– Windows. Double glazed, triple glazed, quadruple glazed. Okay, we’re getting carried away on the “glaze phrase” a bit but we wanted to make the point that window technology is getting better all the time. Windows with high insulation value combined with thermal blackout curtains will make a significant impact on heating and cooling.
– Building orientation. Make the best use of the sun! A good architect and an experienced general contractor with some local experience will help with that.
– Energy efficient appliances. Again, seems obvious but the technology is changing rapidly so do your research. Also consider realistic sizes for your appliances. If the kids are about to go off to college and it’s just you and your sweetie, do you really need that massive refrigerator and high capacity washing machine? By the way, HomeWrights clients get contractor prices on new appliances.
– Non-toxic building materials. This one gets complex. Paints, stains, sealants all have evolved in recent years but there are tradeoffs. Some of the so-called environmentally friendly products on the market might not work as well and might come at a premium price. Research this carefully. Eco paints or water-based paints don’t put out volatile organic compounds that are bad for the environment and those of us who live in one. Which, is all of us, right?
– Local sourcing. Using local people and materials makes sense. Of course, buying on Amazon seems like a quick and simple solution but the environmental impact of shipping is a consideration. Fortunately, HomeWrights’ clients have access to our local contractor prices through our special buying group. Just ask your HomeWrights Project Manager.
– Minimize waste. If you demo an old building, you can find people that will buy that old hardwood floor before you tear down the building. There are others who want those bricks or other building materials. You might be able to use parts of the old home in your new home. When the new construction starts, ask your builder for all the ways to minimize on-site waste. And, if you are using HomeWrights’ Owner-Builder Program, you’ll have a lot of say in what gets tossed and what gets re-purposed.
– Renewable electricity. Put in solar. This can be costly but may be worthwhile in the long run. Solar panel prices continue to come down and the competitive market for solar gives you a little negotiating power. Wind power is not as practical in the Denver area but may be worth considering in certain rural locations.
– Growth planning. Overbuilding is costly and wasteful. Take the time now to plan how much space you truly need. Do you need expansion plans? Adding space for an aging parent? Adding a revenue stream by renting out a room or section of the house? Planning for the future will minimize costs and environmental impact later. Ask yourself, how efficient will this house be as we downsize? Sure, you need the four-car garage now, but will you need that space in three years? Can you get by for a while?
– Plants that provide. Plants can provide cooling shade, wind breaks, attract nature, bring us pleasure. And they can take a lot of maintenance! Go local and go native when you can so your plants can do their own “self-care” and minimize the environmental impact of spraying, pruning, and hauling.
– Electrical. LED lights have come a long way and their energy requirements keep getting better. Install motion detectors and timers where you can. Utilize bathroom fans on timers that automatically shut off, motion detectors in rooms where the kids often forget to shut off the lights, and using task lighting (table lamp or under-counter lights versus multiple ceiling lights.) Smart thermostats will match your energy use with your comfort. Automate the on/off heating and cooling game with a smart thermostat you program from your phone. Oh, and unplug those unused electronics!
– Reclaimed flooring. Not only is this environmentally friendly it’s environmentally fun! There are some lovely floors being made from old hardwood floors pulled from an old house demo or from the proverbial old barn. Upside – reusing and not tossing perfectly good building materials is good for ma nature. Downside, used doesn’t mean cheap. There’s a lot of labor that goes into removing the the old, pulling nails, refinishing, etc. Also, bamboo and other sustainable woods are worthy alternatives to reclaimed materials.
– Natural gas. Shorter showers help but installing the most efficient water heating system is your best bet. Inline tankless water heaters might be a good choice. And, the furnace, big factor here. Size it properly. The energy efficiency rating on the box only works if the unit’s capacity is matched with your square footage. You don’t save money by buying a high efficiency furnace that works overtime. The same goes for your air conditioner. Size matters. Your HomeWrights Project Manager can help you with some of these big-ticket decisions.
– Water use. Drip lines instead of sprinklers, low flow toilets, use cold water instead of hot when possible for laundry. And, the water heater’s efficiency helps you save water when you don’t waste water waiting for it to warm up! Collecting roof rainwater in tanks for irrigation and other uses is worth considering. Gray water systems can be installed maximize water conservation. All worthy considerations in your green home building plan.
– Green design. A well-designed green home takes advantage of natural light, supports proper air circulation, minimizes wasted space, and blends with the nature of the building site. And, it just makes you feel good!
– Build a LEED Certified home. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. You could work with a LEED certified builder but do your homework on that. There’s a lot of paperwork, inspection fees, and time involved. You might consider using some of the LEED standards as a basis to create your own sustainable building strategy.
Create Your Own Green Home Design
Again, not to oversimplify what can be a very involved and complex building process but many of our Owner-Builder clients are happy to find the middle ground on the sustainable home building wish list. Consider building your own green home with your own sustainable building materials and work closely with your building team to do the best you can to protect the environment and build green.
HomeWrights Custom Home clients participating in our Owner-Builder Program get to decide what building materials will be used where it comes from and how it is going to be installed. So, if you want to go green, call the HomeWrights team!