Finding or Creating a "Green" or Eco-Friendly House

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With the current popularity of pursuing a "green" lifestyle and some sustainability (garden plot, edible landscaping, micro-orchard, etc.) in one's yard area, I value your input about what to look for in an older subdivision with larger lots that aren't "vampire properties." And how do you factor in local ordinances? Thanks!

First off, I want to say that it's not my place to pass judgment on anyone's housing preferences. This person wants more green, so I'm going to help them with that. If someone else doesn't, I'll help them with that too.

If you're really looking to be green, there are a lot of reasons not to buy a single family detached home. In heating and cooling, materials, and most especially land use, single family detached homes are about as un-green as it comes. Talk to the sustained use experts, and they'll tell you that single family detached housing is horribly wasteful of everything involved. The "greenest" housing is high rise condominiums and apartment buildings. Not what everyone wants to hear, but nonetheless the truth.

With that said, there are degrees of "green". Small sized plots are not agriculturally efficient - that's one reason why Zimbabwe (to name the worst example) has gone from breadbasket to starving in a few years time - they broke the big farms up into little farms supporting one subsistence level family each. So you're not going to produce enough to offset what the land could do as part of a commercial farm or large public park, but you can do fairly well if you check with your local greenery experts. Locally, Kate Sessions (our most famous landscaper) was known for gardens that were both beautiful and water efficient - to the point where the City of San Diego doesn't water large portions of Balboa Park at all. Pretty much every greenhouse locally has someone whose advice to make the landscaping efficient is worthwhile. Even townhomes can be worthwhile - I know folks with dwarf fruit trees in the back yards of their townhomes, and if a homeowner's association was to make an effort, most of them would make far more more difference than a single plot owner - because while it is a common interest development, when you put them all together, you usually have several times the land available of most single family detached urban dwellings. Trees provide shade in summer and keep it cool - and they help break the wind and lower heating bills in winter. Obviously, check with someone local to you for specific recommendations because I'm pretty sure orange and lemon trees don't do so well in Minnesota winters. Grass is nice, and good for resale, but it's a big user of water - a no-no for Green living in most of the west. It wouldn't be such a big deal to water grass with 'gray' (used water, no longer potable) if lawns weren't so notoriously un-"green".

For heating and cooling, double or triple paned windows and good, tight weatherstripping are pretty much mandatory for greens. Newer housing has this sort of thing already installed, and lots of older ones homes do, as well. Given the cost, it probably is not worth the cost on a purely monetary basis to replace existing windows with modern ones for that reason alone, but that doesn't stop a lot of people. I'd think wood floors - replaceable, polishable, durable - would be superior to anything else, but I can't cite chapter and verse. I know a lot of beautiful hardwood floors that are the better part of a century old - while even travertine starts looking dingy and ready for replacement in considerably less time than that. When wood starts looking old, it can be re-polished to its original shine more easily than anything else I'm aware of. Finally, wood is a much more renewable resource. Trees grow back. Quarries do not. Petrochemicals do not.

Good insulation is a feature of eco-friendly housing as well, but be careful: Too much can actually be a health hazard, as it can cause Radon gas to build up to levels that are illegal in uranium mines.

Modern air conditioning units work without CFCs. R410a ("Puron") is what home systems are in the process of converting to, as CFCs and HCFCs are being phased out. I don't have any first hand experience with this, but if you're replacing your system, it appears to be worthwhile to consider replacing with a high efficiency modern system. The difference in price is smallish, and the difference on your monthly bill significant. The upshot is that you'll pay for replacing your prior system with a high efficiency system a lot more quickly than a low. I'm also told that simply running the ductwork underground for a certain distance can negate the need for heating and air conditioning altogether - all you need is a good fan to pull the air through. Be careful that the static ground temperature in your area will support this first - check with a local expert. Needless to say, that last suggestion about burying roughly 100 feet of ductwork isn't really an option for the owners of anything but single family detached housing, even though it needn't be in a straight line..

The square-cube law is always in effect. Heat and cold leak in and out via surface area, while you're heating or cooling cubic volume. The smaller the surface area, as a proportion, the longer it takes for heat and cooling to leak out. A featureless cube (or better yet, sphere) is more efficient than a rambling single story ranch house. Nonetheless, it's more efficient to heat a small structure than a large one, and body heat from the inhabitants helps more in winter. A 1200 square foot dwelling is more "green" than a 3000 square foot dwelling for the same family. Is that going to stop me from showing 3000 square foot dwellings to those who want them? Absolutely not. Once again, this is "other factors being equal."

If you really want to go green, especially in the west, you're going to get into recycling the water you use. Laundry water can be used for a lot of plants, as can bath water. The ultimate instances of this are pretty disgusting if you think about them, but people do go a lot further than this, and every drop of water on this planet has gone through such a cycle multiple times. It's all pretty much dependent upon how far you want to go on your own hook. My main objection to the City of San Diego's water recycling plan was that it wasn't good enough to get out all contaminants, and people weren't going to get their own discharges back, so they could drop stuff into the drain like old engine oil, and be confident it wasn't coming back to their tap.

Green construction is no better and no worse, as far as intrinsic durability and aesthetics go, than non-green construction. It can be more expensive (How many hardwood floors have been laid down these last ten years?), but quite often, you can actually save yourself money in the end if you're willing to make the up-front investment. How far you want to go is a function of your preferences, pocketbook, and your area of the country.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 20, 2021 7:00 AM.

Buying Off A Prepayment Penalty At Loan Inception was the previous entry in this blog.

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