What makes a green home green?
What is it that makes one building practice or material more environmentally friendly then another? That's easy. There are three basic principles that are used to weigh the relative greenness of any practice or product: durability, efficiency, and health.
Durability - In the United States alone we generate an estimated 124 million tons of construction waste every year. Building more durably is an easy way to reduce construction waste. Plus building more durably has the added advantage of reducing the time and cost associated with maintaining a home. There is also a very noticeable pleasure that comes with living in a more durable home. If walls are built tightly, insulated well, and high-quality windows and doors are used, the home will be quieter and more comfortable. A hardwood floor is not only beautiful but will last for the lifetime of a home.
Efficiency - Wal-Mart recently did a study where they calculated the energy savings of using efficient compact fluorescent bulbs in place of traditional incandescent bulbs. They discovered that in one year, in just their fan and lighting displays, they could save six million dollars on electrical bills. With all the energy-efficient fixtures, appliances, and heating and cooling systems on the market, it's extremely easy to build this sort of long-term saving into a home.
Health - According to the EPA over 3 million children under age 6 suffer from low low-level lead poisoning, formaldehyde levels in new homes regularly exceed .3 ppm, and carbon monoxide levels are frequently in excess of 5 ppm. Fortunately, there is no reason for this to continue to be the case. Building science is teaching us how to build tight homes that still breathe well and manufacturers are reducing VOC content in everything from paint to adhesives to manufactured lumber.
Those are the three principles generally agreed upon for evaluating greenness but here is a fourth.
Beauty - If a home is not highly functional and esthetically pleasing then it doesn't matter how much recycled glass tile, wool carpet, or high fly-ash content cement is used, it will all just end up in the landfill. Good design is the foundation for any green building. Durability, efficiency, and healthfulness are much easier to achieve when good amount of design time occurs before construction begins.