Green building practices in the custom home building industry

Being able to build our own home is a dream for many of us. Apart from the satisfaction involved in designing and building a house according to your specifications, custom home building allows homeowners to incorporate green and eco-friendly practices that help protect the environment. Nowadays there is an increasing global trend towards making properties as environmentally friendly as possible. But how exactly do custom built homes contribute to a cleaner and greener environment? Read on to find out.

Green Design Principles

The main thing to consider when it comes to designing a green custom built home is how much energy will be used into the manufacture and production process. Some key aspects to look out for include heating, lighting, and the choice of household appliances. This would include planning to furnish a home with appliances that have been given a rating of at least A++, from washing machines or televisions to kettles and small electronic appliances.

It is also important to avoid designing "just in case" spaces, or what in construction is known as designing for unnecessary capacity. When it comes to green custom built homes, nothing is farther from the truth than the saying "one size fits all". Space maximisation is a fundamental principle of green design.

Other green design principles to bear in mind include streamlining and simplifying processes (using powder coating instead of painting, or micro-reactors instead of solvent batch reactors), taking a proactive approach to waste (preventing it rather than managing it), and considering at all times how your design lends itself to reusing or recycling (for example, by recycling yard waste into mulch instead of landfilling it).

The Choice of Materials

There is plenty of evidence pointing at the problems associated with traditional building materials. Using materials like composite woods, plastics, and certain types of paints has been linked to health issues such as asthma, skin disorders, allergies, and headaches. In an effort to create healthy homes, green builders have turned their attention to eco friendly raw materials that do not impact negatively the resources of the planet or the health of the occupiers. What are the options in this respect?

Using lime instead of cement is an interesting idea. The use of this material is not new, as archaeologists have found that lime was used in construction as far back as 5,000 years ago. Lime can be used as putty, mortar, or as paint for both interior and exterior surfaces when mixed with a pigment. The benefits of using lime include extended durability, resistance to ultraviolet light, and the fact that it has anti-bacterial properties and it does not trap moisture between the walls.

Another option is to use cob (a mix of soil with a high clay content and straw or sand). Because cob walls must be laid manually, this material is one of the most environmentally friendly that can be used in construction. In addition, cob is inexpensive, lends itself to any shape or design (so it is ideal for custom built homes), and provides excellent insulation.

Other ideas include replacing traditional construction materials like fibreglass, polyurethane foam, or polystyrene with natural plant fibres (cellulose, hemp, flax), wood fibre, or sheep's wool.

Cooling And Heating Options

Cooling and heating are the two largest power-consumers in most houses. One of the best things you can do is ensure that the buildings are well insulated - whether you live in a warm or cold climate, insulation is a game changer for your electricity bills. Modern insulation is light-weight, fire retardant and increasingly efficient.

Most houses will be built with central cooling and heating, which we recommend in almost all cases. This is the most efficient way to affect the climate in an entire house, particularly when the system can be zoned (set to affect only chosen areas, and not waste power heating or cooling the remainder). Individual room or small area cooling is beyond the scope of this article, so for information on options like through the wall air conditioners or window aircons we recommend reading the linked articles from the Energyboom website.

Building Equipment

You may have designed a custom home that ticks all the boxes of the most strict green building practices. You may also have made sure that the raw materials used in the construction of a custom built home are environmentally friendly. Does that make a home eco friendly? Not necessarily. Traditionally, the machinery and equipment used in construction are highly polluting and can pose serious threats to the environment. Think about the effect that practices like waste management, road cleaning, concrete batching, and the storage of fuels or chemicals can have on air, water, and land quality. According to the United States Clean Air Advisory Committee, a working bulldozer can release as many polluting substances into the air as 500 vehicles. One must also keep in mind the amounts of noise pollution that are typically generated by construction practices.

It is clear that in order to make custom built homes truly eco friendly we need to select building equipment and machinery that are in line with green building principles. So what are the alternatives? One of the options is to choose different (and by different we mean cleaner) fuels to operate construction machinery. This could include going for low sulfur diesel or modifying diesel engines with things like particle filters. By doing so, the amount of soot being released could be reduced by up to 90 per cent.

Other easy to implement practices include reducing (or disallowing altogether) idling time and hiring equipment from companies that have a proven record of recycling the waste they generate. In addition to taking preventative measures, companies like Volvo or Hitachi have developed an interesting range of eco friendly construction equipment that help conserve the environment by reusing old machinery components or by using biodegradable hydraulic fluids. Without a doubt, it pays off to investigate the options available in your local area.

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