Green Can Be Beautiful
I recently wanted to build a home. After spending over 30 years in the energy industry focusing on energy efficiency, energy R&D, environmental issues, and energy policy, I wanted this home to be energy efficient. My wife wanted our home to look very beautiful, and be “green”. A LEED home sounded nice.
We didn’t really know what we were getting into. There is a wide gap between theoretical analysis and practical implementation.
We moved into our home last July and it actually works the way we intended. USGBC just awarded our home a LEED Platinum rating.
And we’re still happily married.
Since this is a sustainable building energy blog, I’ll keep my comments to the energy and design features, and spare you the more interesting details of the design/build process for a Northwest style home with Asian influences.
I did work at the California Energy Commission for 30 years in many different roles, so the energy part is both professional advocacy and personal passion. The home is in Bend, Oregon, where temperatures reach the high 90’s in summer and get below 0 in the winter. The home is larger than it should be for an environmentally conscious couple and tops 4000 square feet. However, our August energy bill was $39, and the home stayed below 72 degrees F. Our January energy bill was $138, and the home was warm and well lit.
Our neighbors’ homes have energy bills in the hundreds of dollars, and many have smaller homes. Some of our energy saving innovations cost less than traditional approaches, making most measures very cost effective. Some of these measures included:
- A building shell used 8″ thick staggered stud walls that are very tightly sealed. Our blower door test came in at 3.3 ACH at 50 Pascals, one half of the state standard.
- Insulation using a blown in blanket for R-38 walls and subfloor, with a blown R-49 ceiling.
- A closed loop ground source heat pump with a COP of 4.8 keeps the home comfortable.
- An 8’ overhang and an active exterior solar shade reduces 95% of the summer heat gain from the very large west facing windows needed to allow views of the Cascades. The same shade stays up in the winter days to allow solar gain, and comes down at night to further insulate the windows.
- Almost all lights are a combination of LED cans and CFLs.
- The roof is covered with both solar thermal panels for the hot water supply and a 2.25 kw solar PV system.
We built a larger home so we could demonstrate a key message to architects and homeowners. If you are going to build a larger home, you have a responsibility to build a green home, and reduce your energy and environmental footprint. And you can do this while having a beautiful home.
Oh, did I mention that we were on the Central Oregon Builders Association Tour of Homes, and won not only the green home award for our class, but Best of Show, Best Architectural Design, Best Interior Finish, and Best Master Suite? It is a challenge, but you can build a beautiful home that is energy efficient and sustainable.
If you read blogs on this website, you already know the value of energy efficiency and green building, and probably have excellent examples of your own to offer. Our goal is to help other professionals in the building industry to not only understand this, but for them to convince their clients as well.
Green can be beautiful. Pass it on.