Tuesday, July 25, 2017  

Building Green, Part 2
One Couple's Passion for Protecting the Environment  

My husband, Judd, and I are now in the fifth month of the construction of our green home. We’ve been slowed by rain and snow, but the progress is good and the learning process of green building continues. In the first article, we discussed the building “envelope.” In this article we will cover the exterior building materials and water conservation. And we will continue to discuss costs and benefits of green building and how our choices affect the quality of our home, the environment, and our pocketbook.

The Exterior

GAF/Elk Tru-Slate Roof System. This roof is natural, hand-split, quarried slate. But it is not your grandfather’s slate roof! It is greener, simpler and costs less. Here are its features:

  • Less slate is required because there is much less lapping of material, So we’re saving money, reducing usage of natural resources, and, due to less weight, reducing the carbon footprint in its transport. Three green advantages! Speaking of weight, because the roof is much lighter than its traditional counterpart, this roof is a candidate for roof replacements on older homes.
  • Installation is simplified and is faster through the use of a unique system of stainless steel battens and hangers which come in strips. They are secured to the roof and the slates lock into them. The ease and speed of installation significantly reduces labor costs normally associated with old-fashioned slate roofs. And heaven forbid you need to repair damage to a traditional slate roof! With this roofing system, slates can be individually removed and replaced.
  • Solar photo voltaic (PV) tiles, which will provide electricity, are being developed that are the same size as the slate tiles. They can be installed in place of the slates (or in our case, switched out) and seamlessly integrated into the roof. They will be far more aesthetically pleasing than large PV panels.
  • Durability of building materials is an important aspect of green building. The Tru-Slate roof carries a lifetime warranty which covers the entire roof system, including product and labor. The roof is designed and warranted to withstand 150 mph winds. The lifetime warranty comes with a caveat: the installer must be certified by GAF/Elk and one of their representatives must inspect it. Our roofer is certified and provided excellent service and quality.
  • Locally sourced, the slate we chose is quarried in Pennsylvania as opposed to other countries, thereby minimizing the cost and environmental impact of transportation.
  • Costs are always a factor in building or remodeling a home. While our slate roof is more expensive than an asphalt shingled roof, it’s half the cost of a traditional slate roof!!

Hardiplank cement siding covers most of the exterior. Most of you are likely familiar with this product but it is worth highlighting its many green aspects which made it an easy choice for us.

  • Manufactured in many US locations in order to minimize transportation of materials
  • Low toxicity
  • The fiber-cement siding, with a 30-year life span, is extremely durable, which reduces the cost and environmental impact of replacement, and also reduces maintenance and repair costs.
  • Baked-on factory paint provides a durable, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) finish with a 15 year warranty which ensures reduced need for repainting – an important consideration as we are approaching retirement and wanting a low maintenance home.
  • Non-combustible which gives added protection to the house and reduces insurance premiums
  • Resists rain, wind, cold and hail damage. Resists insect damage.

Hardiplank is about twice the price of vinyl. But it’s longer life span, durability and beauty made it an attractive choice for us.

Stone. We have always wanted our home to reflect its environment, to come from the earth and merge with the natural elements. The natural beauty of quarried stone was an important part of our vision and now adorns part of our home’s exterior. We chose stone from Charles Luck which is locally sourced. Of course, the durability and low maintenance is a great plus. We also compared prices to manufactured, synthetic stone and found them to be comparable. Natural stone was an economical and good environmental decision.

Water Conservation

When we think of being environmentally conscious and responsible, the first thing most of us think of is energy efficiency. That is, of course, a major economic and environmental issue. But another environmental concern of perhaps equal importance is water conservation. Water is the resource that sustains life. While people disagree about the extent and causes of global warming, no one can dispute that groundwater is being depleted and sources are drying up. We are already seeing water disputes in the west, other parts of the country and the world. In an excellent and sobering book by Fred Pearce, When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century, the author makes a convincing argument that, in the coming years, water could become the resource over which we go to war! One out of every 5 people in the world does not have access to fresh water. It is estimated that in the United States, our very own, developed country, 36 states will face water shortages by 2013! We simply can’t afford to ignore these warnings. While governments may be slow to act, each of us can take steps to conserve water right now, each and every day of our lives.

  • Rainwater Harvesting. For our new home, we are installing three, in-series, buried cisterns which will collect rainwater from our roof, rear deck, and, eventually, the permeable paver-covered driveway. It is an integrated system, designed by a new company owned by a lifelong resident of the area, avid waterman, and passionate advocate for water conservation. Our kind of guy!

In addition to supplying water to hose bibs around the property, rainwater will be pumped to a subterranean irrigation system at the front and side of the house. Our natural, native landscaping and future vegetable garden will be irrigated with rainwater. But as importantly, the irrigation system will continually return rainwater to ground waters deep in the earth.
It’s true, this is a pretty sophisticated and fairly costly system. So what’s the pay back?
For us, it is the minimizing of run-off which would otherwise erode the cliff on which our house     sits and pollute the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Instead, we will continuously collect     3000 gallons of rainwater and return it, filtered to eliminate phosphorus and other pollutants, to the earth. That payoff may not manifest itself in full measure in our bank account, but that’s not the only account that matters to us.
There are practical, every day paybacks to rainwater harvesting. Look at your water bill. How much do you spend in a year washing your car, hosing your driveway and walkways, watering your     lawn and garden? In a drought, when watering is restricted, what is the value of the plants and shrubs that are at risk of dying? I remember well the drought a few years back and the azaleas     that we lost in Alexandria.

Rain Barrels are coming back and are an effective, inexpensive way to harvest rainwater. Go to your computer and “Google” “rain barrels.” You’ll be amazed by the amount of information and options available. And, if you want to get more involved, there are other, affordable. measures you can take. We will happily be a resource.

  • A recirculating pump, installed on a standard water heater, circulates hot water through household pipes to the kitchen and bathrooms continuously. This provides instant hot water at every faucet in the house so we won’t waste water while we wait for it to get hot. The pump uses very little energy and is on a timer so that we don’t run it at night. And we can turn it off when we go on vacation.
  • Plumbing Fixtures can save money and water! The average household of 4 in a home built before 1994 wastes up to 39,000 gallons of drinking water each year! And a lot of that is flushed! Imagine the impact on fresh water resources if each house saved this water! The costs to do this are minimal, the advantages to the environment are great, and you’ll save a bundle on your water bill! It is as easy as 1-2-3!
  1. Low-flow faucet aerators use45% less water than regular faucets. If you don’t want to replace your faucets, simply buy a replacement water saver aerator. You won’t notice the difference and you’ll be saving about a gallon of water every time you brush your teeth or wash your face!
  2. Low-flow shower heads use 30% less water. A standard shower head uses about 2.5 gallons per minute. A low-flow shower head uses about 1.75 gallons per minute. You can get a great looking shower head at an affordable price without sacrificing performance.
  3. Low volume toilets are the best thing you can buy to save water. Toilets use more water each year than dishwashers and washing machines. If your home was built before 1994, chances are you have a water-guzzling toilet that use 3.5 gallons per flush. This wastes 2 gallons per flush! You do the math! Low volume toilets use 1.6 gallons and High-Efficiency Toilets (HETs) use 1.28 gallons and save up to 16,500 gallons of water per year! Another alternative, the one we chose for our home, is the dual-flush toilet. After each use, you choose between a 1.6 gallon flush or a 0.9 gallon flush!

When you implement those 3 easy steps and are shopping for new plumbing fixtures, look for the WaterSense label which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awards to products that conserve water. It’s similar in concept to the Energy Star label for electrical appliances. Kohler is a company committed to developing WaterSense products and we have chosen them for our home.
Cost versus Benefit. The cost of building green versus benefits accrued varies for each of the areas we’ve covered in this article. While all green choices have benefits that go beyond the monetary, all our choices do have monetary payback in terms of durability, low maintenance, lower insurance premiums, and lower water bills. Besides, this whole process is fun and exciting!

In our next issue we will discuss, among other things, our mechanical system, which might be boring except for the fact that the system we are installing is new to the United States. In fact, we are the first new, single-family home on the east coast to use this system for heating, cooling and domestic hot water! The energy experts we’ve consulted believe this system will replace geo-thermal in this country! We’ll have pictures and we’ll welcome all you HVAC contractors to come and see it for yourselves!