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Green Building Tips:
You've decided to build green. How can you get started?
On this page you will find some helpful tips to building both safe and sustainable structures.

Building green helps reduce negative impacts on the environment and preserve the Earth's resources for future generations. Building green doesn't necessarily mean your home has to be more expensive or that you need to use alternative materials and methods. In fact, when you build green you can often reduce your overall expenses by using traditional materials in efficient and environmentally friendly ways.

Building Green - Learning from Communities
Building Green - A Green Tactical Plan

When selecting a site to build upon, choose one that is the best for both you and the environment.

  • Avoid building in environmentally sensitive locations, such as wetlands, flood zones, hurricane-prone areas and endangered wildlife habitats.
  • Check on the proximity to public transportation, community resources and bike trails to reduce the need to drive.
  • Consider developing an infill or greyfield site--a site where a house was previously built and where water, phone and sewer lines may already be in place--instead of clearing undeveloped lands, known as Greenfield sites. You could minimize the amount of excavation needed by reusing an existing foundation.

The orientation of your house on the site can affect the amount of energy it consumes.

  • Position the house on the site to best capture sunlight in the winter, and reduce heat gain in the summer where trees provide shade. Orienting the house on an east-west axis is usually best.
  • Be realistic about how much space you need. A smaller house will require less material to build, as well as less energy to heat and cool over the entire life of the structure.
  • Build up instead of out. A multi-story house has less roof and foundation area than a one-story house of the same square footage, is more efficient to heat, and has ceiling framing that doubles as floor framing for the floor above.
  • Reduce heat island effects. Select light-colored roofing. Limit paved areas around the house, or keep paved areas light colored or shaded.

Whether you prefer a traditional or modern look, design your home with materials that are friendly to the environment.

  • Use materials that are easily recyclable, reusable, renewable, durable, affordable and low maintenance.
  • Maximize insulation, weather strip door openings and seal ducts.
  • Install high-performance windows and energy-efficient appliances, and consider solar effects when locating windows.
  • Choose high-efficiency (90 percent and higher) heating and cooling equipment with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 14 or higher. Put in programmable thermostats to minimize energy use, especially when nobody is home.

Be mindful to conserve water and protect the water supply during and after construction.

  • UControl soil erosion during the building process. Be sure to manage run off and sedimentation so they do not affect storm water systems.
  • Design the landscape around the home to limit long-term water and energy use and preserve the natural environment. Minimize water-intensive landscaping, lawn areas and grasses and replace with native plant species.
  • Consider installing a rain water and run off collection system and a gray water recycling system to water lawns and gardens.
  • Select low-consumption or dual-flush toilets; low-consumption or waterless urinals; and low-flow lavatory, sink and shower faucets.
  • Turn off unnecessary lighting fixtures, both indoors and outdoors. Install lighting timers or sensors to automatically turn off lights when not needed.
  • In winter, lower the thermostat a few degrees and put on a sweater. Close blinds in the summer and minimize cooking during the heat of the day.

A number of resources are available on green and sustainable building requirements. Here are some of the well-known green and sustainable building rating systems and standards.

  • The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) have developed a standard to address green home building construction practices. To learn more about the ICC/NAHB/ANSI National Green Building Standard, visit or
  • NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines. Available at
  • The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a benchmark developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Learn more at 
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)/USGBC/ Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) 189.1 Standard for High- Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Visit
  • The Green Building Initiative (GBI) develops the GBI/Green Globes rating system and standard. Available at

Good air quality benefits everyone, especially people with allergies and children with asthma.

  • Incorporate whole-house ventilation and ceiling fans.
  • Use eco-friendly adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings and carpeting that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds.
  • Install entryway dirt-capturing systems. Use good quality air filters and change them regularly.
  • Clean your house with biodegradable, environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Throughout the building process, as well as after, be sure to recycle waste materials.

  • During excavation, stockpile and reuse excavated topsoil.
  • Collect shipping boxes, wood scraps, metal and other construction waste to recycle or sell for salvage.
  • Buy, sell or donate used construction supplies. Check stores and websites for everything from insulation, windows and doors to tiles, appliances and more.
  • When installing new carpets, choose those made from recycled materials and recycle your old carpets.
  • Take used batteries, fluorescent bulbs, unwanted chemicals and paints to recycling or hazardous waste collection facilities.
  • Include recyclable material storage areas.

Simple changes are all it takes for you to be more environmentally friendly in your everyday life.

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs.


  • Utilize high-performance building materials that reduce energy loss caused by transmission of extreme temperatures (walls, windows, skylights, roof/ceilings).
  • Set aside space for renewable energy sources to reduce reliance on the use of fossil fuels (wind, solar, hydro-electric, geothermal).
  • Select Energy Star homes, equipment and appliances.
  • Pay attention to duct sealing details and avoid costly wastage.
  • Always use approved water heater insulation blankets and heat traps.
  • Insulate your hot water lines.
  • Install high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment.
  • Use energy efficient luminaries (compact fluorescent & LED).
  • Make use of natural ventilation in structures when possible.
  • Install ceiling fans - an economic alternative to air conditioners that can reduce your costs by 40% in summer. During winter they also effectively circulate warm air and can lead to savings up to 10% on heating bills.


  • Use low flow (or waterless) faucets, shower heads and plumbing fixtures. Reducing your shower head to 2.5 gallons per minute and your toilet to a 1.6 gallon per flush efficiency toilet will make a noticeable difference in your monthly bill and will help relieve pressure on stressed aquifers and other water resources.
  • Build rain water collection systems and consider grey water recycling systems.
  • Employ soaker hoses and drip irrigation whenever possible. Deliver water directly where it is needed to reduce usage and help reduce or eliminate run-off that carries fertilizer and pesticides into our streams and lakes.


  • Limit the size of parking and hardscape areas. Use porous and/or light-colored hardscape materials and provide shading over these areas whenever possible. Both of these will help reduce "heat island" effects - the artificially heightened temperatures that arise around cities or any structure with large parking or hardscape areas.
  • Keep as many areas of the site as natural as possible using native and non-intrusive plant species. Look to use shade trees near windows and sun-facing walls. When properly situated, they can lead to savings of up to 30% on energy bills.
  • Build in close proximity to public transportation.
  • Ensure erosion and sedimentation control plans are put in place.
  • Build using green roofs and cool roofs to reduce heat island effects and to reduce the heat absorption levels during summer months.


  • Build as small as possible. Be efficient in your designs to reduce the use of materials and reduce the amount of space that needs to be heated in winter and cooled in summer.
  • Build up instead of out - a smaller footprint reduces impact on the land and environment, reduces the foundation and roof area per square foot, allows for ceiling and floor systems to share common components which also helps make such structures more efficient to heat and cool.
  • Practice construction and post-construction waste recycling.

For the full article by Don Steeby, author of Alternative Energy: Sources and Systems, click here.

  • An air–to–air heat pump combined with an existing furnace can more efficiently warm your home, leading to a more comfortable environment and cost savings.
  • The air–to–air heat pump has drastically improved since its early days, and now utilizes R–410A refrigerant which has a higher heating capacity and is more environmentally friendly.
  • Any heating appliance is only as good as the structure it is heating. Make sure the home is properly insulated and doors and windows are properly sealed before proceeding with equipment selection.
  • To properly size the equipment, it is imperative that a comprehensive heat load analysis is performed on the home. There are a number of quality software programs available that will produce accurate residential heat load calculations.
  • Consider selecting equipment that has two-stage capabilities: this feature will allow the equipment to be slightly oversized for cooling, and allow for greater capacity during the heating season
  • The operation of the heat pump is only as good as its installation. Follow proper installation practices.
  • Heat pumps generally deliver a heated air temperature that is cooler than a conventional furnace. This lower–than–normal discharge air temperature and less starting and stopping by the equipment can actually benefit the home’s overall wintertime comfort and save money on your fuel bill.

If you have a great tip for others who would like to build green, please share it with us.

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