One of the attractions of the green movement is that it’s always on the cutting edge of new technologies. Some of the greatest minds in science, architecture, and design are devoted to coming up with innovative ways for all of us to live our lives more sustainably. Many of these technologies center on around our living spaces, since this is where we can have the greatest control over our resource consumption. The following new technologies in eco-friendly housing prove that being green and being innovative start at home.
“Passive” houses are ultra low energy homes that are gaining popularity; there are approximately 15,000 worldwide, mostly in Germany and Scandinavia. People who live in passive houses generate a full supply of heat and hot water by harnessing the energy from the sun, their appliances, and even their own bodies. Passive houses use about 1/20th the heating energy of a conventional house of the same size, and, in Germany, they only cost 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses. They operate on a ventilation system that allows warm air exiting the building to mingle with the cold air coming in, so that 90 percent of the heat is transferred. Although the building is extremely well insulated, it is not stuffy at all; there are plenty of windows and air goes through a HEPA filter before entering the rooms. But since most passive houses allow only 500 square feet per person, you’ll have to practice being a little more passive, since there’s not much room to move around.
No, it has nothing to do with the color of house paint you buy. A green roof system is an extension of the existing roof that involves a high quality waterproofing and root repellant system, a drainage system, filter cloth, lightweight soil, and plants. More than simply providing added garden space, a green roof can actually offer several benefits to your home.
The added protection results in a longer material lifespan for your roof and decreased maintenance. Green roofs are estimated to last up to twice as long as conventional roofs. You’ll also be able to reduce your heating and cooling costs. Researchers in Canada found that a green roofing reduced heat gains by 95 percent and heat losses by 26 percent compared to a regular roof, depending on size. And for city dwellers who haven’t quite adjusted to the urban din, green roofs can insulate sound by absorbing sound waves produced by machinery, traffic, or airplanes. Plus, you’ll have a beautiful field full of flowers on top of your house.
Companies like Conservation Technology sell systems that collect and recycle rainwater by piping water from your home’s downspouts to a central filter that separates solids and stores the water in a surface or underground tank. The water is disinfected and the resultant greywater is used in the garden, to fill swimming pools, flush toilets, and wash clothing. You can even have a system set up that allows you to use collected rainwater for bathing, cooking, and drinking.
Many homeowners are taking the initiative and rigging up their own greywater systems. A group in California called the Greywater Guerillas hosts hands-on workshops where participants learn to reroute and reuse household water.
Most of us heat our homes with forced-air heating, which shoots warm air from vents in the walls and floors. However, since heat rises, a more efficient way to heat your house might be radiant floor heating.
There are two types of radiant heat. With electric heating, floor wires heat up and send that energy up through the floor. This is the best option for retrofitting your home, since it requires only a basic installation. The other option, and the more efficient one, is a hydronic system, which forces heated water through tubes that are distributed throughout your floors. Radiant heating is a great, convenient alternative to conventional heating, especially if your roofs are low and your home is small. Your contractor can help you weigh the costs of installment against the money you’ll save in heating costs.
There are many options out there for making your home more eco-friendly, and the best part about this next generation of green technologies is that there are financial incentives that can make them a more practical solution to your home building needs. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), offers a voluntary rating system that promotes the design and construction of high-performance green homes. You can find local incentives for building a LEED home through the USGBC’s searchable online database.
Through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the government offers several tax breaks and incentives for upgrading your home’s efficiency. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) is another resource for finding local, state, federal, and utility incentives for switching to renewable or efficient energy sources.
With so many new developments in the next generation of green homes, as well as financial incentives to implement them, it’s likely that future homes will be as green as the native plants in front of them.
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