Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

February 04, 2009

New National Green Building Standard

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in conjunction with the International Code Council (ICC) has developed a new National Green Building Standard. This has also been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is a first for this organization. This new Green Home Building Standard is similar to the LEED process for evaluating and certifying homes, but is probably less costly to perform. It does rely on independent inspections to verify claims that are made. These standards will help home buyers realize just how green the claims might be for any given home they might be considering to purchase.

You can take a look at the criteria for this new standard, and even proceed with evaluating any specific project, by visiting the NAHB Green Building Program website. I did this and plugged in data for the earthbag/papercrete home I built in Colorado a decade ago. It took about an hour to do this, and I am pleased to report that I garnered a gold rating in almost all of the categories.

To give you a better idea of what they are evaluating, I'll go through some of the specfics of what they are looking for.

Lot Design. Here they want to assure that the building site is chosen in such a way as to not overly disrupt the existing environment, or better, to provide infill rather than develop virgin land, or even possibly release previously impervious lot coverage or clean up something toxic. Points can also be gained by paying attention to solar orientation, storm water management, and water-efficient landscapping.

Resource Efficiency. The very first criteria here is maintaining a small footprint, although I was dissappointed that they don't even have a choice for building a one-bedroom home! The use of advanced framing techniques or panelized construction is awarded points. Frost protected shallow foundations, drained footings, and appropriate grading around foundations is encouraged. Covered entries and large roof overhangs, termite resistant construction and proper waterproofing and flashing are good. The use of recycled, renewable, and local materials, along with a life-cycle analysis for materials, can all gain points.

Energy Efficiency. Here they consider the type of heating system used. Other appliances, water heaters and lights are evaluated. Both solar heating and passive cooling are awarded points, as is the use renewable sources of electricity.

Water Efficiency. The use of water-efficient appliances, irrigation techniques, rainwater collection, wastewater reuse and compost toilets are all encouraged.

Indoor Environmental Quality. They like to see the use of direct-vented gas appliances, air filtration systems, and moisture/condensation control. One area where I think they missed the boat here is in not recognizing the value of breathable wall systems in maintaining indoor air quality.

Homeowner Education. This encourages builders or sellers to provide good documentation for homeowners in terms of the use of installed systems and general maintenance.

Global Concepts. This is primarly concerned with minimizing the use of low VOCs which pollute the air.

All in all I would say that this new standard for evaluating the "greeness" of buildings is a giant step in the right direction. Virtually all of the basic criteria for building green that I have been advocating for years at have been recognized to some extent.


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