The idea of what constitutes green design and construction continues to evolve. Practices that were once considered those of "treehuggers on the fringe" are now mainstream, even finding their way into the municipal building code.
Some say that the term "green" is so overused that it has lost its distinction, but I disagree. There is a steady stream of new green practices and technologies that challenge the boundaries of what is "fringe" and what will someday be mainstream.
Comprehensive green design and construction addresses all of these benefits because the home is a system and without a holistic approach using "building science," improving one area of concern can create unintended consequences in another.
So let's review some of the factors of green design and construction to set the stage for deeper discussion in this and future articles.
Indoor air quality: This is an important concern because there are many factors that influence it. Homes that are built or remodeled to be "tighter" also need to bring in fresh air and ideally filter it.
Water conservation: The drought has increased our awareness of water as a precious resource. New building codes are in effect to help reduce water usage, and new technologies are emerging so that more can be done with less.
Materials conservation: Reduce, re-use, recycle is a green mantra. Artist Aaron Kramer has been quoted as saying, "Trash is a failure of imagination." New examples of attractive recycled materials enter the marketplace on a regular basis. More effort is being made to reduce the amount of waste that building or remodeling creates.
Energy efficiency: There are many ways of influencing this factor. Tightening the building envelope is probably the best first step, but investing in an efficient heating system could be important, too. Making improvements in any of these areas can increase comfort, improve health and reduce long-term cost.
So here's one way to influence indoor air quality that might not seem obvious. Have you ever noticed when a portable vacuum cleaner is used there are dust particles that seem to linger in the air for hours afterward not to mention the funky "just vacuumed" smell!
When my family remodeled our home, we implemented several green measures to improve indoor air quality, one of which was a central vacuum system. With the walls already open, the installer ran 2-inch tubing and placed five special wall receptacles strategically throughout the house. The vacuum motor unit and filter was located out in the garage.
What a difference it has made! Here is some interesting information about vacuums that might surprise you.
1. A central vacuum works better than a standard portable vacuum. With three to five times more suction power than most portable vacuums, a central vacuum can pull more dirt out of your carpets.
2. Central vacuums are healthier than portables because they exhaust outside the main living area of the house. A portable vacuum's motor is right next to you as you vacuum recirculating dust, dander, pollen and other nasty particulates into your home.
3. Over time, a central vacuum can save you money. The deep-cleaning ability of a central vacuum will increase the life span of your carpet, drapes and furniture. Additionally, studies have shown that a vacuum is one of the most replaced appliances in a home. With many whole-house units coming with lengthy and even lifetime warranties, not having to buy more vacuums in the future can be a great money saver.
4. As time has passed, I've only grown to love our central vacuum more. The hose is 25 feet long but easier to maneuver than lugging a vacuum around, especially up and down the stairs. And with the vacuum motor out in the garage, it's quiet enough to have a phone conversation while doing the housework.
Years later, our central vacuum is one of those things that we still smile about every time we use it. More comfortable, better for our health it must be green!