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Are you looking for a Green Agent? Look no further.
Green building is the most exciting trend happening in our country today. According to the Department of Energy, if just one in 10 households incorporated energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, we could prevent more than 17 billion pounds of air pollution - which is equivalent to removing more than 250,000 cars from the road. In addition, home and building owners reap energy cost savings for the life of the building. If I had a magic wand, I would decree that ALL new homes and buildings would be built "green" starting today.
The "2030 Challenge" is a national initiative backed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The challenge seeks to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings and to make all buildings completely independent of fossil-fuelenergy by the year 2030. While much of the action is directed at commercial building which is a significant part of our energy consumption, many of the ideas proposed are also relevant to residential construction. As Edward Masria (NM architect and green advocate) put it, "It's the Architects Stupid". Architects and builders are beginning to understand the power they have in making our communities energy wise.
Okay, what to do. If you are building a new home or office building...choose green building materials and design. Yes, it may cost a little more, but will pay for itself in energy savings AND sustainability.
Site Selection, Orientation and Preparation ....
Green building starts with site planning, with consideration of soil composition, existing vegetation, water courses and drainage, solar access, climate considerations (varies significantly from east of the mountains to the west mesa), wind patterns and more. Look for infill lots first to save on transportation costs. A part of site selection should also include proximity to food, employment, banking, etc. See our Urban Planning section for motivation.
Passive/Active Solar Design ....
Passive solar builders have sophisticated energy software that will optimize the layout of a new home to take maximum advantage of "free and clean" solar energy. In general, locate main living areas South/SouthEast to maximize passive solar. Windows on the north side of the home will be smaller or fewer in number; windows on the south side will be larger and allow the lower winter sun which saves on heat, but have an overhang that blocks the higher summer sun and saves on cooling. East and west windows will also be minimized to prevent glare. West facing walls will absorb a great deal of heat in the afternoon. Use highly insulated mass walls with minimal windows to reduce direct solar gain.
Susie Marbury, architect and Energy Efficiency & Green Building Admin. for the NM Energy, Minerals, & Natural Resources Dept. "walks the talk" and built her passive solar home (right) in the near North Valley with E-Crete, no A/C or evaporative cooling, concrete slab/floor, energy efficient appliances and lighting, ceiling fans, Low-E dual pane windows, Low-Flow fixtures and waterless urinal, plus water barrels for rain harvesting.....and it's beautiful.
Bruce Warren Davis, green architect (262-0862), took on a challenging remodel project of a 1957 neighborhood laundromat turned "green built" home in the university area. Innovative passive systems like his Zomeworks Sunbender and skylight combo (left) provides natural light and warmth in a hallway which is radiated through much of the house. Sunbenders are lowered in the summer for shade and raised in the winter for maximum solar harvesting. All interior surfaces have beautiful low VOC finishes.
The courtyard features rainwater harvesting (from the canales) and supports fish, bog plants and waterlillies with the overflow going to the trees. The pond and steel patio structure (removable cover) keeps the courtyard cool in the summer, extending the main living areas outdoors.
This home is only 1720SF including the detached studio for a small footprint and is located within biking/walking distance to Nob Hill shopping, the university and bus/rail transportation. The studio is comfortable year round with its passive Cool Cell roof and NightSky Passive cooling system. (Skylight and Sunbender taken from below in photo to the right).
See our Alternative Energy section for info on Active Solar alternatives.
Alternative Building Materials (exterior) ....
While traditional construction materials (frame, stucco, brick) can be used in an energy efficient home as long as it is air tight and insulated well, there are new materials and methods that can also be explored. When trying to evaluate alternatives, the concepts of R-values versus mass must be considered and are sometimes confusing. Working with a "green architect or builder" will help immensely to sort out the data.
PumiceCrete, Strawbale, Adobe, E-Crete, AMVIC, Rastra Block, EcoBlock, TechBlock and Perform Wall panels are just some of choices available. The Building With Awareness video on strawbale construction (photo above) by Ted Owens, Syncronos Design Inc (Corrales) is beautifully done and inspirational for the do-it-yourself crowd. Note: Small IS beautiful.
A site with a huge selection of books/videos on various green building materials is greenbuilding.com (click on any of the links on the left).
The Vision House 2006 built by Sun Mountain Construction in Corrales includes AMVIC (insulated concrete) construction, ground-sourced geothermal system tied into the radiant heating system and refrigerated air, a rooftop photovoltaic system, natural clay plaster walls, Energy Star-rated appliances, sprayed foam attic insulation, R-values between R-28 and R-40 and is expected to use 50-60% less energy. The Vision House also had rain/gray water harvesting as well as fluorescent bulbs in many of the fixtures.
Award winning builder, David C. Peterson, goes through the numerous (I mean numerous) steps in building an adobe home on the bosque. There are photos for each stage with humorous discussion of the techniques that he has chosen for both quality and energy efficiency. Check it out on his Adobe by the Rio Grande site.
For roofs, we now have nanotech products like MirrorSEAL from Durapure, an environmentally friendly roofing system that's so nontoxic its founder says it is safe to eat off of it. Unlike gravel-coated asphalt roofs, which absorb light energy and convert it to heat, Mirrorseal reflects 82 percent of light, qualifying it as a "cool roof". We also have solar tiles and shingles, excellent foam insulating roofs and more.
For the ultimate in green/alternative building, check out some of the Taos Earthships on this site.
Leak Testing and Insulation....
The building "envelope" must be air tight to eliminate leaks of unconditioned air. Blower door technology is used to test energy quality standards for Artistic Homes, originally a tract home builder building very tight homes, that signed on early to the Building America program, and was recognized recently as a leader in energy efficiency... they are now building netzero homes.
To prevent CO buildup, heating/cooling systems are then designed to allow fresh air when needed and can also be done manually. Insulation should be maximized in the ceiling areas (as heat rises) but also evenly distributed to eliminate uninsulated areas at corners or framing joints. Infrared cameras can verify the distribution or lack of insulation by measuring temperature differences.
Durano Construction is on the leading edge of green building with high end homes that use 50% less energy. Air handlers are installed in conditioned space and permanently sealed. Exterior holes are sealed with expansive foam insulation and high efficiency heating/cooling equipment is installed with air filters for air quality. R-38 ceilings, R-23 walls and Low-E glazed thermal windows provide additional savings. All homes are inspected and performance tested to verify the efficiency of the whole house system approach. Durano's entry into the Parade of Homes in Bernalillo also had PV (solar), low flow plumbing, advanced framing techniques, alternative structural materials, low VOC finishes and on-site recycling of material waste. Consider sprayed on insulation that will seal all leaks. Durano uses J. Douglas Insulation.
Water Conservation ...
Green building also includes saving our most valuable desert resource....water. Low flow plumbing, water harvesting and xeriscaping will be used in the "greenest" homes. Refrigerated air conditioning also saves on water if PV (photovoltaics) are installed to offset the extra electricity they use. Electricity generation uses water at the plant. If evaporative coolers are used judiciously, there are some who maintain that they can use less water when no PV's are installed. The jury is still out but this issue is being studied by local architects and we will get back to you with the results.
Engleman Construction in the East Mountains is using a cistern and gray water harvesting for his high end homes, providing water for landscaping needs. Gray water does contain pathogens and, as such, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) regulates all uses of gray water.
Driveways, sidewalks and patios should be built of permeable material (like Gascrete, Geoblock or AZ Block) to maximize water retention on the site.
Green design may include daylighting to eliminate the need for turning on lights during the day like Skylights, Tubular Skylights, clerestory windows and window placement. Call Mark Sherson (265-0231) for expert skylight or sunbender installation. Light fixtures can be chosen to accommodate fluorescents or the newer LED lights.
Sensors can be wired to turn lights on/off when you are in the room (for those of us who are sometimes forgetful). As discussed, recessed can lights should be used sparingly (if at all) as they can not be insulated well (unless you use LEDs or CFLs).
Automatic controls for lighting, common in commercial buildings, are now available in a variety of options for residences ranging from a simple outdoor light fixture with a built-in photosensor to whole-house programmable controls that can activate lights for various scenarios (e.g., time of day, vacations, entertaining) from a central command center. Once a luxury for the wealthiest homeowners, centralized lighting controls are now affordable to the average homeowner.
Windows and Doors...
All windows should be double or triple glazed and the lowest U-Value. Depending on location, you may want windows with low or high solar gain. All exterior doors and windows should also have good weatherstripping. Home Builders Association of Central NM provides a list of of their members in this area. It should be noted that metal-framed windows actually conduct the heat out of a building faster than any other type of frame unless there is a thermal barrier. "When possible, replace your metal windows with wood or metal clad ones, which have the highest insulating value. Vinyl windows are better at insulating than metal, but have other problems associated with them, including off-gassing toxins as they heat up, which contributes to poor indoor air quality. Although improvements have been made in recent years, some tend to warp when exposed to high temperatures, breaking the seal between the panes. The obvious symptom for this is in colder weather, when they begin to fog up in between theglass. Wood is still the best solution for window frames." Src: Berkeley Daily Planet.
There are also specialized films that can cut solar transmission causing summer heat gain while allowing the greatest amount of light possible. The DOE and Efficient Windows Collaborative provide helpful information on selecting the best Energy Star windows for our location and your home.
Interior Finish ....
Interior finish will emphasize both sustainability and air quality. A popular flooring used by Sean Gilligan in his downtown infill townhome development on Cedar is bamboo. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, requiring no replanting and little fertilization. You can find Bamboo and natural cork at Floorscapes of NM on Paseo Alameda.
Stained concrete, cork, tile, flagstone and granite flooring are also being used. Carpeting or area rugs from wool and other natural fibers including sisal, coir and seagrass provide long lasting beauty. Note: Our old wool carpeting attracted clothes moths that chowed down. We recently installed a corn and polymer based carpet "Sonora" by Dupont AKA Mohawk SmartStrand and did not experience that awful new carpet smell (VOCs). It also has stain resistance built into the strands just in case my kitty throws up. So far, I love it!!! We purchased it locally from Cash and Carry Carpet on Griegos. Altair Homes uses native flagstone flooring from Rocky Mtn Stone.
Sun Mountain has pressed wheat interior doors and American Clay plastered walls in their Vision 2006 home. Wheat board with formaldehyde-free resin may be used in cabinetry as well. Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds - allergy givers) paint is also important in a green home. Dunn-Edwards on Candelaria (previously Wellborns) is proud to say that they were producing low VOC paint before it was green.
A "greener" fabric called Crypton is committed to green and clean (we saw this at the eo open house).
Angelika Choudhry (Punckte) is a "green" interior decorator, offering consultations on interior products and materials that are organic, ecological and health conscious, as well as a Feng Shui consultant. See New Ideas below to stimulate your creativity.
A new type of radiant heating called Warmboard sounds interesting as the tubes are not in concrete which provide a faster "warm up" response time and I must assume access is easier in case of a leak. Combine radiant with a solar thermal unit and you have eco-friendly heat to make you feel warm and fuzzy.
Micro-Combined Heat and Power, or Micro-CHP, is an approach to delivery of energy to homes that can dramatically lower overall energy use and reduce impacts on the environment. The fuel used to heat the home is used twice: first to generate electric power, and then heat the home. A long-time dream of many, Climate Energy now brings forward, for the first time in America, freewatt™ a complete system that meets all the technical and practical requirements for Micro-CHP in the home. This 95% efficient heater and electricity generator may be a good choice in the East Mountains where there are more colder days for a faster payback.
Regardless of the heating system, look for a 95+ or higher rating.
Popular Science “Best of What’s New 2009″ - “Coolerado’s rooftop air conditioner handles dry weather more than twice as efficiently as anything else…”This system saves energy and water. TLC Heating and Plumbing, Al Peterson, 505-761-5528. For an energy specialist in heating and cooling (specializing in radiant/hot water baseboard heating), try Big M Plumbing, Michael Montoya @ 877-4122.
One last thought: Green Building also includes recycling all construction wastes from the site so ask your builder how they intend to dispose of construction debris and leftovers after your new home is built. Sunlight Homes has been building environmentally and energy friendly homes in NM for 30 years. Check out their tips for eliminating waste and browse around their site and their small home discussion.
PLEASE be a part of the solution. mysuggestions@sustainableabq