Green building grows out of a connection with the natural landscape. It is a set of informed decisions that considers the site and materials to reduce the cost, maintenance, and energy usage of the home. Conservation is central to the green building approach. Green homes are healthier, safer, more comfortable, and cost less to operate. They connect people to the land and community around them. Here are seven green building ideas:

Passive solar design

Passive solar design involves placement of the home (and its doors and windows) in a way that will conserve heating and cooling resources. Passive solar design is practiced throughout the world under all climate conditions. As energy costs rise, it is critical to use building orientation, window placements, stone floors, roof overhangs, reflective barriers and other techniques to control natural solar energy.

In warm climates, face the broad side of the house to the north or south, to avoid excessive heat gain as the sun rises and drops in the horizon. Use deep overhangs or solar screens to shield glass areas from direct sun. Avoid skylights or greenhouse rooms, because they allow too much heat gain. In colder climates, solar heat can be captured and stored in materials such as concrete or stone to be slowly released during the evening.

Choose a floor plan that helps you optimize your passive solar energy. An open floor plan optimizes the effect of passive solar heating or cooling. Look for doors and windows that might catch the prevailing breeze and allow cross ventilation. Lower inflow windows and higher outflow windows keeps air moving, as hot air rises.

Your materials can also help you user passive solar energy. A thermal chimney uses a hot zone, such as a glass cupola with windows or vents, to create rising air currents to pull air through the building. Double glass panes provide an insulating air space between the panes, reducing heat transfer. The metal oxide coating on Low-E (emissive) glass helps to keep solar heat out, and interior heat in.

Efficient attic spaces

Use of attic space can contribute to the efficiency of the heating and cooling system of your home. In hot climates, attic spaces can accumulate heat, transferring it to living areas below through air conditioning ducts located in the attic. In cold climates, moisture can accumulate in unventilated attic spaces, causing wood rot or mold. Continuous eave and roof ridge vents will create natural air flow through the attic. Air enters through the eave vents, and moves out through the ridge vents. As heated air rises, it ventilates the attic.

Consider your materials when planning your roof. Lighter colored roof materials absorb less heat. Reflective heat barriers on the underside of the roof deck help to reduce heat gain.

High levels of insulation in attics and exterior walls is crucial for comfortable indoor temperature in all climates. Some research is being done on building sealed, highly insulated attics.

Optimize your heat and AC systems.

In any home, check for leaks in duct work joints, and around windows, doors, attic stairs, exhaust pipes, recessed lights, and electric outlets. Ongoing maintenance of central air systems is necessary to prevent air loss. Use programmable thermostats to regulate your energy usage. Use Pleated-Media Filters in AC return-air grills. This filter removes particles as small as mold spores from the air that is drawn back into the AC blower, keeping coils cleaner and improving the air quality in your home.

Your heating and cooling equipment choices play a huge part in the efficiency of your home. Heat pumps on electric furnaces reduce energy use by drawing heat from outside air, using the same technology that air conditioners use to remove heat from indoor air. For air conditioning, remember than an oversized system will cool too quickly, and leave the room clammy. Smaller systems run long enough reach the desired temperature, and, at the same time, clear the air of humidity. A smaller system lasts longer, does not cycle on and off frequently, and costs less to purchase.

Check with your utility provider for free diagnostic testing and rebates for high efficiency AC systems, insulation, solar screens, and weather-stripping.

Reduce water needs

Water should be conserved and reused whenever possible when building a green home. Native landscaping that is suited to the rainfall in your area is fundamental to building green. When clearing your lot, keep as much native growth on your lot as possible.

Some other ideas – Water pervious materials such as crushed granite or open paving blocks allow water to percolate into the ground. Rainwater catchment systems use gutters and barrels to catch and store water that falls on roofs. Reduce water and fertilizer needs by re-cycling yard waste and leaves for use as mulch.

Purchase energy efficient appliances for your new home. Front loading washing machines use less energy and water. Some dishwashers use less water and have no-heat drying. Check water and energy usage before buying appliances. Low flow toilets and shower heads reduce water usage.

Use renewable or recycled materials

Recycled and renewable materials for building have come a long way in the last few years. When building your new home, there are several ways to use both recycled and renewable materials.

Use materials with recycled content when possible, such as cellulose insulation, Thermo-ply, and lumber composites. Recycled and re-claimed wood floors are an attractive and efficient re-use of materials. Consider decks made of waste wood and/or plastic.

Plan for a place to re-cycle household trash, such as a storage bin in the kitchen, and holding bin in the garage.

When purchasing renewable materials like wood try to use locally produced, materials. Concrete floors utilize the foundation material as finish floor, saving materials and labor. Bamboo floors are made from a rapidly renewable source – bamboo is a grass that can grow several feet per day. Hard surface floors do not hold dust, molds, and allergens, and are very durable.

Some other considerations when choosing materials: Medium density fiberboard (MDF), a wood product used for interior trim and doors, does not contain formaldehyde. Fiber-Cement siding, trim, and pipe materials (Hardie Board) are very durable, rot resistant, and fire retardant. Consider alternative building materials, such as rammed earth, straw bale or insulated concrete panels.

Protect Your New Home’s Site

Reduce the impact to the building site as much as possible. Protect trees, vegetation and bird habitats on the site. Native trees, grasses, rock outcroppings and natural drainage can be made a part of your building and landscaping design. Make sure construction waste is properly disposed of, especially paints and solvents. Do not allow them to be buried on the site.

Use safe materials

Use products that are biodegradable, non toxic, water based, and cold water compatible. Avoid products that contain dyes, ozone depleting chemicals, heavy metals, formaldehyde, or known carcinogens. Avoid solvent based finishes, particleboard, adhesives, some carpets, and other products that release volatile chemicals into the air. Look for green rated labels on carpets and other products.

Remove old-style pressure treated wood when possible, especially in play structures.

Green building is an approach to design and construction that respects the environment and conserves resources. It is a common sense approach that is available to all home owners. Green building techniques create a more cost effective, enjoyable and sustainable home to live in.