Building a Sustainable Home in TexasBy David Thompson, UniversityHerald Reporter
The words "green" and "sustainable" are heard a lot more than they used to be. Concern for climate change - and interest in minimizing its negative effects - has driven all kinds of innovations in technology and construction. Many businesses are making a point of marketing their climate-friendly approaches, and homeowners - both current and prospective - are becoming more interested in making their homes more eco-friendly and sustainable.
Whether you're looking to buy a sustainable home, retrofit your existing home to be more green, or build a brand-new home with sustainable methods and materials, there are some good reasons - and substantial benefits - to changing how you think about your home.
Where to Build Sustainably
Let'a get one question out of the way first: why Texas?
Believe it or not, Texas ranks as the #2 state for sustainable building, right after California. This ranking is determined by several factors:
The state's incentives and policies for green home building. Texas has a number of tax credits and rebate programs for sustainable building, and - if you shop around - some insurers will offer you homeowners insurance incentives if you meet their criteria.
Where the state ranks in terms of their solar industry (number of solar companies, homes already using solar power, and general investment in solar technology). Texas in particular has plenty of sun to go around, and the benefits to users of solar energy are numerous.
Wind power (similar to above)
The number of LEED-certified homes.
Solar power in particular is where Texas shines - both literally and figuratively. Texas has the second most LEED-certified green homes in the country, and the state produces 25,629 megawatts of wind energy. That amount of energy powers the equivalent of more than seven million homes, and that number is likely to get bigger as Texas continues to invest in green energy.
Why to Build Sustainably
It goes without saying that sustainable homes are more friendly to the environment than their non-sustainable counterparts. Green building minimizes waste and focuses on recycling, which means less impact on the climate and better efficiency. But there are a number of other reasons why building your house sustainably could have major benefits in the long run.
For one, sustainable homes are more energy and water efficient. Because green building is centered on efficiency and reduced dependency on non-renewable resources, your water and utility bills are highly likely to go down over time. Technology like solar panels, low-emissivity windows, energy-efficient heat pumps, and other features will not only reduce the cost of heating and water, but also help preserve those resources for future generations by reducing waste. With enough ambition, you could build a Net Zero home, which means the house is powered by its own eco-friendly systems.
It's also worth mentioning that green building can mean a boost in value to your home should you decide to sell. Sustainable features in a home are considered highly desirable by many buyers, and they tend to sell faster - and for more money - than non-sustainable homes.
How to Build Sustainably
There are a number of ways to make your home sustainable, whether you're retrofitting an existing home or building an all-new home from scratch. When deciding to go green, you should look at your choice of building materials and methods, energy generation, use of smart systems, and everything from lighting to insulation to appliances. The bad news is, sustainable materials can be more expensive than their non-sustainable counterparts - anywhere from 8 to 16% more. But the good news is, you will get all that money back and more in the long run, because the cost of running a more energy and water efficient home are so much lower.
Some of the methods you might consider when building a sustainable Texas home might include:
Passive solar design, which uses building materials that absorb and / or transmit sunlight, which allows for heating or cooling of the home while reducing the need for fans.
High-performance windows. Windows are responsible for 50% (sometimes more) of lost energy. Technologies such as air-tight construction, nonconductive framing materials, double glazing, and special coatings can reduce this loss drastically (thus saving on energy costs). In someplace warm like Texas, you would look for windows with low solar gain, meaning less heat gets transferred through the windows, usually through reflective technologies.
Energy-efficient appliances. Appliances are a major energy consumer in any home, and can add significantly to your operating costs.
Drip irrigation systems. Growing vegetation as a windbreak and cooling resource for your home is a great way to literally go green - but high-energy methods of watering that vegetation can cancel out those benefits. A drip irrigation system eliminates the need for pumps and reduces water lost to evaporation.
While building sustainably might take a little more work and money, the long-term benefits are demonstrable and significant. You're very likely to save more in the long run by choosing green materials and building methods -- and you'll be doing the planet a favor while you're at it.