Sustainable @ Home: Indoor Air Quality, Water and Energy Conservation Good for Health, Wallet
Sustainable home design has become a mainstream imperative for personal and environment health. During the past 20 years, materials, finishes and systems have advanced to the point where it only makes sense to apply green standards in private homes and public arenas. For the average consumer, prices have come down, options have increased and products have been refined.
Parker/Mudgett/Smith Architects' principal Jeff Mudgett says sustainability is a staple of forward-looking planning and design. Clients with sensitivities to allergens, including toxins, mold and organic pollutants, demand sustainable design for their custom, single-family home.
“It’s not just energy efficiency; a lot of it has to do with healthier buildings,” Mudgett says.
Since the 1970s, Florida building codes have tightened up, requiring buildings to become more air-tight to maximize energy conservation. But a tighter building envelope also means that indoor pollutants can accumulate without proper ventilation. According to one estimate, we spend approximately 90 percent of our time indoors.
“What’s inside your building is more important,” Mudgett says. “We have to be more careful with what we put into your house.”
Applying green standards has become a global effort. According to the World Green Building Trends 2016 SmartMarket Report, “the percentage of global builders with at least 60 percent of their projects certified green will double” from 2015 to 2018.
Indoor air quality is the main driver behind a green home. So is water conservation and energy efficiency, which reduces carbon emissions linked to climate change while saving homeowners money on their power bill. You may not be able to hire an architect to design a green dream home, but there are several ways to retrofit or upgrade older Southwest Florida homes.
A primary indoor pollutant is the off-gassing of vapors called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from chemicals found in all types of synthetics, including furnishings, paint, vinyl, cushioning and cleaning products. VOCs have been linked to a cornucopia of health problems: headaches, nausea, allergies, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and some forms of cancer, according to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.
Putting a new palette on the walls has gotten easier thanks to regulations for low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes. Ask a seller, dealer or designer about green-certified interior treatments, such as blinds and curtains, rugs, linens and other accessories.
“Wherever possible, choose natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen,” advises Jennifer Languell, Ph.D., who teaches local builders about sustainable practices through her Trifecta Construction Solutions.
Replace carpet with an easy-to-clean hard finish, such as tile, stone, wood or bamboo, which doesn’t hold dirt and contaminants like carpets do. If you have your heart set on carpet, seek the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus certification so you know the carpet will not off-gas chemicals.
In the bathroom, install low-flow toilets (or modify your existing ones) and low-flow showerheads, urinals, sink faucets and sink aerators. Look for the EPA’s WaterSense label on varying products from name-brand makers that realize a savings of up to 40 percent in water usage.
Energy savings are derived “in little pieces and you add up the little pieces” to see a significant reduction in your bill that could be 10 to 15 percent, says Languell. Retrofitting lighting fixtures with long-lasting LED lights will pay for itself in less than eight months and a small savings is realized immediately.
“It’s a no-brainer payback,” Languell says. Upgrading a 15-year-old air-conditioner handler to a SEER 16 in a 2,400-square-foot home will realize savings of as much as $100 monthly. (SEER stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio.)
In new-home construction or major renovations, tankless gas water heaters, which heat water on demand, are popular. If you don’t have natural gas in your home, you can plan to run 6-gauge wires for an electric tankless. An easy savings is buying an Energy Star water heater when your old one kicks off, or putting your current hot water heater on a timer, so it’s not cycling during off periods.
In the yard, conserve 40 to 90 percent on water usage through strategic landscaping and irrigation. According to native plant expert John Sibley of All-Native Garden Center in Fort Myers, properly placed shade trees can reduce home energy costs by 30 percent.
Smart home technology, such as Nest systems, that adjust your home thermostat and lights when you leave for the day are increasingly playing a key role in conserving energy and saving homeowners money.
Written by Cathy Chestnut, a freelance writer and frequent contributor to TOTI Media who explores the people and places that make Southwest Florida, her hometown stomping grounds, unique.