Today’s homebuilder has a huge array of options to build leaner, cleaner and greener for home buyers.. Many homeowners today have choices that their grandparents would never recognize, such as LED light bulbs, wind power, geothermal energy and solar panels. Other energy savers combine smart design and high tech. Still others are a nod to the past in a new generation of small sizes like microhydro power, which is the little brother to those industrial giants that are hydro dependent systems such as dams, lumber yards, mines or grainary mills use today. Finding ways to use the various green energy options is what exactly what many homebuyers are doing.
From the ground up
Builders know that the right site can make all the difference on a home’s efficiency and is the ideal place to start when embracing green energy. Maximizing winter sun and summer shade is the best way to reduce constraints on heating and cooling a home, which is one of the largest energy expenses, over 45 percent, according to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 2010 study of major household energy uses. Solar energy optimization starts with situating the home with a slight orientation to the east, to gain the winter morning sunshine and reduce the summertime glare of afternoon sun.
Lighting up the inside
Once you’ve got a good angle, check your windows and placement. Southern facing windows and doors with glass offer a huge opportunity to retain up to 80 percent of the heat needed to warm a house during the winter. Some builders may suggest south facing windows should equal 5 percent but less than 12 percent of the total square footage of the interior of the property. Use windows on the north, east or western sides to capture a lovely view and to balance light flow, but consider using alternatives like sun tubes instead of a full window to conserve energy.
Shade the rest
Next, combine sensible windows with properly placed overhangs, awnings or porches to defray full sun exposure in the summertime. Trees can be a blessing of shade from the hot summer sun, but keep in mind maintenance costs such as pruning, trimming, gutter cleaning and similar chores can reduce their efficiency appeal for many homeowners. Be sure to set the tree line far enough back to avoid future growth complications or endangering the home’s foundation with excessive roots.
Go micro for your home
Finally, for those clients with abundant streams, waterfalls or rivers on their properties, they can adapt a part of the water flow to generate power, called microhydro power. Using flowing water, the idea is to capture the energy of the flow of water as is drops over an edge, cliff or other height to a lower site. Smaller streams can still be used, even with a low head drop as small as 10-20 inches in the water flow,
but the majority of the river or stream will need to run through to a turbine to maximize the output. High head systems with over 10 feet of head will engage longer pipelines and have greater scale and can generate higher output. Not all homes are suitable for microhydro power, but can be a great consideration for lowering dependency on the grid or as a backup power source.
In the end, not all green energy ideas will work for every home. Consideration for the environment, budget constraints and available building materials are elements the average home buyer must take into account when reviewing their options.
Jennifer Kinzle is a Realty Biz News Contributing Writer