Whether your reasons lie in saving money or protecting the environment, owning a green home is a great idea.
Ecologically sensitive homes have numerous benefits. They are great to have when the power goes out, as they tend to hold heat longer and incorporate lots of natural light. If they include a solar panel, there's no concern at all when the grid is down. Eco-homes also tend to be healthier for their occupants, incorporating paints and stains that release little to no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, using less toxic materials overall, and generally reducing the need for dust-blowing furnaces. Plus, they conserve energy, which can quickly make up for any extra costs involved in building them.
Green building isn't just a trend that's likely to fade fast, it's more of an evolution in our thinking. The U.S. Green Building Council have developed LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system to set a status quo for eco-construction. The goal of LEED is to define what green building is, promote this type of construction and its benefits among consumers, architects, engineers and builders alike, to recognize individuals that follow these practices, and gradually transform the building market entirely. LEED's considerations include sustainable building sites, energy and efficiency, materials used, the quality of the indoor environment and even the design itself.
When building an eco-friendly new home, a bit of forethought and planning can go a long way. For example, what direction will the home face? Where will the windows be located? Building a south-facing home with plenty of large, double paned windows on that side will create a home with plenty of natural light and heat. Insulate it well and that heat isn't going anywhere. In fact, using ceramic or slate tile on the floors of a room with lots of windows can keep the heat around for a really long time. Stone, ceramic and cement all have what's called thermal mass, which gives them the ability to absorb heat and gradually release it later. Have you ever felt the sidewalk at the end of a long, sunny day? Green homes can use that power to store heat and maintain even temperatures throughout the home both day and night.
As with many things, eco-trends are taking off now that high efficiency has gone high-end. Luxury green homes are leading the pack with high-end designers and architects putting their focus on sustainable features.
A big trend in sustainable luxury homes is incorporating unique, recycled materials. Using re-claimed wood flooring from pioneer homes or barns—or used oak wine casks even—gives the home added value while also saving trees. Recycled tiles are another option. One eco-mansion in California had a roof done completely with 200 year old Spanish tiles. There are also some amazing antique windows and doors out there, although most will need some kind of upgrading to make them more efficient.
When something recycled isn't available, think locally. Tiling or stone-work from local rock is gorgeous in landscaping, as an exterior siding feature, and around the fireplace. If slate is in the area, it could be used for flooring and bathroom tiling. If a home is by a beach, using salvaged driftwood and beach stones would be a striking way to connect a home to the landscape. A homeowner's and designer's imaginations are truly the only limit to how local stone or other local materials can be used.
Another popular theme in affluent eco-homes is outdoor living areas. These range from covered patios with a fully plumbed kitchen complete with gas grill, to open spaces with a stone fireplace surrounded by cozy seating and a great view of the stars. This trend includes bringing the outdoors inside with solariums and elaborate water features. Including the elements fire and water, indoors and out, is a great way to connect with nature and enjoy its calming effects.
Sky-lights let the natural world inside, in the form of light and heat. Sun tubes are an innovative way to get natural light into any space, even on lower floors. They are long tubes about a foot in diameter that tunnel through the ceiling or walls. With a plexi-glass dome at each end and lined with a reflective material and mirrors at every bend, they can send natural light just about anywhere. You'll find them anywhere from kitchens to walk-in closets in luxury green homes.
A final green trend is radiant in-floor heating, which keeps you warm without blowing any dust-filled hot-air. And because heat rises, you can be sure your heating efficiency is maximized. Combine with an insulated, seamless foundation and you've got the warmest feet, and home, money can buy.