What is a Green Home?  Article by JB Hammer Designs

What is Green Home?

Reprinted From Examiner.com

The answer to this question is not as simple as you might think. "Green house plan", has become a popular phrase, but what does it really mean? You might answer that it's a home built with sustainable and healthy features. That is true, but it still doesn't tell us very much. If you say you have a "car", no one really knows what kind, what year, or what size. From a sustainable perspective, you would at least want to know what kind of gas mileage the car gets. When it comes to the concept of the green house plans, the variation in the degree of mileage (sustainability) is enormous.

What is commonly marketed as a "green certified house plan" is around 15% more sustainable than a similar code-built house. Green certified house plans are selling better and faster than standard construction, and they are trendy to own. But at best, they are only a small step in the direction necessary to avoid major environmental and energy consequences.

There are many green certification programs and they all have their own system for implementing sustainable measures in a house plan. LEED for Homes is probably the most popular program nation wide. LEED offers a menu of sustainable measures with 136 total points available. A builder can select the measures he wants to include in his project and receive points. The point score breaks down as follows: certified: 45-59 points, silver: 60-74 points, gold: 75-89 points, or platinum: 90-136 points. The higher the points, the more "green" the house plan is. Most of the LEED house plans sold today, only meet the certified level, however.

Today, the most popular program in Oregon, is Earth Advantage (EA), with over 11,000 EA certified homes statewide. EA evolved out of Portland General Electric and became a freestanding NPC in 2005, and today it is active in other states as well. EA is also a provider of LEED for Homes, but its own program is the one that has been the most successful here. Part the reason for that could be their hands-on approach; they offer training and programs to the whole spectrum of building professionals, including realtors and appraisers. But here again, most builders employing EA certification, are only doing the minimum of 15%.

It is difficult to compare the "greenness" of sustainable house plans because of the varying value systems used by the various programs. It's like comparing apples to pomegranates. There are similar testing methods, such as a blower door test, or a duct blast test, R values, U values, heat loss, Home Energy Rating System (HERS) and an alphabet soup of others. However, here in Oregon, we have something called the Energy Performance Score (EPS). EPS is a kind of miles per gallon measurement for the efficiency of a house plan. This test can be applied to any house, old or new, and the results will give a score. It's kind of like golf, the lower the number, the better you played. "Net Zero" would be the lowest score and that means the house plan is "carbon neutral," or requires no energy to function. Though EPS originated in Oregon, it is now being used in other states as well.

Generally, Net Zero is only possible if the house plan is producing more energy than it consumes. This can be done with high performance systems utilizing the natural elements such as wind or solar. It is quite expensive to build a Net Zero house plans however. The Passive house is probably the best hope for affordable sustainability to date. Thousands have been built and are performing successfully in Europe, and there are thirteen in the US (when this article was written) with many more coming on line. The Passive House attains low scores by minimizing energy losses and maximizing passive energy gains, and they can reduce heating and cooling energy usage by 90%, with an overall savings of 60-80%. That's quite a bit better than the standard 15%. Passive House plans are much less expensive to build than Net Zero houses. For more information, see the article titled The Passive House.

According to Blake Bilyeu, of Bilyeu Homes, Inc. of Salem, who has built a Passive House, "It is a widely held idea that the Passive House is the best first step to get to Net Zero in terms of effectiveness. Get all of the loads down to extremely low levels, and a much less expensive PV (photo voltaic solar panel) system can accommodate the home's needs."

At the present, there are many different game plans for achieving sustainability in home plans. It's a new frontier that is being advanced by dedicated building professionals, program administrators and innovators who are actively seeking a common goal. Progress is being made towards a general standard for crafting a truly sustainable, healthy house plans at a reasonable cost. Actually, that house will have to be several houses, designed to function in varying climates. It is a must that they far exceed the 15% better that code houses, which are called "green" today. Sustainable House Plans .biz is one website presenting a possible solution. They offer stock plans which are affordable, energy efficient, green homes, tailored to various climate zones. The only question is; will these necessary technologies, methods and changes in traditional thinking, be soon enough?

In answer to the question; "What is a green home plan?" it might be more appropriate to ask, "How green is the home plan?" The honest answer might be "Not green enough." The ugly truth is; current world trends are not sustainable. If consumption is to continue at its current rate, providing no "miracle fuel" is discovered (which doesn't seem likely), the entire world could be headed for a very unpleasant energy wakeup call.


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What is a Green Home?

The Sustainable Style

Passive House 1

Passive House 2

Passive House 3