If the location is set and all that's left is to build the house, there are a variety of design considerations to make a dream home a little greener. First off, let Mother Nature help with heating and cooling. In locations with warm climates, the broad side of the house should face north or south to avoid a direct hit — and resulting heat gain — from the sun.
Deep overhangs will also help block the sun and reduce excessive heat gains by putting the house in the shade. Tint can be applied to windows, particularly sliding glass doors or large picture windows that can heat up a room quickly and force an air conditioner to work overtime. Without impacting the view, tinting can provide a savings of 5 to 10 percent of the energy needed to cool a house when applied to western-facing windows.
Windows facing east also let heat into a house; however, because houses are usually not as hot in the morning when the sun is rising, savings may not be as great as those protecting western windows. In colder climates, take advantage of the sun's heating abilities. Heat provided from the sun can be stored in the concrete or stone walls of a house, helping to keep it warm even after the sun goes down.
If protection from the sun is only needed part of the time, homebuilders can consider retractable awnings and solar screens. There are numerous types and designs available for windows, verandas, and patios. Solar screens reduce heat and glare from the sun but allow the light to enter the house without impeding the outside view.
Of course, there's always the completely organic solution for shading your house — planting a tree. Trees provide nature-made solar protection. Some trees are particularly useful in blocking the sun because of their height and shape. Some grow faster than others, so if time is of the essence when it comes to creating shade, plant a quicker-growing tree.
It's important to choose a tree that is native to the location for optimal health and lower maintenance. If it's an option, retain as many of the existing trees as possible when building on a new lot. They'll provide shade and have already proven themselves viable on the property.
When it comes to building a green house, make sure to do your homework. There are sources available online and at your local bookstore with information on green building alternatives and designs. Look for contractors and designers with experience in sustainability and find out what other houses they have built. Ask for referrals and then give their clients a call.
Soil can also be an essential source for maintaining the temperature of a home. By building a home partially below grade, you can maintain a more moderate temperature year-round. The earth is usually cooler than above ground, so heating may be necessary to maintain a comfortable temperature in cold weather. However, because the soil provides insulation, the heat will remain in the house rather than escape outside.
When considering the design of a green home, you can work with contractors and architects who are energy conscious and will work with you to achieve your goals. The LEED program tries to educate architects, contractors, and engineers on designing and constructing more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings but does not have a certification course specifically geared toward private homes. Some extension programs work with local builders and designers, providing classes and information in this area.
Rather than starting from scratch, you may be interested in simply renovating an existing home to make it greener. Many of the same new construction considerations apply to renovation. You should be able to discuss alternatives with your contractor to ensure that sustainable elements are brought into the design. Also, if you are demolishing older portions of a home, the material being removed should be reclaimed and reused or handled properly to avoid excessive waste.
If your contractor is not familiar with recycling programs in the area, it may be worthwhile for you to make some phone calls. Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes, runs a program called ReStores that accepts donations of used or excess building materials in good condition. Local solid-waste authorities may also have information on specific recyclers in the area. Try calling salvage companies to see what kind of material they are interested in.