EARTH DAY: Green Generation Campaign, Tuesday, April 22, 2009

This year, Earth Day, April 22, 2009, will mark the beginning of the "Green Generation Campaign", a two-year initiative to encourage action and civic participation in a sustainable future by supporting the campaign’s principles:

  • To create a carbon-free future based on renewable energy that will end our common dependency on fossil fuels, including coal

  • To secure individuals’ commitments to responsible, sustainable consumption

  • To create a new green economy that lifts people out of poverty by creating millions of quality green jobs and transforms the global education system into a green one

  • Where do we fit in? Certainly we all participate on a personal level, but moreover, Bonin Architects is committed to participate by using sustainable design practices and incorporating green and/or energy efficient materials and systems into our home designs. With an increased awareness of renewable energy systems such as solar energy, wind power, and geothermal heating systems, many of our clients come to us with a formulated sustainable philosophy and know which systems they would like to include in their design, how much they cost, and what they can expect for a return on their investment. Others, perhaps overwhelmed with the amount of information disseminated on green technology and renewable energy, have ideas and are open to possibilities, but have no clear objectives outlined for their home design.

    Whatever their background and exposure to sustainability, we guide homeowners through the process of designing and building a comfortable, healthy, energy efficient home that reduces their negative impact on the environment, and their carbon footprint, in many ways by:

  • Maximizing light and ventilation;
  • Limiting site disturbance;
  • Utilizing recycled or reclaimed materials whenever possible;
  • Reducing heating and cooling costs by incorporating a high performance insulation system such as SIP panels;
  • Generating electricity in alternative ways such as through solar energy or wind power;
  • Creating a healthy indoor environment by reducing toxins and allergens.

  • Certainly April 22, 2009 will be a memorable Earth Day, as people around the globe make a concerted effort to become a "Green Generation". How will you participate?

    Best Practices in Sustainable Building

    Green home design is only one part of the sustainable building equation. Equally important are the methods and practices your contractor uses during the construction process in order to minimize impact to the site environment. Two main areas that should be given attention are pollution prevention and site protection. These should be discussed during the interview process with your builder and outlined thoroughly to make sure best practices for sustainable building are in place.

    Pollution prevention can be controlled on site by addressing soil erosion, airborne dust generation, and waterway sedimentation. The site should especially be protected by eliminating the runoff of sediment created by such practices as silt fencing, seeding and mulching and creating sediment traps and basins.

    Environmental quality on the jobsite is an important consideration and counts toward LEED points if you want your home to be LEED certified. Some of the things your contractor should be knowledgeable about are site impact, construction waste, indoor air quality, and the use of paints and adhesives.

    Your builder should always keep construction equipment within minimal limits to avoid site disturbance. Construction waste recycling is a primary concern. Builders who recycle 50% of construction materials are complying with minimum standards. Additional LEED points are given incrementally to projects with over 75% and up to 95% waste recycling. Best practices in maintaining healthy indoor air quality should be adhered to, including keeping all ductwork, carpets, and other indoor materials covered to remain dust-free. Any and all paints, stains, coatings, adhesives, and indoor sealants should be specified low-VOC in your home to prevent off-gassing. Finally, prior to taking occupancy, the contractor should change all filters and perform a two-week flush of the home with clean outdoor air.

    By using best practices in sustainable construction when you decide to build a home, you will be protecting your health and environment simultaneously.

    Water Conservation in a Green Home

    Water is one of our most precious resources. While the surface of the earth is composed of 97% water, less than 1% suitable for human consumption. Right now, over 40% of our seas are damaged and global warming, over usage, and pollution continue to make the problem worse.

    Building a new home presents a unique opportunity to reduce energy consumption which, in turn, can save water. Many times we think of energy only as heating and cooling systems or providing electricity to our homes for televisions and other appliances. We fail to understand how much energy it takes to deliver and treat the water we use every day in our homes. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of energy it takes to treat and supply the water we use every day is equivalent to the electricity needed to power more than 5 million homes for a year!

    Two money and energy-saving strategies which can be easily incorporated into an energy efficient home design are:

    1. Reduce overall water usage in the home by specifying low-flow water fixtures, low-flush or composting toilets, installing aerators on all taps, and installing low-flow showerhead nozzles.

    2. Specify a plumbing system that reuses grey water (wastewater from domestic usage such as dish washing, laundry and bathing) for flushing toilets, watering lawns, etc. (note: some grey water systems require approval by most local building jurisdictions, your architect will verify this prior to design).

    By implementing a few simple actions to use water more efficiently, the average homeowner can reduce their water and sewer bills by one third, a significant savings! According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, "If all U.S. households installed water-efficient appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion dollars per year."

    It’s easy to incorporate energy efficiency in your home design. Start by talking to a green architect about your goals and ask questions about what strategies will work for your climate, budget, and home design.

    Energy Efficient Home, East Machias, Maine

    Here’s a plan for our clients, Pat & Andy, who are building a vacation / retirement home in northern Maine. Wanting a home that was both energy efficient and comfortable in all seasons, Pat and Andy met with us to talk about their ideas and budget last fall. They own an existing cabin, which will remain on the property as guest quarters. The new home will be located down the road on the lake. The home design is 1100 square feet of efficiency and will be built right on the lake to take advantage of the gorgeous seasonal views and abundant wildlife.

    The program includes energy efficiency, conscientiousness, durability, and security, solar access, and building orientation. Lake views are prominent to the east, south, and west, which coincides nicely with passive solar design considerations and give an excellent opportunity for a continuous porch on these elevations. The cold north elevation has a minimal amount of windows to help keep the home warm while allowing for a planned future addition on this side. The entry and kitchen are located on the south-east side of the building, granting easy access to the driveway and unloading of groceries.

    To keep the building energy efficient, a second floor takes advantage of views from the higher elevation and also to keep the home’s footprint to a minimum, controlling costs and site impact. This divided the program into two floors – the first floor being the public space and the second floor serving as personal space for Andy and Pat.

    With permits in place, we just moved into the construction phase of the design. We’ve talked about SIP panels (structural insulated panels) and windows and will make decisions on energy efficient building materials soon. Things will be moving along quickly so they can break ground this spring. Look for updates soon!

    Solar Water Heaters

    Looking to cut your water heating energy costs by 50%? Think about installing a solar water heater. Solar water heaters are designed to use with an electric or gas back-up water heater and can literally cut your water heating bill in half (about $190/year combined with a gas water heater and $250/year with an electric water heater). And, the larger your family, the greater your savings.

    Generally, the return on investment for a solar system takes about 10 years to pay for itself, but that can be sooner if you take advantage of
    energy tax credits. Some areas also have other incentives. See if you can get an Energy Star rebate.

    You may have to wait a while to see the benefits, but the environment won’t. A solar water heater can cut your carbon dioxide emissions in half, preventing about 4,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year. That’s like keeping your car parked in your garage for four months every year!

    While gas and electric waters last between 10-14 years, the average life expectancy of a solar water heater is much longer - 20 years. Your green architect
    and builder will be able to help you find a product that meets your site, and family needs and lifestyle.

    Seminar: Building a Green Home, Newbury, NH

    We had an overwhelming response to our Green Home Seminar in Newbury, NH this past weekend, with over 80 guests and standing room only! In fact, we had so many people sign up we had to close registration early. So – if you missed the seminar and you are planning to build a new energy efficient home, please bookmark our Green Events page to sign up for our next seminar!

    We vary our seminar topics to include popular green building elements and areas of home design, construction, and renewable energy that appeal to the average homeowner. This seminar included Green Home Design by NH Architect Jeremy Bonin, Bonin Architects & Associates; Timber Framing & SIP Panels by Custom Builder Jay Tucker; and Geothermal Heating Systems by Bob Partridge. Guests were encouraged to ask questions during and after the seminar. Quite a few couples stayed to talk to us about their projects and are excited to get started on their home design.

    After the seminar, we headed over to a local Timberpeg® timber frame home, a gorgeous 2100 square foot lakefront home with solar energy and geothermal heating systems. The home features a first-floor Master Bedroom suite, two bedrooms, full bath, and a children’s play area on the second floor, two-car garage, screened in porch, and central fireplace in the cathedral great room. The home overlooks picturesque Lake Sunapee and is the perfect four-season home. More than one guest commented they would be “willing” to move in permanently!

    Which should come first -- Your Land or Your Home Design?

    Most people start thinking about building a new home long before they find land to build on. While you’re meeting with realtors to find that perfect piece of property, it’s hard not to start dreaming about the design of your home.

    There are many design elements you should start to consider – and yet, there are some aspects of the home design that will depend on the characteristics of your property.

    Some design elements you can [and should] consider before purchasing your land are:

    • The number of bedrooms and bathrooms you will need;

    • Any specialty rooms (craft room, library, workshop, etc.);

    • Large storage space requirements;

    • Specific design details, such as an end wall stone fireplace, winding staircase, etc.);

    • How you would like your rooms to feel (think about room’s purpose, colors, light).

    Design elements that will depend on the property:

    • Walkout basement: a sloping lot can allow for a walk-out basement, providing more usable square footage for recreation areas or additional guest bedrooms;

    • Exact size and height of the home: site or local restrictions may limit the size, height, or even the placement of the home on your property;

    • Type of foundation: the type of foundation system you choose may be dependent upon local or state codes, the lot size, slope, and soil type.

    Once you have your land, it’s time to put your ideas together with these Home Design tools.

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