Common Sense Green

By Dan Gregory

Sunset's Tahoe Idea House with solar panels from SunPower (Vance Fox Photography courtesy SF gate0.

To build green, you need to look beyond solar panels and wind turbines. They’re important, but only part of the story. The choices you make for the shell of your house­‑-including the foundation, walls, windows, and roof‑-and in how you orient your house to the sun, will result in the greatest savings in energy, natural resources, and money over the long term. Wood framed houses like those shown at can be very energy-efficient if constructed correctly. Here are the basic ways to build green, with links to consumer guides and manufacturers. There are many choices within each category.
Water Conservation

1. Low-flow toilets and showers. The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program provides links to water-savvy toilets, faucets, and showerheads:

2. Rainwater catchment systems:

 Energy Conservation

Getting Started -- See Energy Savers Guide from Energy.Gov

1. Insulation from formaldehyde-free fiberglass: Johns Manville, <> ; salvaged cotton: Bonded Logic, ; or recycled newsprint: Excel, ;

The Department of Energy provides an insulation calculator based on zip codes:

2. Energy Star-rated furnaces:

3. Photovoltaic arrays for solar power: Sun Power Corporation

Kyocera Solar, ; Sharp Electronics,,2462,,00.html

4. Concrete or tile floors to act as passive solar-heat sinks.

5. Skylights:
operable skylights:; skylight tubes: Solatube,;

6. Ridge and eave vents: HGTV Pro:,2617,HPRO_20149_3462783,00.html

7. EPA-certified wood and pellet-burning fireplace or stove, or a direct vent gas fireplace or stove:; other FAQ's:

8. Hydronic radiant floor heaters: U. S. Department of Energy Consumer’s Guide:

9. Windows and sliding glass doors with low-e (low emissivity), argon gas-filled glazing, etc:

10. Awnings to shade windows:

11. Lighting:  Energy Star-rated Light Bulbs and Fixtures,

12. Tankless or high-efficiency water heaters: Noritz, ; Rinnai: 

13. Solar water heaters: U. S. Department of Energy Consumer’s Guide:

Green Interiors

1. Wall finishes including: low or no VOC (volatile organic compound) paint: Yolo Paints, 
; Ecos Organic Paints, ; Kelly Moore Paints, ; plaster; recycled glass tiles: Bedrock Industries, ; wallpaper made of natural, recycled, or renewable material

2. Flooring from bamboo: Plyboo, ; concrete, cork: Duro Design, ; high pressure laminate; linoleum: Armstrong, ;  palm: Durapalm, ; or tile

3. Cabinetry from formaldehyde-free particleboard or wheatboard shells with bamboo or certified exterior lumber exterior: GreenHomeGuide,

4. Countertops of certified lumber: Forest Stewardship Council,; concrete; lightweight concrete with recycled glass: or Richlite (paper content):

5. Carpeting from recycled plastic: Ecosmart, ; and from natural fibers including hemp, jute, sea grass, or wool: Ecohaus San Francisco/Green Depot, and Green Home Solutions/Seattle

6. Bedding with 100 percent cotton fiber and furniture that contains certified or recycled lumber and no- or low-VOC finish: Eco Furniture,


Green Exterior Materials

1. Roofing composed of asphalt shingles; cementitious, recycled-rubber:
;  slate; or terra cotta tiles; standing seam metal: Metal Roofing Alliance,

2. Siding using fiber-cement: James Hardie, ; metal siding; certified lumber; recycled lumber; pneumatically impacted stabilized earth (PISE); or stucco

3. Insulated fiberglass or metal doors: Don Vandervort’s HOME TIPS,  


Green Framing

1. Certified framing lumber:,

2. Oriented Strand Board for roof, wall, and floor sheathing:

3. Engineered micro-lam (laminated), para-lam, or glu-lam beams in place of full dimension lumber

4. Engineered I-beam floor joists

5. Engineered, manufactured roof trusses

6. Rigid insulation to prevent heat loss

7. Nontoxic pressure-treated lumber

8. Manmade composite decking: Trex, ; Evergrain,;jsessionid=4A73489E8401B3D22BACFE5D175B789C ; Certainteed,

9. Recycled timber: AltruWood,
; Vintage Timber, ;

Green Landscape

1. Use of permeable surfaces (to prevent excessive run-off) and drought-tolerant plantings

2. Use of trees, and arbors with deciduous plants, to screen south and west-facing windows



Search our library of nearly 40,000 plans and find your dream home today!

Square Feet