Going Green: A Town Topics Column

by Lasley Brahaney Architects

QI'm thinking of adding a room on to my house but want to "go green." Any tips?

AHonestly, if you want to be really “green,” the best thing you could do is not to add a room. If you can think of a way to clear out and use existing space, you’ve taken a big step toward being more environmentally conscious. Can you say “Yard Sale”? Don’t you already have too much stuff as it is?

However, if you absolutely must add a new room to your house, there are some steps you can take to make that room more eco-friendly.

When it comes to sustainability, smaller is better. By keeping your overall building size as small as possible, you’re more likely to consume less energy.

Think about solar orientation. If possible, orient windows so that you maximize ventilation, have plenty of natural light, and benefit from the sun’s heat in the room. One rule of thumb is to keep the area of glass to no more than 25% of the wall area. If you can take advantage of (or plant new) deciduous trees on the property, you will benefit from summer shade and winter sunlight.

Make it easy for occupants to recycle. Put a recycling bin in the kitchen and not out in the garage so it’s easy for your family and friends to use.

Incorporate tight construction, use high levels of insulation in the walls, roof and floor, and add high performance windows in your addition. Design the addition keeping in mind standard sizes of construction materials. This will help minimize construction waste.

Use high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment. Furnaces, boilers and AC equipment, when well-designed, not only save you money but produce less pollution too. Use energy efficient lights and appliances. If you replace your 75 watt incandescent bulbs with highly efficient 14 watt compact fluorescents, they will consume much less energy. This then creates other efficiencies in the house. By using fluorescent bulbs, for instance, your house will require less air conditioning because these bulbs emit a fraction of the heat of incandescents.

Use durable products and materials. A product that lasts longer will need less maintenance and usually saves energy, and in turn, contributes less waste to our landfills. Use products made locally to minimize transportation to the site. Also use products made from recycled or renewable materials (some examples are: Cellulose insulation, Homosote, Thermo-ply, and recycled plastic lumber, and bamboo).

In home construction, much of what you can do to help the environment is common sense. So if each of us were to use just a little of this common sense when planning to build or add to our homes, we could do much to protect the earth.