New Energy in Green Building

Three Island projects illustrate how an energy-efficient and sustainable approach is gaining traction.

South Mountain Company gutted this Aquinnah cottage for a deep-energy retrofit; it now uses 75 percent less energy than the original house.

Making a new or existing house as “green” or “sustainable” as possible may seem complicated, especially considering the bewildering array of choices homeowners face during any construction project. But the fact is, lessening a home’s environmental impact can be reduced to a few principles.

First, the house must be durable, and made from materials that are environmentally friendly. This can mean reclaimed materials (which often have an appealing rustic look) or new materials that are sourced responsibly. There is always room for personal taste, however; a homeowner may choose a more durable but less environmentally friendly slate floor, rather than a sustainably sourced wood floor that may not last as long. Being environmentally friendly can accommodate a variety of architectural styles, and many options are compatible with a modest budget as well.

A second principle is to make the building as “tight” as possible, since heating and cooling are major factors in energy efficiency. A tight house is achieved by lots of insulation, high-efficiency windows and doors, and minimizing cracks and other ways for air to escape. Extremely well-insulated houses have ventilation systems to remove moisture and pollutants without sacrificing the heated or cooled air inside.

The third consideration is to minimize the energy consumption of the building’s systems – heating/cooling, hot water, appliances, lighting – while fitting them to the needs of the house and the desires of the homeowner. For example, knowledgeable builders rave about the electric air-source heat pump, a super-efficient heating/cooling system relatively new to the market.

Of course, myriad factors impact the “greenness” of a house, including where it’s sited, but as builders point out: The most important green feature of a home is the occupant. As long as you’re thinking about how to lessen your environmental impacts, you’re on the right track, whereas no home is green enough to compensate for a homeowner who doesn’t care.

The following three Island projects show a variety of ways in which progressive builders and homeowners