Green Design & Building
The energy-saving aspects of green building is the primary focus at Sun Plans. Green home building guidelines and programs give higher emphasis and more points to saving energy than any of the other green building categories.Therefore starting with a Sun Plan gives the house a head start with achieving a higher performance or rating with Energy Star, Passivhaus (aka Passive House) or other energy-related programs that can be used if the home owner desires to certify the home. Energy Star compliance is a prerequisite of most green building programs.
The "green" movement began in the 1980’s, but even before that, Sun Plans' architect Debra Rucker Coleman was incorporating green elements into her home designs. The energy-related components of green building programs were then, and still are today, the largest part of green building. While it is possible to make any house plan a green home to some degree by using energy-efficient construction methods, the additional energy savings from passive solar home design increase the green rating cost-effectively by using the free energy of the sun.
While green design involves the planning process of home design and takes place in an office, green building involves the construction process and takes place on the building site. They are very interrelated and awareness of one assists the other. Having a local green building professional on-site—(NAHB Green Builder, LEED for Homes Verifier, etc.), or as a minimum, a third-party Home Energy Professional that can verify and test the tightness of the home envelope—will put you one step closer to achieving a low-energy, green home. Sun Plans realizes that many choose to build in remote locations where none of these building professionals are located. In that case, the builder along with diligence from the home owner will be responsible for the site-specific energy details addressed in our Construction Drawings and Specs.
In relation to Energy & Green Building, the International (Building) Code Council lists home positioning on the lot as the first thing to consider when making a home more sustainable and green:
"Select a building site that is best for you and the environment and position your home on the lot with consideration to the amount of energy it will consume."
That essentially is the first step when considering a passive solar home. Orientation alone without any other energy saving measures reduces a home's heating and cooling energy consumption by 20-40% on average and much more when used in conjunction with other energy-saving strategies as are covered in our Custom Energy Specs and as may be addresses in programs that are complementary to Sun Plans such as the extremely ambitious Passivhaus standards.
Green Building Programs
In the 1980's, PSIC evolved into SBIC (Sustainable Buildings Industry Council). Shortly thereafter, the US Green Building Council was founded. USGBC has been on the forefront of the green movement thanks to their development of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The LEED Green Building Rating System® is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED for Homes has recently been released with its own rating system.
To have a home certified under LEED for Homes, a LEED Verifier must perform plan reviews and on-site inspections. Verifiers are associated with LEED Providers. The closest Verify may not be associated with the closet Provider therefore it may be helpful to check with several providers to find the Verifier that is closest to the construction site. A LEED Accredited Professionals (AP) or Green Associate (GA) is not required to have the home LEED Certified. If a LEED for Homes Verifier and Provider are located near the building site, by all means consider the LEED for Homes certification process especially if resale is a large concern. Currently Verifiers are in short supply. Hopefully in the near future receiving LEED certification for a home will be easier and less expensive to obtain.
But even without a LEED for Homes Verifier or Provider nearby, DIY home owners may follow the LEED for Homes guidelines especially with supplementing the non-energy related items that are not specifically addressed in the Sun Plan, but instead are determined by the builder and home owner.For example, the builder and home owner need to address how they plan to handle site-related items and interior finishes.
There are also many other green building programs and guidelines that can help assure home owners will be living in sustainable homes. If assistance is needed, locate a local green professional that has been trained in one or more green programs or schools to assist you in following through with Sun Plans' recommendations locally, or educating yourself if you are a DIY type of person. Attention to the green elements needs to be attended to in the house plan selection or custom design and during construction.
Possessing a set of Construction Prints from Sun Plans alone does not guarantee a green, or even a low-energy, home. The guidelines need to be followed during construction. Builders, along with local energy and green professionals, are responsible for the follow through of the recommendations in the Sun Plan. It is has been found that completing only the energy and design portions of green building ratings for a Sun Plan will typically earn the bronze or lowest rating of green program. To get to a higher rating, the site-specific green building elements of land selection, materials, indoor air quality, water, etc. will need to be addressed. A local LEED for Homes Verifier, EarthCraft Professional, NAHB Green Builder, etc. will need to be involved during construction as a third party consultant if the home owner seeks certification. See elsewhere for Energy Star certification, which is a component of these programs.
To increase a home’s green rating, it is necessary to address many design and construction elements simultaneously. Sun Plans believes that the best place to begin is with the house design. Building a small home is a good place to start.
Building a small home is the most effective thing that an individual can do to create an environmentally friendly home. A home should meet a family’s needs within the smallest possible footprint. The Select-A-SunPlan List allows sorting by footprint size, which is the same as the first floor square footage. It’s easy for the viewer to see that wonderful homes can come in small packages. The Windy Corner, shown here, has a first-floor footprint of just 952 square feet.
The following is from Small is Beautiful: U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment by Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland. The full story can be found in the Journal of Industrial Ecology by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, in Volume 9, Number 1–2, Spring - Winter 2005.
"As house size increases, resource use in buildings goes up, more land is occupied, increased impermeable surface results in more storm-water runoff, construction costs rise, and energy consumption increases. In new, single-family houses constructed in the United States, living area per family member has increased by a factor of 3 since the 1950s. In comparing the energy performance of compact (small) and large single-family houses, we find that a small house built to only moderate energy-performance standards uses substantially less energy for heating and cooling than a large house built to very high energy-performance standards. This article examines some of the trends in single-family house building in the United States and provides recommendations for downsizing houses to improve quality and resource efficiency."