What Makes a Green House Green?

December 12, 2013

If you were in the market for a newly built house, would you pay more for one that was built to high environmental standards? Many people would, and there are plenty of benefits for doing so. Though the initial investment is higher, the savings on electric bills and repairs will be well worthwhile down the line. At to top it off, this kind of house can actually make you feel better. Who would say no to that?

According to Arthur Lo, the founder of Insightful Healthy Homes, green residences show excellent results in reducing carbon pollution. Green structural design, selection of materials, and construction techniques can reduce energy consumption by more than 50% over conventional houses. With today's technology, it's even possible to achieve zero energy that's sustainable with only clean energy sources. Even if no solar panels are installed, single houses can lower energy consumption drastically with good insulation.

Mr. Lo (a.k.a. "The Hero of Zero Energy) recently completed construction on a 4,000 square foot detached house in Vancouver's Point Grey. It was the first in Greater Vancouver to use the most advanced wall construction techniques, and it attracted numerous construction companies during its development.

Typical energy-saving insulation puts fiberglass rock wool on the insides of the outer walls. In the Point Grey house, however, the builders placed the material on the surface of the outer walls, and three inches of mineral wool insulation material made by Roxul were added onto the foundation. This made the house's sealing rating as high as R30, immensely raising its insulation efficiency and lowering energy consumption. As a bonus, the house is thoroughly soundproofed.

Why are people so serious about insulation? According to a research reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), insulation accounts for 85 per cent of the effects of a zero-energy house, but only 15 per cent of the total construction costs. That makes insulation the best place to start.

A Healthy Way to Go

The Point Grey house uses triple-glazing for all its north-facing windows. The mezzanine also has low-radiation film to keep the heat inside. None of the cabinetry contains above 1 per cent of the dreaded chemical formaldehyde. The red oak floor is also finished with environmentally-friendly water-soluble paint. Most of the lights are LED, and fresh indoor air is available 24 hours a day due to the installation of heat recovery ventilators.

Harmony House airy interiorLo says, "Most residents of green homes know about the advantages of saving energy, but people are not familiar with the comfort of such homes. We spend 85% each day indoors, thus the safety and sustainability of the indoor environment directly influences our health. Research indicates that for those who live in R2000 green construction houses, 56% feel their health has markedly improved. Especially for those with sensitive health issues, their bodies have gotten better since moving into a R2000house. Things like constant temperature, low noise, and a pollution-free environment have improved comfort and health of the residents."

Saving Money with Sustainability

Green-built houses also boast very low maintenance, for example, the usage of anti-corrosive copper roofing lasts for a lifetime if well kept.

In a truly environmentally friendly house, the design, materials, and construction are all meticulously scrutinized. They go through strict inspections in order to receive certification. And the certification criteria are the result of years of development by the industry.

"To be honest," says Lo, "the expensively constructed houses are not necessarily the best, but the cheaply constructed ones must have problems. In the construction of a green home, it is almost impossible to defraud the consumer; if the materials or techniques were second-rate, how can it pass the rigorous inspection?"

At the moment, Mr. Lo runs the only Chinese construction company accredited with the R2000 certification in British Columbia. In 2012 he completed the first R2000-qualified house in BC on Cambie Street in Vancouver. In the same year, he also constructed "Harmony House" in Burnaby (below), which has been selected as one of the top thirteen show homes in Canada, and the lone selection in the Greater Vancouver area.

As green construction research and development advance and green construction becomes more commonplace, the costs have also gone down. According to Lo, a green detached house costs only about 5% to 10% more than a conventional house (excluding the installation of solar panels).

Considering the advantages of living in a green homeenergy saving, comfort and low maintenance coststhe value of a green home cannot be compared.