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H20 and carbon zero – At the highest level of green building, the finished home recycles water and uses little or no outside energy. It may include geothermal heating/cooling, solar hot water, a wind turbine and/or photovoltaics.

Push the envelope – Several time-tested alternative structural systems offer higher R-values and other advantages over conventional stick framing. They include structural insulated panels (SIPs) and insulating concrete forms (ICFs), along with straw bale, cordwood and other systems.

Apply for green certification – Various organizations will “certify” your project’s green features, including the NAHB, USGBC and EarthCraft House. Some may argue that certification belongs lower on the pyramid, but earning that green stamp of approval will come easily if you have given attention to the bottom two-thirds of the pyramid.

Opt for low- or no-VOC paints

Reduce job-site waste/transport – Production and transportation of materials used in building a home account for only 6 per cent of its lifetime energy use. Reducing and recycling waste on the job is an important but relatively small player in a home’s long-term ecological footprint.

Program & zone HVAC

Select rated appliances

Lower H2O flow

Upgrade windows – At a minimum, windows in a new home should included insulated low-E glazings. Look for durable window frames made with materials that are renewable or recyclable and seal and flash them meticulously.

Upgrade HVAC

Opt for durability – Durability is a green characteristic. On the roof, opt for metal, clay tile, recycled rubber or extended life (recyclable) asphalt roofing. Side with fiber cement, cedar, brick veneer or other long-lived products. Build decks and patios with recycled plastic composites or long-lasting wood species. Indoors, specify durable countertops and floors made from renewable or recycled materials.

Insulate foundation – Uninsulated concrete foundations can reduce HVAC efficiency by 30 to 50%. Specify rigid or spray-on foam insulation or insulating concrete forms (ICFs) for best results. Consider a frost-protected shallow foundation or slab-on-grade construction.

Upgrade shell insulation – For stick-framed walls and ceilings, air infiltration is a major concern. Consider an insulation package that seals walls tightly, whether with spray foam housewrap or a combination of insulating materials. Specify 2×6 framing with 24″ stud cavities.

Siting – Well-designed site plans take advantage of free solar light and energy and minimize damage to existing plants and habitats.

Location – Automobile dependency is not a green asset. Build close to transit hubs.

Education – If you don’t understand basic green principles, you’re likely to make decisions you’ll later regret. Consider a course at Green Builder College (www.greenbuildercollege.com) or hit the books on your own.

House size – Doubling a home’s size triples its annual energy use for the life of the home. Think small and clever, not big and boxy.