Living Green Effortlessly: Simple Choices for a Better Home

Living Green Effortlessly: Simple Choices for a Better Home

by Marla Esser Cloos
Living Green Effortlessly: Simple Choices for a Better Home

Living Green Effortlessly: Simple Choices for a Better Home

by Marla Esser Cloos


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It is plain old common sense: you want your home to look great, feel great, and perform great. Is it even possible to do all three—without breaking the bank? Yes! In Living Green Effortlessly: Simple Choices for a Better Home, Marla Esser Cloos shows you how to make your home green—whether you live in a small apartment in the big city or a brand new single-family home in the suburbs. From integrating smart technology into your home (it’s easier than you think!) to planting a rain garden, there are all kinds of ways to live greener. The book covers these topics: • Home systems—windows, appliances • Household products—from cleaning products to paper goods • Smart technology • Landscaping • Documentation • Home maintenance—including a checklist for every season Living Green Effortlessly gives you simple steps that can save money now, increase your home’s value, and make your home healthier for you, your family—and the environment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780867187526
Publisher: National Association of Home Builders
Publication date: 01/01/2017
Edition description: None
Pages: 146
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Marla Esser Cloos, The Green Home Coach, is an NAHB Master Certified Green Professional, LEED AP and Missouri Women Business Enterprise. She is the founder and co-host of the Green Gab Podcast on iTunes and You can find her blogging on Green Home Coach and Proud Green Home. Her articles have appeared in Green Home Builder, Building Women and The Healthy Planet.

Read an Excerpt


What IS an Everyday Green Home?

* * *

IT'S JUST PLAIN OLD COMMON SENSE: You want your home to look great, feel great, and perform great. An Everyday Green Home is about much more than just energy and cost savings, it impacts your daily life in all of these ways:

Health and Safety — breathe easier and feel healthier by reducing pollutants, toxins (chemicals, mold/mildew), and water damage through better airflow systems and quality material choices.

Comfort — feel comfortable without hot/cold spots or drafts by providing a well-sealed and insulated shell and better heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Ease, Convenience, and Time — save time by using materials, fixtures, and finishes that perform better, last longer, and require less maintenance.

Money — enjoy savings in your green home with dramatically lower operating costs (especially energy) and maintenance costs. Enjoy higher selling prices for green certified homes, too.

Comfort may be the one thing that all humans are looking for in a home. Like many things in life, comfort means something different to each of us. For me comfort is an even temperature with no drafts and a hot shower (my hands and feet seem to be cold a lot). What's your definition of "all the comforts of home?" My primary goal in writing this book is to help you improve your comfort, health, and safety in your own home sweet home.

Are green homes worth more?

Yes. The home industry is on the crest of a transformational wave as we move into a "green as mainstream" world. This wave is impacting everything we know about homes, including remodeling, building new homes, and buying and selling homes.

Single family homes: Currently 19% of construction projects are dedicated to including at least 90% green materials; by 2018 over 38% will be.

Single homebuyers: 73% (and 68% of Multi buyers) will pay more for a green home.

Green homebuyers: Represent 26–33% of the total market

As The Green Home Coach, I work with homeowners and homebuilding professionals to include green choices that have a positive impact on the world we live in together.

A Bit of BS (Building Science, That Is)

A few months ago, I spent two days in an advanced green-building class. As much as I've already learned about building science, this class gave me a glimpse of the rest of the iceberg. More importantly, it made me realize how overwhelming it can be for a homeowner to keep up with the latest developments in home improvements. It's just common sense to want our homes to be in the very best condition possible and working for us, instead of us working for them. But the complexity of the materials, systems, and components in our homes makes this very challenging. What's a homeowner to do?

We rely on our homes for many things, but especially for shelter and comfort. The numerous home systems working together to provide these comforts are often taken for granted. When you are hot or cold, the heating and cooling system jumps into action when you adjust the thermostat. If it is raining outside, the roof, siding, gutters, and windows keep you dry and comfortable (fig. 1.1). And when you return home after a long day at work, you push a button, and the garage door opens. The motion-sensor light over the front door turns on. These are all examples of the systems in our homes.

Building science is the study of how these systems affect each other. For example, airflow affects how much moisture there is in a home, which in turn can affect the growth of rot or mold. What affects airflow in your home? You might guess, "Exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchen?" Good. Also opening a window! The HVAC system should bring in outdoor air, too. Okay, and where does moisture come from? Bathrooms, of course. But moisture also comes from cooking and drying clothes and even from breathing. Rain soaks the exterior of our house and is met by the walls, roof, and gutters. Did rain get inside somewhere? Something as simple as the choice of wall covering can affect the ability of a wall to dry out after a heavy rainstorm. Unless we're looking at things as part of interacting systems, all we know is that there is a problem with the wall and it might be water. We can't figure out where water could possibly come from in that spot (hint: it may be coming from inside the wall — not intuitive, I know.)

So back to the question, "What's a homeowner to do?" Get professional advice when you have a problem, especially when it concerns your health and safety (especially for water issues). Professionals are qualified to assess the problem and figure out ways to correct or mitigate it. I am a firm believer in getting several opinions, since everyone's experience is different, and we all handle things differently. Your least costly option — doing it yourself — may not be the best. You can search the internet for advice from experts advising homeowners with problems like yours.

Our homes are wonderful places, because they are complicated ones. We're always trying to improve on that original cave dwelling. Renovation — especially of older homes — requires really understanding building science and the way things relate to each other. For instance, caulking all of the joints and openings is a great way to air seal a home — new or existing — and contributes daily to the comfort of the residents. However, with a tighter home, the indoor air quality will be affected by any airborne chemicals released from paint, adhesives, carpets, etc. I recently experienced this in a place that was advertised as energy efficient (and it seemed to be) yet it had a slight odor and gave me headaches and body aches (fig. 1.2). This was the opposite of healthier and more comfortable.

It is likely that the builder did not pay attention to the "hidden V" in HVAC — Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. Good ventilation is critical to our health and comfort but is often overlooked by heating and cooling professionals. The HVAC system should bring in fresh air from outside throughout the day and night, or we have a problem. Several problems, in fact. We get sick, and we have moisture building up inside the home, too. Are you beginning to get a feel for how the systems interact?

The more I talk with homeowners and residents, the more I realize how much you really do want to improve your living space. On the other hand, I keep hearing from builders and members of the home industry that homeowners and residents "just don't get it." I want to be part of the solution by providing a communication link between the home industry — builders, architects, manufacturers — and us — consumers, homeowners, and residents. We know what we want or need to do in our homes and the home industry knows so many ways to do those jobs. Part of the conundrum has been how to illustrate basic BS (building science) in a way that homeowners and residents can digest.

How Well Does Your Home Perform?

Most of us think our home performs pretty well, at least until we add up all the utility bills. (Don't forget the water, sewer, and trash bill — they count, too!) It is so easy to forget that our homes are systems and changing one thing will impact others — the domino effect, if you will. Home Performance focuses on improving dwellings — improving comfort and health and finding ways to quit wasting money on energy and water that you don't even use. Energy systems, equipment, and appliances will continue to improve so they use less and less energy. That's for the future. In most existing homes, wasted energy continues to be a big deal, and it is impacting your wallet as well. That's exactly the point of energy efficiency: To stop wasting energy and money.

To begin to learn more about what needs improvement in your home try a quick homeowner questionnaire, "The Home Performance Challenge" at, a product of The Building Performance Institute, Inc. According to BPI, home performance is defined in terms of:

Comfort — a comfortable home is free of drafts, difficult temperatures, and moisture issues.

Health — a healthy home supports the health and safety of the whole family.

Efficiency — an energy-efficient home helps you stop wasting energy and money every month.

With your answers to the following questions, BPI can give you an estimate of where the energy goes and of possible energy drains in your house:

• street and zip code

• square footage of your house

• age of the house

• type of energy used to heat the house

• type of energy used to heat water

BPI then provides a graph of the probable monthly costs of heating and cooling your house, which you can adjust to show actual costs. They list improvements — which are common to every house everywhere — with the greatest cost savings first. They can put a dollar amount on those savings for you, too. Start at the top of this list, and work your way down.

• new insulation and air sealing

• new heating

• new water heating

• windows

• lighting

• cooling

The U.S. Department of Energy, at, also provides a Home Energy Yardstick, using the same information plus the cost of 12 months of power and electricity.

Professional Home Energy Assessment

To learn more about why your house isn't comfortable or costs too much to heat, you can hire a professional. Independent (because they do not promote any products) home energy assessors ask questions about your home, and use thermal cameras to see hot and cold spots — the magic eyes into the building envelope. Homeowners that have remodeled without an energy audit often end up redoing the work to address issues that were left unresolved. Especially if your contractor does not know building science, does not understand what the problem is or know how to fix it.

Kellye Markowski, an independent energy auditor in St. Louis, says when she does a full energy audit, she is there all day investigating. She asks questions about the health and comfort of the residents and then, looks for contributing factors. Homeowners assume that their houses are built to a certain standard. Kellye has seen a lot of structures and a lot of problems. Traditional homes do not have holes sealed, or gaps between materials filled, and are often leaky. Even if you have a new home, you cannot assume that the insulation has been done correctly. In one new home, she inspected the attic to find that the one cold bedroom had no insulation at all over it. In another, the owner complained a spot was hot in summer and cold in winter. When she pushed away insulation in the attic, she found a 3-foot square hole that went all the way down through the wall to the basement. It was a simple fix to block the hole.

One client had a new heating system installed, and called her in when it didn't work as advertised. Had Kellye been in on the front end, she would have advised the ducts be handled differently. She educates homeowners and helps them compare options with all the pros and cons. When she recommends a plan of action, there is far less aggravation in working the plan.

If you're looking for an energy auditor in your area, check the Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) program at The contractors on the list are verified by local sponsors, such as utilities, so you can be pretty confident of getting an accurate diagnosis of your home's energy, health, and comfort problems.

A Green Home Is Not All or Nothing: Making Good Decisions

Builders of new homes are already focused on energy efficiency and sustainable materials. For them, green is quickly becoming the new normal (see Habitat for Humanity box). But when your home is not new, you may think your green home options are limited. Not so! Each step you take can add comfort, health, and value to your home. This book can help you make smart choices and show you what to document along the way to support the value of the improvements you've made.

While you may only have a do-it-yourself project or minor replacement or upgrade, you can still use the guiding principles of green certification (see pages 120–122) to help you make buying decisions. As you will see over and over again, improvements in one area of the home will affect other areas, too. For example, new double pane windows will increase your comfort inside the house, improve the appearance and the resale value of the house, and lower your heating and AC bills, too. Win-win-win! Your home is a system of systems just like your body, and they all work together.

There are six components that define what makes a green home green.

• Lot and site and building components

• Resource efficiency

• Energy efficiency

• Water efficiency

• Indoor air quality

• Homeowner education and documentation

These components appear throughout this book to add to your appreciation for and understanding of your own home. For example, the site and orientation of your home will have an impact on, among other things, your choice of windows, window coverings, types of lighting, and the plants you place outside those windows (fig. 1.3).

You are very blessed, indeed, if you get to choose the lot and the site and the design of a new green home. That's only a daydream for most of us who are dealing with where our home already is. But walking around your existing home can open your eyes to things that are affecting your comfort and safety and energy efficiency. Which direction does your house face? Are there lots of windows on the south side of the house bringing in heat and sunlight? Are there trees nearby that provide a windbreak in the winter or shade in the summer? Is your house on top of a hill or snuggled into a south-facing valley? How much does the wind blow in your area? Is your house in a city or a suburb or out in the woods all by itself? Is there a lot of asphalt paving around it? Is there water on your property? What kind of water? Is the soil made of sand or clay? Your answers provide you with information about the natural resources — sun, wind, rain, and soil — that have an impact on your house and on you. This is the beginning of homeowner wisdom.

Now, take a look at the materials your house is made of — roof to walls to windows to floor. All the materials in your house have a direct impact on your comfort and health and safety — and on how much energy you use.

I've never talked to anyone that wants a home that is uncomfortable, unhealthy, and unsafe. Often, as consumers, we just assume that what we are buying will meet our expectations. Don't do that! Ask questions and have a conversation about what you expect. Comfort, health, and safety are most important in our homes, and we deserve to know how our expectations will be met when we are repairing, updating, or building a home. In a renovation or building a new home, building science professionals can help put together an optimal plan to meet your priorities, needs, and preferences. If you are just replacing light fixtures or another small job, ask for help at the hardware store — of someone who knows his/her subject. In all cases, you don't have to just buy whatever is presented to you — ask questions and do research to find out whether it's what you really want.

Water Plays a Starring Role in a Green Home

In St. Louis, Mo., we don't think about water much, because water is everywhere. But in most of the world, water is precious. Every day more than one billion people do not have clean water to drink. The most important thing about water is that all living beings need it to survive. We humans can't last a week without water, but we can go a month without food.

There is a fixed amount of water on the Earth, and it's constantly moving from one place to another in a process called the water cycle — water evaporates and rises, blown by the wind it condenses into clouds, and falls to the earth again as rain. The water that existed millions of years ago is still here today. Wherever it travels, water carries chemicals, minerals, and nutrients with it.

Fresh water is a limited but renewable resource. This means that while we can't make any more of it, we can make it safe enough to drink again. But the world's supply of clean, fresh water is decreasing. In many parts of the world, the demand for clean water exceeds the amount available, and demand continues to rise as global population grows.

So, after the air we breathe, water is our most important resource. We share it, and we all need to take care of it by not wasting it and by being careful about what goes into the sink and down the drain (fig. 1.4).

The Connection Between Water Use and Energy

I am sure every parent has said it more times than they can count, "Turn off the water!" This is an important habit to instill in children, but wasting water is something that we adults need to be more aware of, too. This is about much more than turning off the faucet. Water plays a bigger role in our modern lives than most of us realize.


Excerpted from "Living Green Effortlessly"
by .
Copyright © 2017 NAHB.
Excerpted by permission of National Association of Home Builders.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

About the Author vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 What IS an Everyday Green Home? 7

2 Your Comfort, Health, and Safety: Start Where You Live 21

3 Energy Efficiencies: How Can You Be Comfortable and Get the Most for Your Energy Dollars? 35

4 What Goes IN Your Home: What to Think About, What to Look For, What to Choose 67

5 Landscaping 79

6 Maintain and Document so You Can Rely on Your Home 89

7 Building (or Renovating to Achieve) a Certified Green Home 119

Resources 133

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