Green Choices

Whether you're planning to build your own house or just updating your home you may find these tips useful. We have included some useful links to other sites that we think may be of some help when making your final green decisions.

Spring Greening

Seven green things you can do this spring that will help the environment, improve your well-being and create long-term savings. (We will get more involved with long term planning and green investments during the summer months).

  1. Change your incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent ones (CFL - Compact Fluorescent Light); they use approximately 75% less energy and last 10 times longer. Go to the Energy Star website it includes some useful advice about the safe disposal of CFLs.

  2. Fix any leaky pipes/faucets - a faucet that drips ten times in one minute will drip 14,400 times in one day! One droplet is about 0.33ml. 14,400 drips in one day = one gallon of water down the drain! Check out the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Drip Accumulator.

  3. Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive by signing up on the Direct Marketing Association's 'Mail Preference Service'. This will help reduce the amount of wasted paper (and we all know that's made from trees and water).

  4. Use recycled canvas bags to bring your groceries home. Paper and plastic bags both use up natural resources and can lead to pollution. A recycled canvas bag can outlive 1,000 plastic bags. Go to Learn about the damage grocery bags can cause.

  5. Try walking, cycling, using public transport or car-pooling to go to work. If there is no other way than to drive: Drive more slowly (high speeds result in greater emissions). Drive at a constant pace (reduce idling time, idling for 30 seconds uses as much gas as it does to start the engine). Keep your tire pressure at the recommended level (poorly inflated tires can lead to a loss in economical fuel consumption). Use clean fuels (these reduce toxic air pollutants by 15%). Keep your car well maintained (poorly maintained cars can emit 10 times more emissions than a well maintained one). Learn more go to GreenCars.Org

  6. Choose a green power provider. Your electricity can be generated from a wide variety of sources, but when you opt for green power the electricity comes from renewable, clean energy sources such as solar, wind, hydropower (installations that use running or falling water to drive turbines and generate electricity) and biomass (organic waste such as wood, plant materials and land-fill gases that are used to generate electricity). Go to the US Department of Energy and enter your state (located in the left column) to find out which providers are available in your area.

  7. Seek out; store safely or throw away unused household products lurking in your home. Toxins can be found in everyday products such as cleaners, solvents, thinners, paints, antifreeze, detergents, disinfectants and pesticides. These products can all contribute to some of the following: asthma, allergies, eczema, dermatitis and childhood cancer. Read product labels carefully. When possible, search for products that are either vegetable based, phosphate free, free from perfumes & dyes and biodegradable. The US Environmental Protection Agency has some great down-to-earth advice about household products.

Log Home

A log home will blend into its new environment, and once constructed will provide greater thermal insulation than that of typical lightweight wood framing construction due to its thermal mass effect. As a result, this will reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the house. Ultimately this will reduce energy waste and lower power plant emissions. (Consider this, on a yearly basis: the amount of heat lost in poor thermally insulated homes, through roofs and walls is enough to heat three million homes).

We chose a manufacturer that purchases raw materials from suppliers who endorse forest management and promote sustainable forests. This results in long-term environmental, social, and economic benefits.When building a log home, you should first verify whether or not the raw materials come from suppliers who endorse forest management and promote sustainable forests. There are many manufacturers that work with organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), whose goal is 'to bring people together to find solutions to the problems created by bad forestry practices and to reward good forest management'. Do not worry if your manufacturer is not FSC certified, they might operate their own forest management program that results in long-term environmental, social and economic benefits.

Select a common tree species indigenous to your region e.g. East and Northeast America: White Pine, Red Pine and Eastern White Cedar. This reduces the cost of transporting the raw materials to the mill and your home site.

Some woods are naturally more resistant to insects and fungi than others. This is due to the natural toxins that they produce. White Cedar is more resistant to attack from insects and fungi than Pine. Toxins are naturally produced in the 'heartwood' of a tree. The more heartwood in a tree the better resistance. Sapwood is located in the outer ring of a tree, near the bark and is the 'living wood'. Consequently it contains a lot of moisture and inevitably shrinks when dried. All wood in a tree is formed in the sapwood. The heartwood is located in the centre of the tree. Heartwood is more resistant and surprisingly enough, it is the 'dead' wood in trees.

Using White Cedar means that you can avoid the energy-intensive kiln drying process. Kiln drying is more often used with Pine, as a means of killing insects and fungi, it also reduces the moisture content in the wood. However, even after kiln drying Pine requires treatment against future infestations. These treatments are not so environmentally friendly. Pine requires a strict maintenance schedule.

White Cedar is a great insulator due to its cellular structure that contains interior air spaces. Would you believe that White Cedar has a higher insulation value than concrete! White Cedar has a greater thermal mass than Pine, 1.42R Vs 1.12R per inch of wood thickness. (Thermal mass is an indication of a substance's ability to insulate).

There are many other factors involved in the building and planning of a log-home and these will be discussed further in the Budgeting and the Construction sections of our website.

Hot Water

Traditionally heat and hot water systems consist of a water heater and a boiler. While these deliver your household requirements, they contribute to over 50% or more of your energy bill each year. (To find out how energy efficient your system is, get in touch with your electric and gas utility companies, as many of these offer free home energy audits). We do not plan to use a water heater and boiler.

Our home will incur little or no energy costs. When researching alternatives such as natural gas and electric heat pumps we discovered GEOTHERMAL heating and hot water systems. Apart from initial installation costs, (which are slightly more expensive than traditional heating and hot-water systems) the energy consumption of using a geothermal system (if using on-grid electricity) could save as much as 70% (compared to heat and gas) on yearly energy bills.

If you have an existing hot water system in place there are several things that you can do to ensure you are running at maximum energy efficiency. Hot water contributes to at least 15% of your energy, so it's important to look into any ways that will help you lower your bill.

By lowering your thermostat on your water heating by a couple of degrees, and by insulating your hot water tank and hot water lines, you will improve your energy efficiency. Remember to check that your hot water tank hasn't already been insulated, or that there aren't any warnings indicating that you shouldn't insulate your tank. Repair any leaks as soon as they occur.

If you are replacing your water tank, here are few things for you to consider:
The US Department of Energy provides a great overview of the different heaters on the market and the factors that you should take into account when selecting the right one.

Tankless heaters are more energy efficient, they can save as much as 20% per year compared to those conventional tank water heaters. Tankless water heaters can also last an average of 5-10 years longer.

If you want to find out how efficient your current water heater is, contact your local electric/gas utilities provider as many offer free home energy audits.We intend to run our home with little or no energy costs. Having researched alternatives such as natural gas and electric heat-pumps, we discovered Geothermal Energy. Apart from the initial installation costs (which will be slightly more expensive than traditional water systems) the energy consumption when using a geothermal system can reduce your electricity demand by up to 70% compared to heat and gas.

Which features do you require

It probably wouldn't surprise you to know that the majority of people would love a valley view, water features and a lakeside location. A desirable the view will cost more! Sometimes you may need to compromise, picking one or two 'must-haves' and leaving some degree of flexibility in your choices.

Heating and Cooling

Approximately 15% of the electricity generated in the USA is primarily used for running air-conditioning units that keep buildings cool. It is a good idea when installing a new air-conditioner to find the most energy efficient rating to optimize the performance of your cooling equipment. A better rating will promote cleaner air, help to control global warming and enhance the comfort of your home.

Our research indicates that ENERGY STAR qualified air conditioners have a higher 'seasonal efficiency rating' (SEER) than standard models, which makes them about 14% more efficient.

In our quest to find the ultimate energy efficient cooling system we discovered that using a geothermal heat pump will provide us with heating and hot water in the winter, as well as the added benefit of working as a cooling system in the summer.

Heating and cooling make up approximately 40% of your electricity bill. If you are not able to replace your existing heating or cooling systems, here are some tips that will help ensure maximum efficiency:

Get a professional to inspect and clean your existing heating and cooling systems on a regular basis. Clean any filters or furnaces frequently. Clean any vents and chimneys, removing any obstructions. Ensure that all ducts in the attic, crawl space etc. are insulated. Finally, use a programmable thermostat, pre-heat/cool your home just before you return from work. An empty house doesn't require continuous temperature control.

When should you replace your existing heating and cooling system? Go to Energy Star - they provide a list of criteria to help you make a decision.

If you are looking to replace your existing heating and cooling system you should try and purchase an Energy Star Rated appliance, these have a higher seasonal energy-efficiency rating (SEER), making the model approximately 14% more efficient.

Go to the US Department of Energy for some valuable advice and statistics.

All of our heating and cooling requirements will be created from geothermal energy. Geothermal Energy is a clean renewable source. Heat extracted from the ground is used to heat the home. This heat is then distributed through the house via a conventional warm air duct system. During the summer months the opposite occurs and heat is extracted from the home and the heat is dispersed into the ground. Our HVAC system will be complemented through the use of a radiant floor heating.

(Although the installation costs for this are considerably higher than installing a conventional HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system, the cost savings made from the vastly reduced electricity bill make it well worthwhile in the long run).

Green Power

Solar Energy - Photo-Voltaic (PV)

Choosing solar power as an alternative energy source is a great way of tapping into a source of green, abundant energy. Today PV panels blend into the structure of the home, making them non-obtrusive and viable technology. Photo-Voltaic cells convert sunlight into DC (direct current) electricity. Most PV cells are covered in semi-conductor material such as silicon. Other types of materials used are a polycrystalline cell or the highly effective Gallium arsenide, which is a more expensive alternative. The effectiveness of the DC current produced depends largely on the intensity of the solar radiation and the materials used. The whole surface of the PV cell generates current, additional electrical connections are used to harness the DC current generated.

New thin-film technologies are emerging; these require few materials and can be easily sized to fit around varying building components. These also use a silicon semi-conductor, but others newer varieties include copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.

PV cells are now also being incorporated into PV modules. As the name suggests the panel incorporates grouped cells and electrical connections into a self-contained parcel.

PV modules come in two varieties: 'flat-plate' or 'concentrator' systems. Flat-plate PV modules use direct and indirect sunlight and can be easily orientated to maximize the sunlight. Concentrator PV modules require direct sunlight. However many less 'concentrator' PV modules are required to generate a current than 'flat-plate' ones. For more over-cast regions the 'flat-plate' PV module would be preferred.

Modules are generally frame mounted and connected to a sealed junction box. Some PV module manufacturers are incorporating all the elements required to connect the junction box through clever connectors that join on assembly of the modules.

So how many PV cells/panels do you require? There are several variables, such as: your average energy consumption, your building, the geographical location and selection of PV technology used.

Let us assume that your monthly electricity consumption is an average of 920 kWh and that you get 'good' solar coverage for your region. The required solar system capacity will be 10.00 kW of peak power (DC watts) and a roof area of approximately 1,000sqft.

The peak power is the amount of power output a PV module produces at an operating at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius in full sunshine of 1,000 watts per square meter.

The set up process is complicated and always based on the end users power consumption. A good resource that gives you an approximate gauge for solar estimation is the 'Finding Solar'.

Wind Power
Residential wind turbines are a great way of supplementing the energy needs required to run the home. Most small wind systems are installed to help reduce the cost of monthly electricity bills; rarely do people install them to provide all of their electrical needs.

There are several different considerations that must be taken into account before deciding exactly which wind turbine is best for you. A wind turbine is not for everyone. Although wind turbines are a great clean, renewable source of energy they are not invisible and do make a very small amount of noise (newer product models make less noise than a refrigerator). If you are living in less than one acre of land, in a well-built residential area, you may find that your neighbors object to the presence of such an object.

You need to determine the size of turbine required. This depends on what you need your wind turbine to do. The average American Household uses approximately 11,000 kWh of electricity per year, (assuming that you are able to harness an average wind speed of 14 miles per hour) a 15kW wind turbine could significantly reduce your electricity bill. However the efficiency of your wind turbine will depend also on location of your wind turbine and the amount of wind available in your area.

In theory the higher you can place your turbine the higher the wind speed. Wind speed varies in different terrains, you may be in a locale where there is little or not enough wind to make this a viable investment.

You also need to consult with you local planning office with regard to any zoning restrictions. e.g. some jurisdictions will not allow a height of greater than 35 feet. You may need to obtain a permit to be able before being able to put such a structure in place.

The US Department of Energy provides some really comprehensive guides to your specific region of interest and also outlines some of the various incentives available to help finance your project.

Research any geological features

Find out about geological features located on the parcel, such as rock structure, rivers and floodplains. Many realtor listings won't talk about areas such as wetlands and floodplains, as many will not know of their existence (especially if they haven't gone to walk the land in person). Wetlands are often insect infested (mosquito paradise) in the warmer months; in general, you will find it very difficult to obtain a permit to build on designated wetland. Floodplains present different problems. In some cases you may obtain a special building permit and insurance that enables you to build in a floodplain. Beware though, that floodplains don't necessarily become saturated every year. You may come across a one hundred-year floodplain; this only floods once in every one hundred years. A fifty-year floodplain will flood once every fifty years etc. With global warming and dramatic shifts in climactic weather, some fifty-year flood plains have flooded for 3 straight years on a regular basis. The logic behind determining how many years before a flood is no longer valid. Just because you know the location for several years doesn't mean that it doesn't flood! Check with the local GIS surveys, these will outline the existence of any floodplains on your parcel.

Rivers are always another great feature to own, but in general you may not get planning permission to build next to it. Many local counties require that you build at least 100 feet or more away from the water.

Look into the elevation of the parcel and its orientation towards the sun. If you are looking to install solar, then you want to ensure that any elevation around you doesn't prevent you from an all-day, sunny, southern exposure.


We will be selecting appliances with an Energy Star rating; these help reduce energy bills and ultimately greenhouse emissions. During 2006, Americans using Energy Star products were able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount produced by twenty-five million cars. That alone saved fourteen billion dollars on home utility bills across the US.

In order to help reduce your electricity bill - you can buy appliances that are energy efficient. Using energy efficient appliances can save you 30% or more. Depending on the appliances there could be more substancial savings. When looking to replace any appliances one should consider purchasing an Energy Star rated one.

You've seen the logo and maybe you are wondering who/what is Energy Star? ENERGY STAR is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, their aim is to help people save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.

In 1992 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced ENERGY STAR as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

All types of appliances are Energy Star rated. You may find, a curious lack of Energy Star rated clothes dryers out there. That's because Energy Star do not label clothes dryers as most dryers all use the same amount of energy, meaning that there's little difference in energy savings between all the different models. If you really want to be energy efficient and have the space, then air-dry your clothing whenever possible.

When there is no alternative but to use a dryer, use the moisture sensor to automatically switch the dryer off when your clothes are dry.

You will be pleased to know that washing machines are Energy Star rated and approximately 40% more energy efficient using 55% less water. Go to Energy Star for more about appliances, tax credits and lots of energy saving statistics.

Kitchen/ Bath

There are plenty of steps to take when creating a green kitchen. We are trying to use as many recyclable and energy/water efficient appliances as possible in the construction of our kitchen/bathroom. To save on lighting costs we have designed a kitchen layout that takes advantage of any natural lighting.

In reality, we have discovered there are no materials that have zero impact on our planet. We have to ensure that the choices we make include materials that are better for the environment. Using recycled material and components with low-toxicity surfaces, such as paper composite countertops or wooden cabinets that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council ensures the wood is from local, sustainable managed forests and is eco friendly.

No one says it's easy to fit out a completely 'green' kitchen and bathroom; but it doesn't mean because it's green it can't be chic or sensibly priced. You will need to spend time researching your choices and providers to get the best value and choices for your money. The section Green Materials outlines our choices for the Green Log Home project. These choices may not be right for you, but our experiences provide a great starting point. We also recommend getting hold of product samples, try knocking them around a little, it will give you a good idea of quality/craftsmanship of the product.

Your goal with any kitchen/bathroom should be to use low-toxicity renewable materials and smart lighting schemes. When putting your kitchen/bathroom together it's not just about energy efficiency - it's about using products that don't deplete the earth's natural resources nor pollute the environment with harmful chemicals during their extraction and construction.

Avoid particleboard as it is bonded with urea-based formaldehyde, which off-gases. Use renewable materials such as bamboo, wheat/strawboard, use recycled wood or wood that comes from a managed forestry program (such as the FSC).

There are several manufacturers that construct surfaces from recycled glass, recycled plastic, paper composite surfaces, concrete or wood (recycled wood or wood from a managed forestry program).

Opt for recycled glass tiles, these are better than ceramic from an environmental point of view. The process of making glass tiles is called 'sintering'; this uses far less energy to make than if made by raw materials alone. When used with a water-based grout, these tiles eliminate any 'off-gassing' that you would expect from their non eco-friendly counterparts.

Bamboo flooring is a renewable source that works well as a floor surface and it looks great too. Another alternative is cork flooring, although cork does not have the wonderful finish obtained with a bamboo floor.

Smart lighting system
When planning the layout of the kitchen, try to place the most frequently used surfaces nearest to natural light. The sink is often placed near windows for this reason. Use compact florescent lighting instead of incandescent lighting, over work surfaces and the stovetop.

Saving Water
Showers, baths, toilets and sinks use up 75% of your home water usage. Try to install dual-flush toilets, faucet aerators, and adjustable or low flow showerheads.

Look into the local resources and infrastructure

Find out about the local shops and conveniences nearby. Ensure that you have clear access to main roads so that you won't be snowed in during the winter! Check to see if you have a local train and bus service to and from nearby towns or cities. Better infrastructure also provides more building resources and construction workers to be available to work on your project.


We have learned a lot about window insulation. We have selected windows that will conform to Energystar efficiency ratings and fit into our new, ecological green log home. Proper insulation will save money by lowering heating and cooling bills. The result will be a reduction of energy consumption and pollution derived from burning fossil fuels.

Window technology has vastly improved over the last few years. Energy efficient windows now provide a barrier against significant heat loss/gain and condensation.

When selecting a window look for energy efficient products (i.e. meets the recommended U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient in your climate). Verify that the window company has a reputation for service and stability, and provides a warranty on the unit. Look for Energy Star rated windows and companies that participate in the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) certification. Go to the Efficient Windows website for unbiased information about energy efficient windows.

Enviro Stains

There are different types of stains on the market, namely those made from natural oils, acrylics and water-based. Water-based have a much lower impact on the environment and lower emissions (leading to better indoor air-quality too). Water-based stains posses low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and as they dry more quickly, there is a much shorter VOC exposure. They also clean up easily with soap and water.

Which ever stain you use make sure that you read the manufacturers instructions and use proper ventilation and protective clothing when you apply the stain. Read this report prepared by the Green Seal organisation.

How close are the utilities?

Many parcels are not close to the sewage and water systems and will require that you install your own well and septic system. You may also find that there is no electricity running to your lot. These all are significant investments to keep in the forefront of your plans and budget. Some power companies will supply the first 100 feet of cable, after that its about $10 a foot, plus poles every 250 feet, and if you are really far back, you will require a pad transformer to be installed. If you choose to go above ground, pole to pole, the utility company will require 10' of clearing on both sides of the wire. That equates to creating a 20' wide cut into your property so that the trucks can service the poles properly. Most of that cost is on you. If you choose to go underground, all of the cost is on you, however then there is no need to cut in that giant 20 foot passage for them to access it. Weigh the options, both are expensive, you must choose one.

Foundation Waterproofing

There are lots of types of foundation waterproofing: liquid rubber, hot applied liquid rubber, sheet, cementitious and bentonite. So which one do you use? A lot depends on your needs and requirements. Whichever you decide, pick one that is a non-flammable, water-based carrier that meets VOC limits in all 50 U.S. states. Make sure it has been thoroughly tested by independent labs using Federal EPA standards for leaching.

Hybrid Automobile

If you are looking to buy a new automobile, consider a hybrid. A hybrid is a vehicle with a combination electric engine/motor. It uses rechargeable batteries that charge while braking. This is meant to augment the traditional gasoline engine. Simply put: clever computer technology uses a combination of your electric motor and your internal combustion engine to run your vehicle. This results in significantly lower gas consumption. It is also great for the environment as it reduces carbon dioxide emissions. We are currently evaulating different hybrid models to determine which is best for us to use on the Green Log Home project.

Go to Hybrid Cars to learn more about the different types of cars available.

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