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Green Architectural Design – Seven Elements to Incorporate Into a House

What can we do as a society to improve our physical environment and make our homes greener?

Those who are recent inhabitants of the City of Miami don’t know what it was like to live here or in the Caribbean in the 1950’s or 60’s. My family used to come and vacation here in the 60’s. We had come from Cuba in 1961 and moved up north, but we came here once or twice a year on vacation.

In the 50’s or in the early 60’s no one had central air-conditioning. Most people would have window or wall A/C units in their houses. And many houses did not have air-conditioning at all.

So how were houses designed then? Well, most houses were designed for good cross ventilation. They had either jalousie or awning windows. Either of these allowed the entire window to be opened for breezes to come through, as opposed to single-hung or horizontal sliding windows which only open half-way. Ceilings were high and often had ceiling fans. Although most houses had no insulation, between the high ceiling and cross ventilation the summer heat was bearable. In places like Cuba where there were always crosswinds from the ocean, the summers were even more pleasant.

I remember when I lived at the sorority house at Georgia Tech in Atlanta while going to architecture school, there was no air-conditioning in the house. We made due with a whole house extractor fan on the second floor, and honestly, most of the time, this took out most of the heat in the house, making the sorority house quite livable, even during Atlanta’s muggy summer days.

Another detail which good architects took into consideration was the orientation of the house and protection of the walls and windows. In our Southeast region of the US, the sun is almost never in the north except during some days in the winter. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and goes a little to the south as it goes across the sky from east to west from sunrise to sunset. This means that the east, west, and south exposures of a house need overhangs. Windows on the west need to be avoided as western sun is the hottest of the day. In addition, the sun casts deep shadows. Being next to these windows is very uncomfortable in the afternoon. Windows on the eastern exposure are most welcomed as the sun in the early morning is very pleasant.

How are most houses designed now? They ignore all of this.

Air-conditioning is the biggest user of electricity in any home. The next biggest user is the water heater. If we are to make a real dent into what the typical homeowner uses in electricity, then some things have to change in home design. In essence we have to go back to the future.

Back to the Future

There are some simple things we have to change to better the energy consumption of a typical Miami residence:

  • Plan the house as though it is not going to run the A/C all the time 24/7. This means making sure the house is oriented correctly with good cross ventilation. Consider designing a house around a courtyard. Plan on high ceilings and large windows. Plan on ceiling fans in each living space of the house. Then, don’t run the A/C 24/7. Open the windows and enjoy the Miami natural winter environment.
  • Heavily insulate the attic space (R-30 minimum). Heat comes into a house mostly through the roof. Only about 3% comes through the walls. For the Miami are this means that modest insulation in the walls is good enough (R-6 per 2007 Florida Building Code (FBC]).
  • If possible, put the A/C ducts in an air-conditioned space. This will maximize the efficiency of the A/C. The 2007 FBC, which is the code which has been adopted by the City of Miami and is enforced state-wide, requires R-6 insulation for duct in non-air-conditioned spaces.
  • If the house is going to have a water heater with a tank, make sure that the water heater is installed with a timer so that it does not run all day. Miami is almost never cold, so the water heater can produce great hot water in 15 minutes. There is no need to run the water heater all day long.
  • Make sure the house has overhangs where needed. In the Miami area that means in the southern, eastern, and western exposures. Sometimes shading devices, such as louvers and screens can be added as well.
  • Consider putting several trees close to the house to provide shading. This is a very effective way of lessening the exposure of the roof to the sun. This, by itself, will reduce the temperature around and in the house by several degrees. And, if at the same time, we can use native landscaping for the Miami area which are drought-resistant, then water usage can also be curtailed.
  • Lastly, consider putting covered terraces, trellises, pergolas, and/or porches around the house to use in the South Florida winter. So while everyone else is freezing in the north, you can tell yourself how brilliant you are for having chosen Miami as your home!

Home Improvement – Becoming Popular With the Economy

Although home improvement tasks can take time and carry large expense it is well worth your investment. Green homes are becoming popular by the day, and it should not be overlooked as an option when deciding on the repairs to fix around your home.

The federals are now giving tax credits to those investing money into their homes. The tax credits are eligible from the 1st of January 2009 to December 31st, 2010. It is focused on those adding energy efficient repairs to their home, in return, saving on bills and unnecessary economy pollutants. There are many gases that go into the air from residential homes. Finding ways to stop these gasses will stop adding to the green house effects.

Some simple ECO Friendly home improvements can have greater effects than you would know.

  • Solar panels can generate electricity for your home from sun absorbed energy.
  • Changing out all your light bulbs around the house to energy efficient fluorescent bulbs can dramatically change your energy bill. They help to save around 75% of electricity.
  • Have you thought about your roof lately? Using light colored shingles will reduce the heat flow to your attic, reducing excess heat entering your home. They reflect light, where the standard black shingles absorb sunlight.
  • Install motion detected outdoor lights to cut back on unnecessary lighting.
  • Secure all running sources of water like a faucet that leaks, or busted pipes. Reduce your shower times and turn the water off while brushing your teeth. Replace your shower heads with a low flow shower head.
  • Changing out your air filters on a regular basis is very important.
  • Replace your A/C unit with an energy star rated unit. Savings on your cooling and heating bill will drop drastically.
  • If you have electronics like computer and TV that stay plugged into the outlets overnight, consider using a power strip outlet. It halts the flow of electricity, keeping your plugged in electronics from giving off unnecessary energy.

As you can see; there are numerous ways to invest in energy savings for your home improvements. Going green should be your first task to conquer, allowing for an outcome of savings to last years. The economy is hurting for a change, and it all starts with you.

Energy Efficiency Leads the Way in Home Improvement Projects

For years, Energy Efficiency has been a topic buried under all the ‘green’ talk surrounding the use of solar power at home and alternative energy sources.

Today, energy efficient homes are taking center stage on a massive scale. Home improvement projects now focus on aspects of the home such as conducting energy audits and air sealing your home’s attic, walls, and basement. A home’s energy efficiency is priority number one before any homeowners should even consider using solar power at home. Think about it, if you’re home is an energy hog, and not using energy efficiently, it will take a whole lot more solar energy to power your home, driving up the price of installing such a solar power system.

So, first things first, energy efficient home improvements need to be understood at the outset of any ‘green’ home improvement project.

One of the misconceptions of going green is, If you add green features to your home, costs would also rise. Fortunately, the opposite is true. By redesigning processes — reducing mistakes, doing things right the first time — home owners can improve their home’s energy efficiency and cut their home energy costs.

Because so many people now need to save the green in their wallets, going green at home through energy efficient home improvements is the logical way to go.

So, just how much money can be saved in a household by improving home energy efficiency?

The average American home has about 40-50 light bulbs, excluding closet lights, and most homes are filled with incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs are the easiest energy efficient home improvement you can make to start. Four CFL bulbs use the energy of one incandescent bulb, by replacing all of them, you could save $350 a year on your electric bill!

Water Efficiency

What about water efficiency? Bathrooms, which can easily be the most wasteful rooms in the house, have a great opportunity to be a very efficient room as well. Low flow toilets instead of the standard, 3.5-gallon toilets, which, for a family of five, can cut a water bill by $165 a year. Low flow sink faucets in both bathrooms can also reduce the water bill by another $200 a year. There are also adjustable shower heads that control the flow of water so it isn’t on full spray for the entire time in the shower. These attachable heads can slow down water flow by 80 percent when full power isn’t needed, such as when soaping up or shaving. By adjusting the water flow, a family of five can save up to $350 annually on their water bill and as much as $350 on their heating bill given the reduced use of hot water.

Heating and Cooling

Nothing in the home consumes more energy than the heating and cooling system. Keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer is a constant battle to separate the inside elements from the outside. The best way to improve home energy efficiency when it comes to heating and cooling is through air sealing your home. Also known as weatherizing, this is a crucial element to any energy efficient home. Trouble areas include the roof where hot air can escape in the winter and also attract heat during the summer. Home improvements such as “Cool Roofs” are a great way to reduce summer time heat. The attic is a very important element to insulate the house. If your insulation is less than six inches thick, it’s time to make some improvements.

Understanding home energy efficiency doesn’t have to be hard, it just has to make sense.