Small Town Green: Building an Energy Efficient Home

By: Danny Lipford

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This 3,600-square-foot, eco-friendly home in Fairhope, Alabama, was developed by architect Bob Chatham of the Chatham Design Group and builder Jeremy Friedman of Kaloosa Builders to showcase practical green building techniques.

The Fairhope Green Home Project is the first house in the state to receive Gold Certification from the National Association of Home Builders Green Building Program which requires standards for water conservation, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and the use of sustainable and recycled materials. Due to all the energy efficient techniques used in the home, the power bill is expected to average only a bit over $70 a month.

Advantages of a Green Home

While it costs more to construct an energy efficient home, there are many benefits to be gained from the additional investment including:

  • Lower utility bills to operate the home.
  • Health benefits from improved air quality.
  • Overall positive benefits for the environment as a whole.

Heart pine flooring resawn from old beams.

Using Recycled Materials

Recycled materials—including heart pine flooring sawn from old beams and doors made from antique cypress—are an important component of the home. A pecan tree that had to be removed from the site was sawn into lumber at a small local sawmill for use as beams and mantels in the house. In addition to custom sawing, Roy Hyde, the operator of the sawmill, also fashions the wood he cuts into unique furniture and millwork.

Handmade furniture made from salvaged trees by woodworker Roy Hyde.

Environmentally Friendly Sheathing

The walls and roof were sheathed with the Zip System from Huber Engineered Woods, which is made from wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The panels are covered with a moisture resistant coating and joints between them are sealed with formaldehyde free adhesive strips. This not only makes for very tight house construction but eliminates the need for house wrap and felt paper.

Zip System wall and roof sheathing from Huber Engineered Woods

Geothermal Heat Pump

A geothermal heat pump made by WaterFurnace was installed to heat and cool the Fairhope Green Home Project. Geothermal heat pumps extract heat from water pumped from wells, making them much more efficient than standard air source heat pumps. The excess heat generated by geothermal pumps can also be used to provide much of the hot water in the home.

Foam Insulation for Energy Efficiency

To further reduce the home’s heating and cooling bills, Icynene Foam Insulation was sprayed in the walls and between the rafters in the attic. This can reduce the heating and cooling loss by 60% to 70%. The additional cost of foam insulation is recouped by energy savings in 3-5 years for new construction.

When using standard fiberglass insulation to insulate your home, be sure a face the paper or foil vapor barrier toward the inside of the home (down in attics, up under floors) to prevent condensation from occurring. If an additional layer of fiberglass insulation is applied to your attic, use unfaced insulation on top of the existing insulation.

Reducing Building Waste

Every effort was made to make the actual building process as eco-friendly as possible. This included a waste management plan that recycled or reused over 70% of the waste created on the jobsite. Any remaining scrap lumber was ground up and used as mulch around the home.

Waste wood being ground into mulch for use in planting beds.

Green Landscaping

Other eco-friendly aspects of the landscaping for the home included the use of native plants, which are better suited to the local environment and require less water, pesticides, and fertilizer. A permeable base of reclaimed concrete was installed under the flagstone patio to allow it to serve as a natural drainage area for the backyard. Mondo grass was planted between the stones to further increase absorbency.

Pervious flagstone patio planted with mondo grass.

The SmartLine irrigation system from Weathermatic employs water saving sprinkler heads and has a built-in weather station that monitors the moisture in the air to reduce unnecessary watering.

Water Conservation

Conserving water was an important consideration inside the home as well. Low-flow sinks and showerheads where used throughout the kitchen and bathrooms, along with water saving dual-flush toilets.

Eco-Friendly Furnishings

Even the furnishings in the home were made from environmentally friendly materials. Rugs made use of vegetable dyes while furniture was constructed using soy based cushions covered by natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, and bamboo.

Further Information

  • Plans for the Fairhope Green Home Project can be viewed or purchased at the Chatham Design Group website.
  • Additional information about the Fairhope Green Home Project is available on the Green Building in Fairhope website.
  • Find a wealth of information on eco-friendly living at Your Green Home.

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Please Leave a Comment

3 Comments on “Small Town Green: Building an Energy Efficient Home”

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  • Jeremy Says:
    December 13th, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    This is in response to the very old comment above, and may not be seen by the Stacy, but I hope so. I am the builder, and I just wanted you to know that the lot only had two trees on it, both Pecan trees, as this was an old pecan orchard. We removed one of the trees and sawed it into the lumber that makes up the fireplace surround as well as other design elements in the home. The second tree is still standing today. Just thought I would clear that up.

    Thank you,

  • William Says:
    January 13th, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Cool project. Nice design, too.

  • Stacy Beard Says:
    June 13th, 2009 at 6:17 am

    I watched the show this Saturday morning. As I watched I heard your comments about how this house is supposed to be “green”. As I watched the progression of the building of the house whenever exterior pictures were shown it was apparent a large number of trees were removed. If this house is supposed to be so “green”, why in the world would you remove mature, oxygen generating trees to replace them with small, new plantings? In addition, you made a big deal out of mentioning that the new plantings were selected from “local” shrubbery so they would be able to withstand the climate. The trees that were in the background at the beginning of the project were very large – thus indicating they must have been able to adjust to the climate for many, many years.

    I was appauled at the amount of trees that were removed for your “green” house. Although it is positive “green” products were used to produce this house and recycling was done to reclain 70+% of the waste from the construction, it is still appauling that many trees were destroyed to make a new “yard” look “new”.

    In summary, the “green” house built was anything but “green”. It was the murder of many, many beautiful trees and thus destroyed a large amount of oxygen.

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