Full Episodes of Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford

How to Build an Eco-Friendly Green Home

By: Danny Lipford

Watch this video to see how an eco-friendly, energy efficient house is built, including:

  • Using recycled materials.
  • Sawing lumber from discarded trees.
  • Eco-friendly wall and roof sheathing.
  • Geothermal heat pumps.
  • Sprayed foam insulation.
  • Turning waste lumber into garden mulch.
  • Planting native plants.
  • Laying a permeable patio.
  • Water saving plumbing fixtures.
  • Furnishing made from natural materials.

Read episode article to find out more.

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Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner we’re taking a closer look at green buildings in a small town style. It’s more than just a list of principles and materials; it’s about the people who make it all happen.

Over the last few years we’ve covered a lot of green building and renovation stories. And many times we would focus on the products and the techniques involved in that kind of building. Well, this week we’re going to put all of that in context of a real building; this one that you see behind me.

Now, we’re in a small town on the Gulf Coast called Fairhope, Alabama. And this is a collaboration of two locals: architect Bob Chatham and builder Jeremy Friedman, who really wanted to promote the concept of practical green building. And basically, they’re using this as an educational tool.

Now, we’re about to go in and really see what makes this house tick. Actually, earlier this week Allen had a chance to walk around with builder Jeremy to really see how all of this came about.

Jeremy Friedman: Literally about two years ago, I woke up one morning and I said to myself something is out of balance here. The way I’m building houses is not the way I live my life or the way I think houses should be built. So, I immediately started educating myself and implementing different green building practices into the homes.

Allen Lyle: This is like a conviction to you.

Jeremy Friedman: It absolutely is.

Allen Lyle: Okay well, let’s talk about some of your convictions. What I’ve seen so far, and I’ve had a chance to look around, I see a lot of recycled materials.

Jeremy Friedman: Yes.

Allen Lyle: What have you recycled?

Jeremy Friedman: Well, the recycled materials we’ve used in the home. The flooring is some heart pine made from heart pine beams and we remilled it into flooring. The front doors are some antique cypress that came from a cotton gin over in Mississippi. And of course we have a big pecan tree that lived here on the site that we had to remove. And we took it out to Roy Hyde’s mill, and he milled into beams for us.

Danny Lipford: That sawmill it turns out is just a few miles up the road, so Allen dropped by to check it out. The owner, Roy, is a pretty unique guy, but so is his source for lumber.

Roy Hyde: Generally, somebody has got some purpose going on that they’re going to have to remove a tree for some reason or another. When they do, the tree people start out to the dump with it, and rather than to have to pay that weight, they know that I like good old pieces of wood. So, they bring them by here.

Danny Lipford: And, those good old pieces of wood come in all shapes, sizes, and species.

Roy Hyde: We’ve got pecan, and water oak, and live oak. And down here on the end I have some magnolia that went down in one of the hurricanes that is supposedly 170 years old.

Danny Lipford: Besides custom orders, like this one for Jeremy, Roy also mills lumber for his own one-of-a-kind creations. And it doesn’t look like business is slowing down at all.

Roy Hyde: This is a piece of water oak. I have already made probably 10 or 12 tables and various pieces out of it already. There are some counters, in fact, in downtown Fairhope in the Lion Share that are made from these pieces.

Danny Lipford: Personally, I’m glad this is one of the projects that Roy could do, and I think Jeremy is pretty pleased with the outcome as well.

Jeremy Friedman: It was a way that this tree had lived on the site for a long time can continue to live here. It gives the house a sense of place and it really ties it to this location.

Allen Lyle: I love it, the fact that it still has bark on it, that’s great.

Jeremy Friedman: You know we went back and forth on how much do we prepare the woods. Do we peel off all the bark, do we leave the wane on it what we do? Everyone that came and said we love it rough, leave it that way.

Allen Lyle: Now you and I both build houses. And you and I both know, it costs money to build one, it costs to build a green house.

Jeremy Friedman: I want people to understand that it’s an investment, not a cost, and there’s a return on that investment, immediately from day one in the cost of operations for the house that offsets any additional cost of a mortgage expense. There’s also an additional return on investment from a health and comfort standpoint. We did a lot of things to the house to improve indoor air quality and comfort. And of course, there’s a return on the investment when it comes to the environment.

Danny Lipford: The principles Jeremy’s talking about don’t only apply to a new home, but they can also make an existing home a lot more green. So, we’ll make sure we point out a few of those as we explore this project. Now, a green investment in your home will pay financial and quality-of-life dividends, but those decisions are as individual as each and every homeowner. So information is definitely the best tool you can have.

Well, you’ve seen the passion behind a project like this, and the people that are responsible for it. But to tell you the truth, it takes a lot more than recycled wood and good intentions to make a house green. So, where can really see what makes this house tick.

But first, let’s check in with Joe who has a green Simple Solution for us this week.

Joe Truini: Water conservation is an important part of living green and a great way to conserve is by harvesting rainwater for your landscape use. Now, you can buy a professional system but they’re rather expensive. And here’s a way to make one for about $50. I started with a nice green trash that blends in well with the landscaping. Then I drilled a hole in the bottom for a hose bit. And on top, I cut a slightly larger hole for this drainage grate which helps filter out debris. Then I used a couple of cable ties to hold the lid on securely. And set the barrel on a couple of concrete blocks.

Now at the top, you see I’ve got the downspout that now runs down from the roof to a couple of elbows and right into the barrel. So as this rain barrel fills up with water you can control it down here at the spigot, and you can attach a garden hose and drain it down to a low area.

What I prefer to do is take a soaker hose, attach it to the spigot, then run it through your shrubs and along your flower beds and it will slowly and really gently water the soil. And the really great part about the system is the water is totally free.

Danny Lipford: Welcome back. This week we’re looking at a brand-new home that just received the Gold Certification from the National Association of Home Builders under their green building program. Now that means that this house has certain standards for water conservation, for energy efficiency, for using sustainable materials and recycled materials, and excellent indoor air quality.

That’s a pretty big job, but it starts with some very simple building components, such as the sheathing that they used to put on the outside of the walls and on the roof. It’s called the Zip System. This stuff is cool because the panels are already covered with a moisture resistant coating so no roofing felt or house wrap is needed. Now that makes it extremely efficient for the builder but because the wood is certified by the sustainable forestry initiative and the adhesives don’t use any formaldehyde it’s also very green.

Now right below the roof is also a very important green component the spray foam insulation.

Labon Richmond: Basically what we’re doing is instead of insulating the ceilings, we’re insulating the roof deck. We’re losing about 60-70% of our heating and cooling loss into our attic. So, instead of having a hot pocket of air right above areas we’re trying to cool, our indoor environments. We have this ambient range that isolates it from the hot or very cold extremes outside. The initial costs are higher, but we are custom fitting this to every home and to every cavity in that home. In a new built situation, the return costs, recoup costs, are about three to five years. A little bit longer if you’re only doing the roof deck in a retrofit.

Joe Truini: If spray foam insulation is not in your budget, here’s a more affordable option, especially for an older home like this that had no installation at all. Go out and pick up some Kraft paper faced installation, and roll it out in the attic between the ceiling joists. Now it’s important to keep the Kraft paper, which is the vapor barrier, down so it faces a heated room.

Then you just roll it out, make sure it fits nice and tight in between, and just continue to fill every bay. Now, if you already have insulation in your attic, and its Kraft paper faced or foil faced, and you want to increase the energy efficiency of your home, you can add insulation on top of it. But, use unfaced insulation, as I have here. This has no paper or foil on it at all, so you don’t have to replace this with thicker installation. Just take an unfaced insulation, and roll it right on top. And that one step there will make your home much more energy efficient.

Danny Lipford: Now, if it is time to replace the heating and cooling equipment in your home, you might consider a system like the one used in this project.

Clay Doyle: A Geothermal heat pump works the same way as a regular heat pump, or an air source heat pump. We transfer heat just like they do, except ours were transferring heat with the ground as opposed to outside temperatures. A heat pump uses the outside temperature and refrigerant to transfer the heat you know the cooling season you can put your hand over that fan and you can feel the heat being blown off. We use refrigerant and water and in some cases water and methanol as an anti-freeze agent. And water will flow from out of the unit and go into the ground, out of the ground, and into the pump, and back to the unit. So we’re just recirculating water, the ground loop should last around 50 years. These PEX lines go to the hot water tank. We actually take the heat and send it to your hot water tank to get about half your hot water for free.

Danny Lipford: Earlier we talked about the financial dividends these kind of investments pay, and energy costs are one of the biggest ways you get that payback. Because Jeremy used the techniques that he used on this house in building it, as well as energy-efficient appliances and those type building techniques, he expects his monthly electric bill to be just a little over $70 a month. Now that’s incredible for a 3,600-square-foot house.

Hey, while I’m just looking around for a few more green ideas, check out this week’s Best New Product with Jodi.

Jodi Marks: Let’s face it, the constant abuse from the sun, rain and snow can really take a toll on outdoor surfaces. The good news is that you can give them a facelift before the weekend is over, and it’s easier than ever. Thompson’s WaterSeal oxy-foaming action Exterior Multi-Surface Cleaner, now how’s that for a mouthful, is formulated to remove dirt and mildew and other stains on a variety of exterior surfaces including wood and composite decks, concrete, masonry and even some fabrics.

And while most cleaners contain bleach or other harsh ingredients, this stuff is actually oxygen powered, so it’s gentle on surfaces and it covers about 200 square feet per gallon. When using this, though, you’ll want to remember to saturate the ground around the plants to protect them. Then apply the cleaner with a watering can or a pump up sprayer, and let it sit for about five to ten minutes before scrubbing it with a stiff brush.

Then, just rinse it off with your garden hose, or try a pressure washer with a wide spray pattern.

Danny Lipford: This week we’re taking a closer look at building green, specifically this house in Fairhope, Alabama, which was the first one in the state to be certified by the National Association of Home Builders green building program.

Now from the beginning, architect Bob Chatham and builder Jeremy Friedman decided they wanted to prove that a green house didn’t have to be ugly. So, aesthetics were a very important part of designing this home. Now, when they decided to do all of the furnishings to really show this place off, they had two priorities: attractive and green.

Melanie Leberte: In this house, we actually got to use a lot of different green materials. For example, all of the area rugs they are dyed using vegetable dyes, which are environmentally friendly. Then whenever you get to your upholstery pieces, like sofas, you can use soy-based cushions. That’s what’s inside the cushion, the filler part. And then also just using natural materials such as linen, cotton, and some bamboo. My favorite piece is the aluminum table in the master bedroom just because it shows that you can still have stylish looking furniture that is environmentally friendly.

Danny Lipford: Now in addition to using green materials, it was also important to these guys that the process of building the home would be environmentally friendly.

Jeremy Friedman: There’s a lot of waste involved, so we had a real strict waste management plan. We worked diligently to reclaim or recycle as much of the waste as we could. We actually ended up recycling 72% of our waste. A lot of that is recycling of cardboard which is the third largest waste of new construction; plastics, metals were all recycled, and beverage containers. But then with all the waste wood, we ground it up into mulch and reused it in the beds.

Danny Lipford: And speaking of that, the green features in his home don’t stop at the front door. Everyone plays a part, including the landscaper.

Rick Pierce: Well, a lot of people assume that landscaping, because it’s with plants, means that is naturally green and environmentally friendly, but that’s not true. There’s a lot of plants that people use in their landscape that are very hard to grow here, and they require a lot of work. Pesticides, they require a lot of fertilizer, a lot of care, and water. So what I did here is went for plants that were native to this area, so that they had a natural resistance to disease, to the pests and water requirements.

The patio in the back is a flagstone patio but its set in the permeable base. And what we did there, it’s a natural drainage area for the backyard. And, we had to figure out what to do with the water but still have a nice usable patio. So what we did is we used some reclaimed concrete called R-base which is also environmentally friendly because it’s not going into the landfill. They crush it, we use that as the base below it. And then we set the stone in, and planted mondo grass. And what that area does is it allows the water from the backyard to run into it and percolate through that and down into the soil. It takes any pollutants, any pesticides, fertilizers out and allows the water to go back into the groundwater clean.

The irrigation system is called a SmartLine by a company called Weathermatic. And it is designed to save water and to use water smarter. From the heads the we used to the controller, and it has a weather station. The weather station allows it to, based on your ZIP code and where you live and weather conditions, every day it measures evaporation what they call evaportranspiration, which is the amount of moisture in the air. So it knows what’s going on around your yard.

Danny Lipford: Those water savings are added to the ones already achieved inside by ultra efficient faucets for the sinks and tubs, plus low-flow and dual flush toilets. The overall result is a beautiful efficient home that people really seem to like.

Jeremy Friedman: The response has been overwhelming and a lot of people are interested in what can I do. What from your project can I do in my existing home, which I think is probably as important or more important than how do we green our new projects. But how can we take our existing housing stock and make it more efficient and comfortable and healthy.

Danny Lipford: And that’s exactly what we hope you will do. Make the place that you live a little more green. Whether it’s a new house or an existing one, find something that you can do with the budget and skills that you have to make less of an impact on the planet. Really, it all starts with thinking green.

People who live in glass houses are probably thinking green. Okay I know that’s not exactly how that saying goes but it brings up a great point. Green can be totally free sometimes. During the daylight hours take advantage of the natural light to brighten up the inside of your home. Besides being green, it’s also very healthy for you. Daylight energizes us and affects our mood in a very positive way.

Here’s a tip, add mirrors in strategic locations inside your home to reflect sunlight to other parts of a room. Now, here’s a related way to get natural light into rooms that don’t have windows. Solar tubes are a style of skylight that uses a reflective surface much like a mirror, to bring in the sunshine. With one of these installed, it eliminates the need to turn on the lights during the daylight hours. Which means you’ll be saving money while breathing a little life into the interior of your home.

Most of the time when people look at new homes, they are drawn to the floor plan or its architectural lines, or maybe just the general feel of the place. But, the beauty of this small town home is more than skin deep. Beneath the surface there are systems that make the most of every energy dollar and every drop of water. The materials used are safe and they make wise use of the resources at hand. All in all, a great place to call home.

Well, I hope you enjoyed taking a look at this unique house. Bob and Jeremy did a great job on this thing. You know when you really start finding out more about green building products and practices and techniques, it can be a little bit hard to absorb all of it. And if you’re not able in your building and remodeling project to do everything they did on this house, if you embrace just a few of these ideas, you are making a step in the right direction.

Now, we have a lot more information on our website about this project, as well as other information that will allow you to go green. Hey, I’m Danny Lipford. I hope you enjoyed this week show, we’ll see you next week.

Roy Hyde: Yes, listen. I’m being a television star at the moment. Can you call me back in 5 minutes or let me call you?


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