Well, according to the Department of Energy, buildings currently consume 41 percent of all energy in the United States. Your home also has a significant impact on your family and their well-being. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that poor indoor air quality contributes to thousands of deaths from cancer each year and hundreds of thousands of respiratory health problems annually. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Healthy Homes says that specific features that constitute healthy housing include structural and safety aspects of the home, quality of indoor air and water and the presence or absence of chemicals.
Many Atlanta-area companies in the home building industry have committed to making the homes they build a better, healthier place to live, as well as having a smaller footprint on the Earth. Two Atlanta-based non-profits, the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association (GAHBA) and Southface, created the EarthCraft House program to address the negative impacts the industry was having on the environment. Builders such as Brock Built, Epic Development, Fortress Construction and Thrive Homes, the latest EarthCraft OBIE winner, have become EarthCraft Certified and are now part of one of the first and most comprehensive sustainable construction certification programs in the country.
EarthCraft, designed to guide single-family home builders seeking to provide durable, healthy, resource-efficient high-performance homes specifically in the southeastern United States, has expanded from just residential construction to include multifamily, community, renovation and light commercial sustainable construction certification programs. EarthCraft builders have certified more than 25,000 homes, which on average consume 27 percent less energy than a standard home.
In addition to EarchCraft, builders are committed to being green in other ways. For instance, Piedmont Residential is committed to keeping harmful pest control chemicals out of its homes. Every new home comes with a built-in pest control system and termite in-ground baiting system. These products help to reduce the exposure to chemicals because the routine treatments are contained inside the wall voids, away from family members and pets. Traditional termite treatments require hundreds of gallons of chemicals on new construction homes, but the in-ground baiting system means no liquid chemicals are used under the slab and around the foundation. These systems also require less pest control material because the treatments are better targeted and more effective. Together, all of these improvements used by Piedmont allow for better air quality inside homes.
Atlanta new home builder Brock Built is known for its Greensmart® program and their dedication to environmental cognizance and preservation. This program effectively saves homeowners energy and money over the lifetime of their home. The comprehensive program consists of multiple components developed in order to preserve both the environment and the wallet of its customers. The many facets of the Greensmart® program include:
- Radiant Barrier Roofing, a material that blocks out 97 percent of all radiant heat going into the attic, keeps homes naturally cooler. The use of this material has been proven to reduce homeowners’ monthly air conditioning costs by up to 17 percent.
- All homes are entirely covered in house wrap, a protective material that prevents air and water infiltration in a home’s structure. The wrap seals the house yet allows it to breathe to avoid condensation buildup.
- All openings between windows, door assemblies, jambs and framing must have a spray foam sealant applied, as well as tape and silicon applied around all windows in order to further seal them. Brock Built uses low emissivity glass, which is a coated glass product that reflects heat and lowers the energy costs by preventing sunlight from coming into and heating up homes.
- Brock Built’s program utilizes a spray-on fiberglass insulation system for thermal and sound control. When this system is sprayed into a wall cavity, it fills around pipes, wires, electrical outlets and other objects, virtually eliminating gaps and voids. This significantly reduces air infiltration and the increased density of fiberglass provides excellent noise control.
- The use of specific Seer air conditioning units saves homeowners hundreds of dollars annually when compared to standard Seer air conditioning units, and high-efficiency gas furnaces are used that pay for themselves with the savings they offer. These fixtures provide a more comfortable temperature and the quietest noise level available. Digital programmable thermostats are installed that are proven to cut utility bills up to 20 percent. In addition, all of the HVAC systems include a fresh air exchanger to reduce moisture, pollutants and stale air inside the home with fresh air from outside.
- At least 50 percent of all bulbs within each home must be high-efficiency bulbs that on average use 75 percent less energy than standard bulbs. This saves about $40 in electricity costs over the lifetime of one bulb and produces about 75 percent less heat.
- Brock Built uses all ENERGY STAR appliances, including dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines. ENERGY STAR dishwashers are roughly 41 percent more efficient than the standard dishwasher, saving homeowners an average of $120 over its lifetime. Refrigerators are 20 to 30 percent more energy-efficient, and ENERGY STAR washing machines usually use 37 percent less energy and more than 50 percent less water, despite having a larger load capacity.
Another company doing its part is Construction Resources, the one-stop shop for the kitchen and bath needs of Atlanta’s builders and remodelers, is the largest supplier of Cambria Natural Quartz Surfaces™ in the Southeast. Cambria understands and emphasizes the importance of environmental responsibility, both in their product offerings and business practices, which is why they choose to be green. Cambria uses natural materials, and their countertops are 93 percent natural quartz. They also recycle and recover 98 percent of the water used in the polishing process through a series of unique settling and filtering techniques. Cambria Natural Quartz Surfaces™ also offer distinct product advantages in the areas of environmental health and safety. They are GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified® by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) under the GREENGUARD Standard for Low Emitting Products, which means that the use of Cambria contributes one point in any LEED-certified building project in the Indoor Environmental Quality category. In addition, Cambria has received NSF International Certification, meaning that their countertops are non-porous and do not allow liquids to penetrate, thereby significantly reducing the risk for stains and bacteria growth. Cambria Natural Quartz Surfaces™ have been tested for radon and radioactivity emissions, and it was found that they are radon free and do not emit radioactivity, gas, harmful VOCs or harmful chemicals into the air.
As the Atlanta real estate market continues to rebound, there will be new opportunities to incorporate sustainable and healthy construction into everyday practices for industry professionals. With home buyers increasingly demanding more energy-efficient homes, it is becoming even more necessary for home builders to integrate green building programs and continue to find ways to make their homes more cost-efficient and earth-friendly.