Fresh Air Exchange System Mandan ND
Healthy Home Plan
You want to build a healthy home - but where to start? Should you begin by hiring a builder, choosing materials or configuring an energy system? With so many green options available today, you might want to start with a healthy home plan.
"It really does start with the design," says Christi Graham, founder and president of Healthy Home Plans, a source for healthy and sustainable home plans designed by award-winning architects. "That is, in fact, your opportunity to have the greatest effect and the greenest home."
A healthy home plan will ensure an energy-efficient design and specify the use of such elements as daylighting, passive airflow and fresh-air exchange through the proper placement of windows and doors. It will emphasize the use of eco-friendly materials, without compromising durability, and minimize the use of toxic materials.
Areas that do contain toxic materials, such as the garage, will be separated from the primary living space by a breezeway or tightly sealed off if the garage is adjacent to a living area. Mold and rot will be lessened through proper building techniques and materials.
What you'll wind up with is a home that "nurtures its inhabitants," says Graham. "When you enter a green or healthy home, you can feel it in your skin."
The different aspects of a healthy home plan don't function independently. Instead, all of the green choices and environmental variables - including the structure, building materials, heating and cooling systems, placement of windows and so forth - form a "web" that must be constructed as part of the design.
In a healthy home, that web revolves around - what else? - the sun.
"I like to say that 75 percent of it is pointing the house in the right direction," says award-winning architect David Arkin of Arkin-Tilt Architects, whose home plans, created with Anni Tilt, are offered through Graham's company. "And that's really paying attention to solar orientation - having the majority of your windows facing south, having proper overhangs, having deciduous trees to the west. All of those things are free. You're still going to have windows in the house. It's just a matter of putting them in the right place."
Graham agrees with Arkin's emphasis on the sun, putting daylighting at the top of her personal list of favorite healthy home features. "It contributes to the experience of being in a home so significantly," she says.
Sunlight not only brings cheer into a home but passive solar heat as well. In addition, ultraviolet light "washes" indoor air, reducing mold and dust mites. And, of course, with lots of light in the house, you'll flip light switches on less often.
Once it gets your house pointed in the right direction, a healthy home plan gives you the flexibility to use innovative building materials that might not work with a standard plan. In addition, it will emphasize the use of green materials in its construction and steer you away from building products that may contain toxic substances. Those products can include insulation, particleboards, paints, adhesives, sealants and treated wood.
One aspect of greenbuilding is the use of local materials during construction. For example, when building the original Stone Craftsman Home, a green home inspired by Adirondack camps of the 19th century, architect Matthew Bialecki used local stone for the exterior and locally harvested timber for the frame. Homeowners who want to build a similar home using local materials can follow Bialecki's plan.
When choosing a plan, locale is important. Graham points out the differences between the right kind of plan for a Los Angeles home and one in the woods of Montana. "If you're building in smoggy L.A., you'll potentially want to build a tighter home with more control over the inflow of air and have a filtration system at the in-point," she explains. "If you're in Montana, who cares? Open the windows."
Also in Montana, she says, "You need to make sure the roof [sheds snow easily]. The home should incorporate a lot of passive solar, and probably active solar as well, to reduce energy costs in the long winters."
Most of the healthy home plans focus on such concepts as passive solar design, passive cooling and passive airflow. Passive airflow uses the proper placement of doors and windows to move air through the home, which improves indoor air quality, and reduces mold and spores without the use mechanical systems. With those elements in place, energy efficiency will follow.
HEALTHY HOME COSTS
The up-front cost of a healthy home plan itself should be no more expensive than a conventional home plan - generally from about $500 to about $3,000. Greenbuilding may add 1 to 3 percent to building costs, but that investment will pay off in a home that costs less to maintain and operate than a typical home. The same is true if a renewable energy system is part of your plan. Plus, the resale value of green and healthy homes is estimated to be 15 percent higher than that of conventional homes.
"Those up-front costs will pay back over time, and with today's energy bills, that payback is in 10 to 15 years," Arkin says. "And as energy gets more expensive, those up-front investments are going to make a lot more sense, especially when you figure that after that 10- or 15-year period, your energy is then free."
If you're worried that a healthy home plan will produce a sterile, utilitarian-looking home, stop worrying. "Green can be as stunning as you want it to be," Graham says. "It is not tied to any one particular look or feel - it translates into any style. And that's where there is a lot of fun happening - green as "high design' and "eco-chic.' Or it can be modern and sterile, if you're into that look."
A quick check of some of the healthy home plans available confirms what Graham says. Just about any style is available (see sidebar). Dozens of plans are offered by such architects as Sarah Susanka, Michaela Mahady, Daniel DeBoer and Katherine Hillbrand, as well as Bialecki, and Arkin and Tilt. (For more information or to view photos and details of various plans, visit Healthy Home Plans online at http://www.healthyhomeplans.com or call 800-657-8116.)
The best part is, with a healthy home plan, you can ensure that the home you build is the best it can be, for now and for the future. "The home industry is trying to incorporate green into the mainstream home," Graham says. "There's a recognition within the building industry that within the next five to 10 years, if you're not building green, you won't be building at all."
Tim O'Sullivan is a freelance writer based in Concord, N.H.