Creating an environmentally friendly home or office

Healthier, more livable spaces can be created by improving the home and work environments.

by Lynn M. Froeschle, AlA, copyright 1996

etter building environments offer healthier, more livable spaces that save resources and energy and are easy on the environment. The principals of sustainable architecture emphasize improved indoor air quality, using environmentally friendly building products, recycling, water conservation and ecological construction methods. Energy savings can also be attained by incorporating energy-efficient systems and environmental design features into new or remodeled buildings. Proper resource management can minimize the effect of the built environment on the natural environment.

The following are 20 simple procedures that can be applied to make your home or office a more environmentally friendly place to live and work. By incorporating these environmental features into buildings, we can improve both the built and natural environments, and improve our overall quality of life. By acting locally, we contribute to improving the world environment through sustainable development.

The author is the principal of Lynn Froeschle, AlA, Architects which specializes in sustainable architecture, environmental design, and ecological construction methods. Ms. Froeschle has also received a number of environmental design awards and has authored several published articles on sustainable architecture. For further information on sustainable and environmentally friendly architecture please contact Lynn Froeschle, AlA at (619)571-2858.

In the next few issues, we'll be looking at some of these 20 steps ­ plus a few others ­ in more detail to help you achieve a more sustainable home or office environment.

20 Steps to Better Buildings

  1. Install solar hot water heating where feasible. The sun provides a "free" source of energy which helps to reduce energy usage and costs. Refer to California Solar Energy Industries Association for more information.
  2. Install energy-efficient mechanical heating and air conditioning systems to replace old out-dated systems. This is another method to save on energy consumption and improve your indoor air quality.
    Clean and maintain your mechanical systems. Mold, dust, and other contaminants can collect in your heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) ducts over time. Air-conditioning systems are notorious for developing mold problems. Many systems can be cleaned by HVAC conditioning specialists.
  3. Insulate your building. Insulation in your attic and walls can significantly reduce your energy usage and costs. Try to use insulation with recycled content and minimal chemical emissions. Refer to California Energy Commission Saving Energy Guide or SDG&E Power to Save Guide for more information.
  4. Fix any moisture or leak problems immediately. Mold and mildew are biological indoor air pollutants that can also contribute to sick building syndrome, aggravate allergies, and deteriorate building components.
  5. Conserve water by installing water-saving fixtures. The City and County of San Diego have rebate programs to help you conserve on water consumption by installing these water-saving plumbing fixtures.
  6. Use non-toxic cleaners to clean your house or office. Many of the typical household and office cleaners in use today contain toxic chemicals which can exasperate sick building syndrome and make you sick. Contact the Environmental Health Coalition for more information on healthful building cleaners.
  7. Avoid using pesticides. Most pesticides contain toxic compounds which contribute to sick building syndrome and can also make you sick. Use alternative methods and eliminating the source of the pest problem. Contact the Environmental Health Coalition for alternative methods.
  8. Use natural lighting and ventilation where possible. Appropriate natural lighting and ventilation help create healing environments. This is another way to save on energy costs and enhance your quality of life.
  9. Install energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights. Replace existing single-pane windows with a new more energy-efficient dual glazing window systems to save energy. Install energy-efficient skylights or solar tubes where there is a need for additional daylight. Care must be taken to avoid too much solar heat gain in the summer months.
  10. Seal/caulk gaps with Low-VOC adhesives. Prevent air infiltration by sealing gaps at window frames, cracks at building intersections, and weather stripping at doors leading to lower energy usage and costs.
  11. Xeriscape landscaping. By installing drought tolerant plants that are indigenous to the, area and using drip irrigation, you can save on water consumption and reduce watering costs. Your landscape architect and the San Diego County Water Authority have additional information on xeriscape landscaping.

Avoid using building materials with chemical emissions such as formaldehyde, solvents, and volatile organic compounds (VOC's). These compounds can be found in particle board, paints, vinyl floor and wall coverings, certain types of carpet, and even insulation. Building material chemical emissions contribute to causing Sick Building Syndrome and can make you sick.

Do use building materials with minimal chemical emissions such as ceramic tile, linoleum, formaldehyde-free particle boards, low-VOC paints and sealers, low-VOC adhesives, and non-toxic cleaners. Obtain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and available test data from manufacturers of all building related materials to verify what each product contains prior to using it.

Use products with recycled content. Incorporate building products with recycled content into your next building remodel. Less energy and resources are expended in manufacturing products with recycled content thus helping the natural environment.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Try to reuse and refurbish existing building components before you replace them with new materials. Keep in mind that most construction debris is recyclable. Avoid landfill tipping fees by contacting the City of San Diego Environmental Services or San Diego County for a list of construction demolition and yard waste recyclers.

Minimize use of carpet. Chemically treated carpets, adhesives, and backings can emit numerous chemicals. Also carpets can contribute to indoor air pollution due to collection of dust and other pollutants in the carpet fibers. Where carpet is used, obtain test data prior to purchase and avoid carpets with topical chemical treatments. Consider airing-out the carpet prior to installation and use of a zeolite mineral wash to help absorb odors. Use low-VOC adhesives for installation. Consistent maintenance is also important.

Use energy efficient lighting. Replace your energy consuming traditional incandescent light bulbs with the super energy saving compact fluorescent lights with SDG&E rebates. Plus, they last considerably longer saving you money in the long run. These lights are available at many home improvement outlets.