Office of Sustainability
What can you do?

Whether your home or business is new construction or an existing building, there are many steps you can take to make it a greener building.

Factors to consider

  • Location - The most environmentally-friendly building sites for new construction are those in existing neighborhoods or on re-developed land, called in-fill sites, rather than on previously undeveloped land, called green fields.
  • Orientation - New construction should be oriented on the site in a way that brings in natural daylight and takes advantage of prevailing breezes.
  • Building Materials - A green building should incorporate healthy, non-toxic materials like low and zero volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and sealants. Use locally sourced, rapidly renewable and/or Forest Stewardship Council certified wood for wood features. Also, use as much salvaged, recycled and reclaimed materials as you can. In the Pittsburgh area, Construction Junction is a great place to find salvaged building materials. You and your contractor might also want to consult the Green Building Alliance's Green Building Product Initiative for advice on local green building products.
  • Roof - A light-colored, heat reflecting or green (landscaped with plants or grass) roof helps to reduce heat absorption, reducing cooling costs and energy use.
  • Building Envelope and Insulation - The term "R-value" refers to the rating of the insulation. A higher rating means it does a better job of insulating. Make sure that you follow the Department of Energy's R-Value Recommendations for new buildings and renovations to choose the appropriate R-value for the job. Use weather stripping and caulk to plug leaks around windows and doors. Also, adding insulation in your attic and wall cavities can greatly increase a home's performance.
  • Energy Efficiency - Use energy-efficient, such as Energy Star rated lighting, heating, cooling and water-heating systems.
  • Water Use - Use water-efficient kitchen and bathroom fixtures.
  • Landscaping- Use drought-tolerant, local plant species, and avoid planting a lawn that needs to be watered and mowed regularly. Also, using large canopy trees, shrubs and bushes to shade exterior walls, the driveway and patios will minimize heat islands.
  • Make use of renewable energy when possible- Consider buying renewable energy through your utility company or installing a renewable energy system at your site. To find financial incentives for renewable energy available in your state, visit DSIRE.
  • Plan for recycling - Plan your building so recycling and composting spaces are already integrated.
Home - New Construction

There are many aspects of a new home that impact the environment.

Learn more

  • Size and Location - The larger the home, the more lighting, heating, and air conditioning are needed so choose a smaller size when you can. New homes and buildings should not be built on environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands, endangered species habitat, or farmland. The most environmentally-friendly building sites are those in existing neighborhoods or on re-developed land, called in-fill sites, rather than on previously undeveloped land, called green fields. Look for property in areas of compact development with housing density of at least six units per acre. Also, try to locate your house within easy walking distance of public transportation, parks, schools, and stores.
  • Building Envelope and Insulation - Use non-toxic, high R-value insulation made from materials like soybean, cotton, or cellulose (newspaper) in your home's walls and roof. The term "R-value" refers to the rating of the insulation. A higher rating means it does a better job of insulating. Make sure that you follow the Department of Energy's R-Value Recommendations for new buildings and renovations to choose the appropriate R-value for the job. Also, buy exterior doors and windows with Energy Star ratings to avoid heat loss in the winter and cool air loss in the summer. These investments will pay you back year after year in energy bill savings!
  • Energy Efficiency - Use energy-efficient lighting, heating, cooling, and water-heating systems. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) and light emitting diodes (LED) have been proven to use only fractions of the energy used by traditional incandescent bulbs, and pay for their larger up-front costs in energy savings relatively quickly. Buying only appliances with Energy Star ratings can also greatly increase the efficiency of your largest energy users (example: water heaters, refrigerators, furnaces, air conditioners, etc.).
  • Use water-efficient kitchen and bathroom fixtures - Installing aerating showerheads and faucets can reduce your water use by 25-60% and lead to savings on your water, wastewater, and gas or electric (for heating the water) bills. Install a rainwater harvesting system to be used for lawn irrigation. Using this harvested water can reduce your water and sewer bills (these are calculated by how much water you use, not how much water goes down your drain), and help to reduce flooding and sewage overflow.
  • Heating and Cooling System - The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning should properly filter all incoming air, and vent stale air outside to ensure indoor air quality. Failure to do so can lead to numerous health and safety issues including respiratory problems.
  • Landscaping - Use drought-tolerant, local plant species, and avoid planting a lawn that needs to be watered and mowed regularly. Also, using large canopy trees, shrubs, and bushes to shade exterior walls, the driveway, and patios will minimize heat islands.
  • Orientation of home - It should be oriented on the site in a way that brings in natural daylight and takes advantage of prevailing breezes. Windows and skylights should be strategically placed to allow light in and reduce lighting loads. Place shading devices (trees, canopies, sunshades) on the southern and western exterior to block hot summer sun, and use dual-glazed windows to reduce heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter. Make sure that your roof is light-colored, heat reflecting or green (landscaped with plants or grass) to reduce heat absorption.
  • Durability - Durability is one of the greenest aspects of a home or building. A home with a long life means that it will not have to be repaired or rebuilt.
  • Building Materials - A green home should incorporate healthy, non-toxic building materials like low and zero volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and sealants. Use locally sourced, rapidly renewable and/or Forest Stewardship Council certified wood for wood features. Also, use as much salvaged, recycled and reclaimed materials as you can. In the Pittsburgh area, Construction Junction is a great place to find salvaged building materials. You and your contractor might also want to consult the Green Building Alliance's Green Building Product Initiative for advice on local green building products.
  • Make use of renewable energy when possible - Inquire with Duquesne Light about buying renewable energy through its Electric Choice Program. Doing so can greatly reduce your environmental footprint. Also, consider installing a renewable energy system at your home, such as solar (photovoltaic or water heating), wind, or geothermal. To find financial incentives for renewable energy available in your state, visit DSIRE.
  • Plan for recycling and nature - Plan your home so recycling and composting spaces are already integrated, and, when possible, make sure to include outdoor living space.
Home - Existing

The greenest house is the house already built, meaning it is much more environmentally friendly to buy an already existing home than to build a new one.

Learn more

  • Have a home energy audit done. Audits can help identify problems in your home's energy systems, insulation, and building envelope. They can also help to measure your home's improved performance once the necessary retrofits are performed.
  • Plug air leaks and improve your building envelope. Common leaks occur around windows and doors. Use weather stripping and caulk to plug these areas. Also, adding insulation in your attic and wall cavities can greatly increase a home's performance.
  • Program your thermostat. Doing so allows you to reduce energy use when it is unneeded (at night or when nobody is home). Keeping the thermostat set at 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 62 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter will greatly reduce heating and cooling costs.
  • Tune up your heating and cooling system(s) When replacing furnaces and air conditioners, be sure to purchase more energy efficient models, such as those certified by Energy Star. Perform regular maintenance, such as cleaning and replacing furnace air filters during heating season on a monthly basis. Also, have a check up of your HVAC duct system done to check for leaks.
  • Install high efficiency water fixtures. Using less water not only saves a valuable resource, but allows you to reduce expenses twofold in your water and sewer bills. Examples include installing low-flow faucets and showers, aerators, and water-conserving toilets. You can also choose models of appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers that use less water than conventional models.
  • Replace or cover off-gassing materials. Some products like paints, adhesives, and cleaning products can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are compounds that have a high enough vapor pressure under normal circumstances to vaporize and enter the atmosphere, reducing indoor air quality and causing serious human health impacts. Try to purchase low or no-VOC products.
  • Make use of renewable energy. Call your utility provider to see if it offers energy from renewable sources. Consider installing a renewable energy system at your home, such as solar (photovoltaic or water heating), wind, or geothermal. To find financial incentives for renewable energy available in your state, visit DSIRE.
  • Install a rain harvest system. Instead of allowing the valuable water resource that hits your roof and driveway to run off in to the sewer system, install rain barrels or a cistern to save the water for use on your lawn or garden.
  • Plant native trees and plants for shade and wind blocks. This can greatly reduce heating and cooling needs by reducing sun in the summer and wind intensity in the winter.
Business

Businesses are usually much more energy and water intensive than homes. Thus, making changes at a business can save even more energy, water, and natural resources, while at the same time saving the business money!

Learn more

  • Have an energy audit done. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your building allows you to address them appropriately.
  • Consider LEED Certification for new and existing buildings. LEED buildings are verified to have lower energy and water use, less environmental impacts, and lower absentee rates. They illustrate an organization's commitment to environmental and employee health. There are even many grant opportunities available through the Federal and State government for businesses to improve their environmental performance. DSIRE offers a full list of the programs that are offered.
  • Install a green roof. Green roofs have many benefits, including: protection of the roof membrane and a longer life time, large amounts of savings in heating and cooling costs, sound insulation, increased gardening space, rainwater absorption, and increased habitat for local wildlife.
  • Include sustainability upgrades in your marketing budget. Depending on the industry, the environmental improvements that a business makes can be used to attract environmentally-minded customers, while lowering energy and water costs and environmental risk.
  • Follow the home tips above for your building(s).

 

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