Green Houses - or Just Colorful?

By: Brian Talley

Just as we were fooled by the terms 'lite' and 'low-cal', so we are now beginning to get caught out with the terms 'green' and 'environmentally friendly'. In the same way that we were willing to pay more for low fat and low calorie products, we will also pay more for green products.

Green has even entered the realty market, and green choices are optional in some newly built homes. But how can we protect ourselves from what is truly green and what is erroneously called green?

As consumers, we need to know how to define these popular terms that are pushing our prices up. We need to know that we are getting value, and doing something ethical, for our money.

We can be fooled by such terms as biodegradable, natural, non-toxic and organic. According to the web site called the green guide.com, those words have no value in terms of lawful support. They are not defined by a governing body and have no uniformly required standard.

Housing is one of the newer areas where the terms 'green' and 'sustainable living' are bandied around. In housing, some of the recommended labels include Greenseal, LEED Certification for Homes, and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Also, the labels stating 'PVC Free' and 'Low or No VOC' are recognized as reliable.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs, but take care when you see this mark of approval, as it comes in four different levels. The lowest level is simply called 'certified'. The levels proceed upwards from silver, through gold to platinum.

Generally speaking, when builders take sustainable living into account they examine six different performance areas. LEED uses these guidelines to grade their certification.

One of the guidelines is sustainable sites, which includes availability of public transportation plus effects like storm water run-off. Water efficiency is a different point and it includes landscaping, use of non potable water and trying to incorporate low use water fixtures.

Energy and atmosphere is considered when building homes. The possibility of renewable energy sources is investigated, such as wind power and solar energy. Green Power may be accessible from the local energy company; also low wattage bulbs will be in use.

Indoor air will be protected by avoidance of toxic emissions from carpets, paint and sealants. Thermal comfort will ensure that some windows are able to be opened and levels of daylight will be adequate.

Materials and resources cover quite an impressive amount of points. Regional materials are recommended and rapidly renewable resources are specified. Also listed are recycled and reused building materials.

The points that are awarded for each section will dictate the LEED certification (up to platinum) of the building. Greenseal, Rainforest Alliance Rediscovered Wood and USDA Organic provide independent third party verification. These labels at least, have some proof of authenticity from green guide.com.

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