By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

It is all the rage to talk about “green building” and “sustainable design,” but what do these buzz words really mean and what difference does it make to you?

They essentially mean the same thing: design and construction that are sensitive to the environment today and in the future. Sensitivities range from energy efficiency to recycled materials to land-use planning to indoor air quality. From the dramatic to the quite simple, there are several ways individual homeowners can take part in the green building movement.

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Eco-Terr Tile, which can be used as flooring or countertops, is an example of an eco-friendly product you can use in your home.

At the far end of the spectrum, you can build a home with special materials and techniques, such as straw-bale construction. You can choose to use only renewable resources and generate your own power with such methods as photovoltaic panels or ground-source heat pumps. Enough homes have been built with methods like these that they are no longer considered experimental; however, they are still a very small percentage of our nation’s housing stock.

More mainstream approaches include using environmentally responsible building materials and products wherever possible, taking advantage of passive solar energy, maximizing natural daylight and collecting rainwater for use in your yard.

Sustainable products generally use raw materials that are rapidly renewable. For instance, bamboo grows very fast as opposed to oak trees. Cork and linoleum are more easily renewed than travertine marble or slate. Wheatboard cabinets with a thin wood veneer have less environmental toll than solid maple cabinets. Remember, the more locally manufactured products you choose, the less energy will be consumed in transportation.

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Eco-Terr Tile is 70 percent post-consumer waste (glass) and 10 percent post-industrial waste (granite and marble dust). The remaining 20 percent is standard Portland cement.

In residential remodeling, our clients are obviously more limited in their options of construction methods and materials than those building a new home from scratch. It is important to note, however, that the act of remodeling is itself actually one of the highest forms of recycling possible in the construction industry.

There are many resources to get more information about sustainable design and building.

Locally, there is a store called The Green Building Center. The proprietor, Ashley Patterson, is well-versed in environmental issues and locally available products. The Green Building Center is also sponsoring a residential green-building home tour in September for those who would like to see actual examples of sustainable design and construction.

There are also many publications and Web sites to help you learn more. “Green Building Products: The GreenSpec Guide to Residential Building Materials” is a catalog of products and is available at The Green Building Center. You can also subscribe to Environment Building News, available through

Finally, as our favorite architect, Sarah Susanka, reminds us, one of the very first steps in building green is building the right size for the way you live. By building “not so big,” you inherently save on natural resources and leave a smaller footprint on the earth. Any effort you make, large or small, can help your project become more friendly to the environment that we all share and will contribute to the legacy we will leave for our children. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at as*@re*******************.com.

Consider ‘green’ building ideas