How to Build an Eco House

Building an eco-house does not mean to renounce comfort or to take a step back in the past. A house made with respect for the environment means health, wellbeing, financial independence and durability. A natural home means protecting nature, health and future.

Advantages of eco houses

Currently, more and more people are looking to move in a home that is friendly with the environment, because of the obvious advantages compared with classical houses. An eco-house is partially or integrally made from recyclable or natural materials, from the structure to walls and finishing. Even since the project phase, you have to consider the land type where you are building, the position of the sun throughout the day or the wind direction.

The most common material used is wood, but just because you are building a wooden house does not mean you are building an eco-home. In the last centuries, people preferred the ‘modern materials’ such as concrete, glass and iron. In the past years, building concepts tend to go back to origins, people preferring original and energy-efficient houses. Moreover, these are sometimes more resistant than traditional buildings.

Principles to consider when building an eco-house

An eco-house should improve the quality of interior air by its design. It is an important aspect, as it comes with effects on our health and mood. A green home must ensure a humidity of 30%-50% throughout the year, enough for the air not to feel dry, but also to avoid extreme humidity that helps the creation of molds.

Materials for building can even be found around the house. It is possible to use straws, bamboo or special type of argyle bricks, reducing the costs. As we are talking about natural materials, you can be sure you are preserving the health of everyone living in the house.

  1. Efficiency and ergonomic

The walls made of natural materials come with a high coefficient of thermal insulation. Such a house is warm during the winter and cold during the summer. Temperature is constant for a longer period, meaning you can save up to 75% of the costs to heat or cool the house.

  1. Resistant

Natural materials, contrary to the beliefs of some ‘specialists’, are more resistant to earthquakes and fire. The majority of materials used are flexible, or they simply don’t burn. If you are able to choose an optimal combination of such materials (like walls made of straws and covered with argyle), we can have a house resistant to all the common known disasters and accidents.

  1. Eco-friendly appliances

A green house isn’t complete without putting thought into the home and kitchen appliances that it will house. What’s the point in building a eco-friendly home and then using energy inefficient appliances or appliances that have a high carbon footprint? This footprint could be during use or in the manufacturing process. Carefully review energy ratings and manuals to ensure you buy only certified low energy use appliances like microwaves, fridge, etc.

  1. Cheap

As a green house is made of durable materials, the costs of building are covered in the long term. If we are able to find construction materials in nature, those will be cheaper and easier to build. Using solar or wind energy will save more money on the long term. Plus, considering the interest of more and more families for these types of constructions, it will be a lot easier to sell your home for a good price after a while.



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Rehabbed Building Gets “Green” Doors

The Univ. of Washington School of Medicine’s medical research and development facility is housed in a former utility building that was gutted and remodeled with wood-veneer doors from VT Industries.


Approximately 225 five-ply, wood-veneer doors from VT Industries were used in the renovation of the utility building that houses the Univ. of Washington School of Medicine’s new medical research and development facility.

When the Univ. of Washington (U of W) School of Medicine, Seattle, needed an off-campus medical research and development facility, it chose to renovate the former Washington Natural Gas utility building, which was known by those in the area as “The Blue Flame Building.”

The U of W’s School of Medicine, which is the only medical school within a five-state region and one of the country’s leading research and training institutions, was designed to be environmentally sound. Although the utility building’s shell remained in place, the building was gutted and renovated from the ground up. Builders Hardware & Supply Co., Seattle, became involved with this project because the architect and contractor had worked with Holstein, IA-based VT Industries Inc.’s area sales representative on previous projects.

While Doug Gerbing at Builders Hardware worked on the hardware specifications, VT’s Norm Jost worked with the medical research and development facility on its wood-door specifications. Martha Tackett, contract consultant, Builders Hardware, and VT Industries also worked together with Mike Matter, project manager, Turner Construction, Seattle, on the project. Builders Hardware provided the hardware, architectural wood doors, hollow metal doors, and frames for the entire project. The specification was written around the university’s desire to have an environmentally friendly project.

The majority of the wood doors throughout the project were non-rated and 20-min. units made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) SmartWood certified stave core lumber. SmartWood is a sustainable forestry program administered by the Rainforest Alliance, New York, an international conservation organization. The project also consisted of 60- and 90-min. singles and pairs, depending on their exact application within the building. “With this project, the university was very willing to be environmentally friendly with what they chose for the project,” Tackett reported. “It has never actually gone for LEED certification and, because of the building type, we probably would not have quite gotten there. Instead, it as all about using strong principles and doing what everyone thought was the right thing,” Matter said.

All of the approximately 225 doors used in the project are five-ply, wood-veneer construction. For the building’s common areas, the veneer is plain sliced American Cherry with a clear factory finish. The majority of doors are installed in laboratory areas and are plain sliced White Maple veneer with a custom factory finish.

“My role as the wood door consultant was to estimate, detail, and manage the wood door part of the project,” Tackett explained. The project involved several architectural changes, finish, and size approvals that needed to be met.…

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School Goes “Green,” Recycles Runoff Water

In an effort to provide a good example for students and the community, Londonberry School installed a reflective, energy-efficient roof on its new building.


The Londonderry School in Harrisburg, PA, recently opened the doors to a new facility and ushered in a new era of environmentally friendly considerations in school design. Established in 1971, the school occupied leased space for classes extending from preschool through eighth grade. As the population grew and classroom space became tighter, school board members and staff began plans to construct a new building.

The white, 60-mil membrane that was installed over 8,555 sq. ft. of the Londonderry School’s roof provides exterior solar and heat reflection, which helps reduce HVAC energy consumption and water collection for sanitary facilities.

Realizing that construction of a new facility would provide an opportunity to integrate environmental consciousness and affordability in design, school officials systematically studied available options. The result, according to school officials, was “a model to challenge and revolutionize traditional thinking in school construction.” After careful analysis, construction materials and methods were selected to help reduce operating costs for energy consumption.

This innovative approach qualified the school as a “green” building with the U.S. Green Building Council, in Washington, and secured a silver rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. LEED is a national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings, including educational facilities.

One of the components of this green building effort was the use of Carlisle, PA-based Carlisle SynTec Inc.’s Sure-Weld TPO mechanically fastened roofing system. The white, 60-mil membrane was installed over 8,555 sq. ft. of the building’s roof, offering Londonderry School a twofold benefit: exterior solar and heat reflection, which helps reduce HVAC energy consumption, and water collection for sanitary facilities. Rainwater from the sloped roof is collected in a cistern and used to flush toilets in the school’s lavatories and to provide water for the heating system. The roof was installed by Progressive Services, Inc., Dover, PA, a Carlisle-authorized applicator.

The first step of the roofing installation was to secure polyisocyanurate insulation to the deck using fasteners and plates. Once in place, the reinforced membrane was attached to the insulation using the company’s fasteners with piranha plates and then heat welded along the seams. TPO accessories and flashings were installed to complete the roofing portion of the project.

Larry Toot, president of Progressive Services, was pleased with the opportunity to work on the school project. “The Londonderry School was the first LEED project we were involved in. Since the entire program was designed around the “green building” concept, we were able to take advantage of the company’s total roof system package that meets Energy Star guidelines and includes membrane and insulation, as well as a total system warranty,” he said.

In addition to the white TPO membrane and its unique application for recycling runoff water, the building’s insulation values are very high, offering additional energy-saving benefits to the school. Toot added, “We used two layers of four-inch polyiso, throughout. And, since everything is manufactured by one company, I am only dealing with one representative. Also, the fifteen-year total system warranty gives everyone peace of mind.”

Designed by the architectural firm of Murray Associates, Inc., Harrisburg, PA, and erected under the general supervision of the contracting firm of A.P. Williams, Inc., also of Harrisburg, PA, the Londonderry School was given a $500,000 loan from the Sustainable Energy Fund. That led an area bank to finance the remainder of the $3-million project.
The masonry exterior, accented by clerestory windows and large amounts of energy-efficient glazing throughout, provides a balance to the wooded pastoral setting just minutes from Pennsylvania’s state capital. With a “green” building; a silver rating; and a white, Energy Star roof, Londonderry School and Carlisle set a good example of how environmentally friendly products can be integrated into design plans to reduce energy consumption and costs.…

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Green Travels Well

Hotel owners have been environmental advocates for 20 years.


Ken Brenden


If you travel and stay in a hotel, you have certainly noticed those information cards in guestrooms urging reuse of towels and linens, signs requesting modest thermostat adjustments, compact-fluorescent light bulbs, and low-flow shower heads. These items are all part of the growing movement in the lodging industry toward operational sustainability, which focuses on improvements in waste management, energy efficiency, and water conservation.

The movement is not new. Fairmont Hotels’ Green Partnership program traces its commitment to sustainability as far back as 1990. The Green Hotel Association (GHA), Houston, begun in 1993, today publishes a Catalog of Environmental Products for the Lodging Industry and Guidelines and Ideas, suggesting green operating techniques.

Environmental practices at the Bellagio hotel, Las Vegas, include LED bulbs in slot machines, motion sensors in office areas, a towel and bed-linen reuse program, and a water-treatment system that saves millions of gallons of water annually. The hotel has reduced electricity consumption by millions of kWh through ongoing HVAC-efficiency projects.

The green momentum has recently accelerated. More industry-oriented advocacy groups, information clearinghouses, and specialized expositions have been cropping up. State and local organizations promote green lodging. In Chicago, the Green Hotels Initiative challenges hotels to obtain Green Seal certification. The city leads the country with the most Green Seal-certified hotels.

While operational steps (such as postponing towel replacements) can save 5% on utility costs, according to the GHA, and serve an educational purpose, the biggest potential lies in working sustainability into renovation plans and ground-up designs for new construction. Energy conservation clearly represents the lowest-hanging fruit for any sustainability initiative. According to California’s Green Lodging Program, the hospitality industry spends $3.7 billion a year on energy, with electricity accounting for 60% to 70% of the utility costs of a typical hotel.

Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and adding motion and occupancy sensors to reduce power use helps reduce energy use. Installing energy-efficient fenestration can pay the largest single dividend.

Upfront costs and payback expectations

The first question is always how much sustainable construction adds to the project budget. Many developers estimate 10% to 20%. Actually, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building costs an average of 2.5% more upfront than traditional construction, according to a 2008 study sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Washington. And the cost is coming down.

As USGBC notes, sooner or later all properties will be sold, and any green property will demand a higher price because of its enhanced value due to lower utility bills/sq. ft. Even commercial insurers are recognizing the trend and introducing special products for green projects. Premium credits range from 5% to 10% in recognition of certain lower risks for green buildings.

Renovation and new construction often prove to be less expensive than anticipated, and promise long-term savings and improved marketing opportunities. The key is proper cost-benefit analysis that compares the initial cost to the lifecycle cost, taking into account the length of service life, energy savings, and upkeep.

New construction and retrofits

The nation’s first LEED Platinum hotel is the Proximity Hotel, in Greensboro, NC. The eight-story, 147-room, 118,000-sq.-ft. boutique hotel features large, wide windows situated in walls comprised of pre-cast concrete sandwich panels with a 3 1/2-in. foam core. The eight-story, 147-room, 118,000-sq.-ft. boutique hotel features large, wide windows situated in walls comprised of pre-cast concrete sandwich panels with a 3 1/2-in. foam core. Each faade has rows of 50-sq.-ft. windows with perpendicular mullions, that ensure 97% of the hotel and restaurant is daylighted. In addition, natural light reduces energy demand by reducing dependency on electric lighting as well as the heat load that electric lighting places on the air- conditioning system.

To compensate for solar heat gain, high-efficiency insulating low-e glass was used. The Proximity’s green features added about 6% to the project’s $28-million budget. Energy efficiency and reduced water consumption are resulting in savings of $140,000/yr.

A recent Holiday Inn renovation included retrofitting windows in 218 guest rooms and several common areas. All windows were replaced with new units constructed of a vinyl curtain-wall system and low-e glass. The new units have a U-factor of 0.29, …

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