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What Makes Your Home Sustainable?

Posted on November 20th, by Michael in Remodeling, Sustainable. Comments Off on What Makes Your Home Sustainable?

We’ve all talked about sustainability for the last 20 years or so, but everyone seems to define the term a little bit differently. So let’s try for some clarity.


While by no means official, the EPA has a definition that rang home with me:

“Sustainability is a simple principle. Everything we need for our daily survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which every human being and their surroundings can coexist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”


It’s a high-level definition to be sure, but it reflects our need to make sure we have, and will continue to have, the water, materials and resources to protect human health and the environment around us. Closer to earth, I tend to measure sustainability with one of the many “green” or sustainable building rating systems in the marketplace. (I have the CGP designation — Certified Green Building Professional — of the National Association of Home Builders, so I’m no stranger to sustainability issues.)


To home building professionals, sustainable buildings are designed to be high performance, and through their siting, orientation, design, construction and operation are highly energy efficient, maintain lower operating costs, and are better for our environment in broad and specific terms.


So to combine these two views, I’m going to suggest this definition:

“A sustainable building is a building or living environment that can be maintained and is constructed utilizing sustainable methods that include using resources so that the resources used for construction are not depleted or permanently damaged.” 


Each one of us has our own understanding as to what makes our living environment sustainable. Some people may expand their answers and include items such as building performance, reduced utility costs and the promotion of the health for the occupants, while there are others who feel the definition of a sustainable building should also address accessibility, historic preservation and the future occupants of the building.


Whichever definition you choose, it really boils down to the wise use of our resources and the methods used to create our living and working environments so that they can be sustained over the years.


To put this into practice, I’ve made a number of cost-effective energy-saving retrofits in my own home. Some of these you can easily do yourself, and they are all well worth considering:

  • Replacing conventional thermostat with a new digital model that automatically adjusts settings.
  • Installing flow-restriction aerators on sink faucets.
  • Replacing water-wasting shower heads and toilets with low-flow models.
  • Replacing storage-type water heater with a tankless water heater that generates hot water on demand.
  • I tightened up my home by sealing rim joists and openings between floors, and sealing around HVAC ducts, light fixtures, electrical devices, utility chases, soffits, entry doors, windows, fireplace dampers and the attic access hatch.
  • Adding additional insulation in attic and crawl space, walls and rim joists.
  • Installing an energy-saving heat recovery ventilator that was compatible with my existing HVAC system.
  • Installing an on-demand circulating pump on the water supply lines throughout the house.

The good news is that I’ve enjoyed significant savings on my utility bills over the last few years. Now that’s a definition of sustainability everyone can appreciate.



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