Low-Cost Green Home

The Low Cost of Green

Nowhere does short-term thinking have a higher cost than when it keeps people from choosing green, environmentally friendly, options. This site is designed to help you choose a low-cost, greener way to build the basic structure of your house.

A house is the biggest investment most families make, but that investment is much more than a down payment and monthly mortgage. Energy bills, maintenance, and repairs can add up quickly, and effects on the health of a home's occupants can be the greatest cost of all. Compared to the initial price of building a conventional house, the building techniques featured here range in initial price from very low to moderately above average, but all of these green alternatives will certainly cost less in the long run. These green building systems are proven to save from 30 to 90 percent on heating and cooling bills; they are much more resistant to termites, other pests, wind damage, fire, earthquakes, rot, and mold; they are healthier for their inhabitants; and they do less harm to the planet.

Flaws in Conventional Construction

Conventional house construction, with stud walls and fiberglass insulation, has several major flaws that even the best builders can't entirely avoid.

One unavoidable problem with insulation in a conventional wall is the thermal bridging that occurs at every stud. While the middle of a 6" fiberglass batt might, in itself, have an R-value of 19, the stud next to it has an R-value of less than 7. Given that stud framing constitutes 15-40% of a wall's volume, studs sharply reduce the whole-wall R-value, and each stud becomes a cold spot that attracts condensation, which can lead to mold and rot.

Conventional walls are also prone to excessive air infiltration and gaps between insulation and framing, both of which get worse as insulation sags and framing shifts, shrinks, settles, and warps. Time also sees fiberglass or cellulose insulation lose effectiveness as it absorbs moisture, and when stud walls become homes for rodents and other creatures, the insulation gets dirtier, wetter, and compressed.

When mold, rodents, and insects invade stud walls, they can bring threats to human health and damage from chewed wires and termite-eaten wood. Fiberglass fibers themselves can also pose threats to health, especially during and just after installation. Damage from biological processes or movement of framing inside the walls isn't confined there either; as stud framing moves, rots, gets eaten, and develops mold, it damages the drywall and paint attached to it on the interior as well as the sheathing, siding, and paint attached to it on the exterior.

Green building alternatives can avoid all of these problems, and we can confirm the value of building a green house by comparing its long-term costs to those of a conventional house.

Cost Comparison

Many of the green building methods on this site require less initial expense than conventional construction, but let's assume that you choose one of the more expensive green options. If you choose a type of green house that costs more to build, and you take out a mortgage, you will have a higher mortgage payment each month. If you choose a conventional house that costs less to build, you will have a higher energy bill each month. Which is better? Consider the following:

  • A mortgage payment will remain constant over the years, but energy prices are likely to rise dramatically as fossil fuels get scarcer and more expensive to extract.
  • In some nations, such as the US, mortgage interest is tax-deductible; energy bills are not.
  • You can save on a mortgage by paying it off early or at least by making bi-weekly instead of monthly payments; no such options exist for energy bills.
  • If you ever decide to sell your house, green features will raise its value, and a green house will have an increasing market advantage as energy prices and environmental concerns inevitably grow in the future.
  • A well-insulated, green structure can be served by a smaller, much less expensive heating and cooling system, and if you incorporate passive solar heating and convective cooling into your design, your heating and cooling system may only be needed as an occasional supplement. Your savings on the initial cost of a heating and cooling system may offset much of any additional cost for a green house structure.
  • Most of the green building options here will require less maintenance and repairs than a conventional house.
  • All of the green houses here are more resistant to fires, winds, and earthquakes than a conventional house, which may save you on insurance and will certainly save you on losses and deductibles when your house survives disasters that others don't.

Most Important Savings

Once you add up energy savings; maintenance and repair savings; possible insurance savings due to better fire, wind, and earthquake safety; and the everyday benefits of a healthier, more comfortable home, the personal advantages of building green become clear. If you then take into account effects on the wider world, building green becomes one of the more important steps you can take to be a good steward of our planet. By conserving energy, you reduce the threats to climate posed by carbon dioxide emissions; the environmental damage from mountaintop-removal coal mining, oil spills, and hydraulic-fracture natural gas drilling; mercury contamination in air and water from coal burning; international conflicts over diminishing energy supplies; and many other negative consequences of wasting energy. Green products are also produced less harmfully, typically last longer, and emit fewer, if any, pollutants while in use.

Each section of this site is designed to give you enough understanding of each building technique to develop a good overview of the range of options. Not every green building method has been included, just those that seem most promising and that have a highly informative site where you can find much more information through the links provided here.

Thank you for your interest in building green.