Due in part to recent television shows related to the trend, tiny homes are gaining visibility as a concept as well as traction in the marketplace. Although formal definitions don't exist, tiny homes are typically spaces of 100–500 square feet. They appeal to buyers who want to downsize, to minimize their environmental footprint or to spend more on travel or other lifestyle aspects instead of a large mortgage. 

Extra small, extra green

Tiny homes are naturally greener because of their size. They consume far fewer resources in their initial construction, and the environmental cost of living in a tiny home is correspondingly smaller—for example, the average tiny home uses only six light bulbs, whereas the average regular home uses 45, and heating and cooling consumption is a fraction of the typical load for an American home.

Environmentally sound elements of most regular-sized green homes can be built into your custom tiny home, limited only by your imagination and budget, but if you prefer a prefab home, there are models available with green features. As a recent article on TakePart shared, companies such as zeroHouse and EcoCapsule specialize in self-supporting structures that employ solar or wind power and rainwater-collection tanks.

Tiny homes with solar panels. Photo by Guillaume Dutilh @ Tiny House Giant Journey

Location matters

A challenge with going tiny is that the legal definition of such structures can be blurry. Building codes and zoning laws vary from state to state, so be sure to learn the definitions in your area for what constitutes a house or an RV and how to be in compliance with building, zoning and tax requirements. Washington, D.C., for example, recently loosened restrictions on what it terms "accessory dwelling units" on the properties of larger homes. California is currently the leader in friendliness to tiny house living, based on a recent ranking.

Cities are also looking into the feasibility of tiny homes in providing low-impact, affordable housing for all residents and combating homelessness. Fab City, a temporary green home installation in Amsterdam, focuses on moveable and energy-efficient units. In Austin, Texas, Community First has built a tiny-house village that provides a home for 250 of the city's chronically homeless.

It's possible that we're just at the beginning of a trend that, beyond its "cute" factor, has real potential for our increasingly crowded world. Tiny homes make sense ecologically, socially and financially. Maybe it's an option that could work for you.

Learn more

Freddie Mac announced yesterday their Multifamily Green Advantage program, a suite of offerings rewarding borrowers who improve their properties to save energy and water with discounted loan pricing. A major component of Green Advantage recognizes green-certified properties, such as LEED®, which makes them eligible for discounted loan pricing.

Tipping the scales for financing upgrades to multifamily housing toward sustainability, this new program from Freddie Mac has the potential to unleash large amounts of capital for green building improvements. This is very good news for green building.

Property owners who commit to reduce energy and water consumption by at least 15 percent can choose Green Up or Green Up Plus. In order to be eligible for better pricing, borrowers will need to complete a Green Assessment (a property analysis to identify energy and water savings opportunities). Properties that complete a Green Assessment are also eligible for 50–75 percent underwriting of projected energy savings.

Green Advantage builds on Freddie Mac’s already successful Green Rebate program. The Green Rebate program provides a reimbursement of up to $5,000 for new property loan borrowers who report an Energy Star Score. An Energy Star Score lets borrowers know how their multifamily property performs compared to similar properties throughout the U.S.  By tracking energy consumption, owners are able to identify and remediate energy weak points, enhancing affordability for tenants.

"Green Advantage is designed to give our industry a better way to make America's rental housing more resource-efficient," said David Leopold, vice president of multifamily affordable housing production at Freddie Mac. "One important reason why we developed Green Advantage is to give the multifamily industry a better way to help hard-working households manage their rent and utility costs."

"Freddie Mac Multifamily designed Green Advantage to help borrowers who see value in energy efficiency for their tenants, communities, businesses and the environment," said Peter Giles, vice president of multifamily production and sales at Freddie Mac. "By reducing project operating costs, Freddie Mac's Green Advantage can help borrowers increase a property's profitability, market value and appeal to tenants."

Congress established Freddie Mac in 1970 to provide liquidity, stability and affordability to the nation's residential mortgage markets by providing significant mortgage capital to lenders. Freddie Mac supports approximately one in four home borrowers and is one of the largest sources of financing for multifamily housing.

LEED buildings have been shown to have lower monthly energy and water costs, leaving more disposable income for families and creating healthier and more comfortable indoor environments for occupants. In a study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, LEED buildings were estimated to consume 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water and to have 19 percent lower maintenance costs, 27 percent higher occupant satisfaction and 34 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Learn more about Freddie Mac’s Multifamily Green Advantage

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

  • This beginner's guide to renewable energy by Adam Kirk covers five types of renewable energy and how to determine which choices will be right for your home: solar cells, solar heating, wind power, geothermal heating and biomass heating.
  • Reynard Loki's recent article on Alternet reviews the numbers on how much waste Americans really produce: over four pounds of trash a day per person. Take a look at the overall and state-by-state details, and scroll down for tips on how to reduce your waste generation.

Graphic by Save on Energy

More tips about reducing your impact

Our modern appliances use a lot of energy, and washing machines and dryers are among the biggest culprits. But there are also plenty of ways to minimize that energy drain by using more efficient appliances, running them less often and making other lifestyle tweaks.

Install energy-efficient appliances

Getting an Energy Star washing machine can save not only energy, but water—up to 3,000 gallons a year, according to the organization. The machine design employs sensors and spray action to avoid filling the tub with water every time, regardless of load size.

Similarly, an Energy Star dryer uses sensors to shut off automatically when clothes are dry. If you use a clothes dryer, make sure you clean the lint filter after every load, and separate the heavy items, such as towels or blankets, from lighter ones to enhance the drying efficiency. You can also choose to run any dryer on a low-heat setting.

Do laundry less frequently

If you don't have an energy-efficient washer, plan your laundry days so that you can throw in enough clothes to fill the machine each time. This will prevent water waste. Plus, many clothes, such as blue jeans or sweaters, don't need to be washed as often as you may think—try switching to after every third wear.

Use the cold-water settings

Heating water for the laundry cycle just adds another layer of environmental impact to the process. Wash everything in cold water. Your clothes will get just as clean, and you will reduce energy consumption by about 90 percent.

Rethink your detergent

The phosphates present in many conventional detergents can end up in our waterways, where they affect marine ecosystems. Look for green detergents with labels that say "biodegradable" or "phosphate-free." You can also make your own detergent or fabric softener.

Line-dry your clothes

You probably already do this for some of your delicate clothes—why not for all of them? You can use drying racks indoors, or if you have yard space, string up a clothesline and let them dry in the fresh air. If you skip the dryer step altogether, you could be saving the yearly equivalent energy consumption of a refrigerator, clothes washer and dishwasher combined.

 

Find out your overall usage with a home energy audit

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

 

How to keep your lawn green sustainably

If you have a backyard garden, you know how great it can be to have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that you've grown yourself. But if you live in an urban environment, you may not have that much individual space. Did you know that community gardens—also known as urban farms—are popping up more and more in today's cities? 

Benefits of such a garden include providing healthy, fresh food options in low-income areas, teaching environmental stewardship to youth and creating a sense of community among neighbors as they work together to make the garden grow. In addition, gardens can help reduce the heat-island effect and rainwater runoff; attract butterflies, bees and birds to the area; and recycle organic materials through composting.

Different kinds of gardens work for different neighborhoods. You might organize plot gardens where each family is responsible for a different segment. On the other end, a cooperative or communal garden is one large space managed by all participants. Whatever kind you choose, you'll need to select a site, determine who will be involved and create a gardening work schedule. 

Encourage kids to get involved. Meeting neighbor families, working on a long-term project and learning about the intersection between cities and nature in a tangible way can be both educational and rewarding for them. It's also a great family activity!

A few youngsters enjoy the scene while helping out at a community garden in Denver. Used with permission by Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine. Photo credit: Denver Urban Gardens Staff, 2005.

Resources:

Read our tips to green your home garden

This article was originally published on Houzz on May 27, 2016, as "How to Use Trees Inside," and is presented here with permission. Read the original article

Trees are nature’s perfect architecture. Besides being beautiful, they provide shade and shelter, and change with the seasons. Hanging out in treehouses in childhood was perhaps our way of getting close to these perfect living structures. Lucky for us, we can keep trees close to home even as grown-ups. It’s possible to bring trees indoors as integrated design elements, either by using existing mature trees or with new plantings. Here’s what to consider whichever way you choose.

Existing Trees

The first way of integrating trees into the design of the home is by designing new construction around existing mature trees. A licensed building architect is the professional who ultimately creates a tree-focused home design, but the architect may consult with a certified arborist, landscape architect or landscape contractor to ensure that the trees are healthy and not damaged during construction. Protecting existing trees and integrating them into the building of a new structure is a collaborative effort among the homeowner, architect, contractor and tree experts.

Photo by ANX/Aaron Neubert Architects; original photo on Houzz.

First, evaluate. Some species of trees are simply less sensitive, and more resilient to stresses and changes in their environments. One such tree is the California sycamore (Platanusracemosa), shown here as a mature specimen that has been partially enclosed by new construction. Whether or not a specific tree can be safely used this way is based on a number of factors. Trees suitable for integration into a building need to be evaluated by an expert. A certified arborist can analyze the tree’s existing health, age and current growing conditions to determine how likely the tree is to survive the construction process. An arborist will likely need to remain involved to monitor the tree’s health on a regular basis.

Utilize them for their artistic and cooling properties. Oftentimes a homeowner wants to go through the extra effort and expense to integrate an existing tree because there is something special about it. The tree could have an unusual character or form that would translate well in the home. Additionally, trees can provide substantial cost benefits. Travis Price of Travis Price Architects is experienced with integrating trees into residential buildings. He cites the value of trees for their cooling properties by saying, “Shade is the most cost-effective British thermal unit in the world.” Existing trees that are preserved and integrated into the architecture of the home can help with the summer cooling costs because the trees shade and cool the house.

Know exactly where the roots are. As with any construction near existing trees, it is important to protect the root zone from damage. A general rule of thumb considers the critical root zone as determined by the tree’s trunk diameter or by the drip line measured from the trunk to where the branches extend. However, this calculation is not precise enough when building close to an existing tree. Instead, air-spade technology can blow soil away to reveal where the major roots occur. Using that information, a precise mapping of the roots can inform the exact locations of deck and foundation pilings as well as other structures.

Protect the roots. It is critical that the roots are not damaged or disturbed during the home’s construction. Root injury resulting in tree mortality can occur when there is mechanical damage to the roots or when the soil surrounding the roots is compacted. In this photo, a platform foundation set on pilings allows for minimal site disturbance so that the tree roots are protected from harm.

Provide water. Constructing a home around existing mature trees typically results in decreased access to normal rainfall because of a new roof, foundation or other structural piece that redirects rain away from the roots of the tree. Here, the home floats above the ground on pilings, and the tree trunks are surrounded by glass with an opening to the sky. This doesn’t provide the roots underneath the platform with much access to rainfall. Instead, a timed irrigation system waters the roots under the home to ensure that adequate water reaches the trees.

New Trees 

Homes can be designed to have indoor planting areas for growing new trees inside. This essentially sets up a container condition because the soil is encapsulated by the building foundation. It can work beautifully so long as the tree receives the essentials: air, water, soil and sunlight. It’s also important to consider the tree’s growth habits, requirements and ongoing maintenance.

Provide enough soil. The challenge with planting trees inside is the limited soil volume. A tree grown inside is essentially akin to a container plant, even in the larger sizes. The weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) pictured below is a common indoor plant—and street tree in warm climates—that can live in a relatively small soil volume. This makes it an ideal indoor tree. Also, it’s evergreen and very low-maintenance.

Photo by Kuth/Ranieri Architects; original photo on Houzz.

Provide steady light. Trees will grow best when provided with bright light. The light can be indirect or diffused, but it should be consistent for the tree to grow and thrive. Consistency is important because regular bright light exposure will keep the tree from growing gangly and will produce consistent foliage. [Try] a fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata) growing near a large and bright expanse of windows.

While not a tree, [a] clump of bamboo makes a pretty addition to a well-lit stairwell. The stones provide a nice finish on top of the soil.

Pick the right species. Trees that work well as long-lasting interior plants have a number of traits:

  • Interesting evergreen leaves: Pick a species that has showy or textured leaves that won’t drop all at once. The big leaves on fiddleleaf fig or Indian rubberplant (Ficus elastica) are good examples.
  • Small stature: Choose a tree that won’t outgrow its space by knowing its mature height and spread when grown in a container. For example, the weeping fig can reach massive height and spread but will have limited stature when grown in the confines of an indoor planting. Other trees that maintain a small size in a container include Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla).
  • Low maintenance: Stay away from trees that produce messy fruits, or need to be constantly fertilized or pruned. Of course, you also want to be mindful of plants that have poisonous parts and opt for nontoxic ones if you have kids or pets.

Related articles:

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

 

More about reducing water use in the kitchen

Looking for ways to cut down your carbon footprint? Try reducing your water use in the kitchen.

Ensuring households have access to a clean water supply is an energy-intensive process, says the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and if we employ water-saving techniques in our daily routines, it will help save energy because less water will need to be treated and pumped to end users.

In the United States, the average family of four uses approximately 400 gallons of water per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Plus, using less water keeps more money in your pocket—the EPA says the average family spends $1,100 per year in water costs. In case you were wondering, that’s approximately a month's rent for many city dwellers.

From the Green Home Guide experts to you, here are five ways you can lower your kitchen H2O use:

1) Tune up your kitchen sink faucet.

If your sink faucet is leaking, make sure to fix it right away. According to the EPA, more than 3,000 gallons per year of water can be lost from a leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second. 

Also, consider installing a faucet aerator, which is fairly inexpensive and helps limit the amount of water used by mixing it with air.

2) Compost your food, or use your garbage disposal only when necessary.

Garbage disposals are a quick way to trash food waste, but they require plenty of water to properly operate. Composting the food helps cut down on water use in your kitchen. Learn how you can create a composting station in your home.

3) Rinsing produce and defrosting food—there’s a better way to do it.

While prepping for a meal, use a large bowl of water to peel and clean your vegetables instead of running them under water. For frozen foods, use your microwave or refrigerator to thaw them.

4) Do your dishes more efficiently.

Did you know that dishwashers use less water than washing your dishes by hand? The NRDC says that hand-washing your dishes uses more than 25 gallons of water per load, compared to as little as three gallons with an Energy Star-rated dishwasher. (Make sure that you also only use the dishwasher when it’s fully loaded.) But if you prefer washing dishes by hand, fill a small tub with as little water as possible.

5) Keep a designated water pitcher or bowl on your kitchen counter.

If you’re waiting for the water to change temperature, don't let it go to waste—collect the excess water in a water pitcher or bowl that you can use to water any houseplants or the garden.

 

Learn about water-saving toilet options

This article was updated in October 2017.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) homes are green homes, and they are transforming the residential market and people’s lives around the world. LEED homes are built to be healthier and safer by providing cleaner indoor air. They use less energy and water, leading to monthly savings on utilities, and maintain their value over time. More than 370,105 residential units have earned LEED certification as of October 2017, and both certified single-family homes and multi-family projects are selling faster and for more money than comparable, conventional homes.

“Since 2005, the green share of new single family residential construction has grown dramatically—increasing from 2 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013. This 23 percent market share equates to a $36 billion market opportunity,” according to a study on green labels in the California housing market.

Green homes create value

  • Nationwide, the typical household spends about $2,150 on residential energy bills each year, but LEED-certified homes are designed to use about 30 to 60 percent less energy. Over the seven or eight years the typical family lives in a home, this adds up to thousands of dollars in savings. Levels of indoor air pollutants can often be four to five times higher than outdoor levels, and with people spending an average of 90 percent of their time indoors, the average American suffers from significant exposure to unhealthy indoor environments. LEED residential units provide significant value to consumers through dramatically improving upon these environmental health factors.
  • Green homes are built to be energy-efficient, ensuring that they can be comfortably heated and cooled with minimal energy usage. They are individually tested to minimize envelope and ductwork leakage and designed to minimize indoor and outdoor water usage.
  • Green homes are increasingly desirable. More than half of consumers rank green and energy-efficiency as top requirements for their next homes, and LEED certification is a top individual attribute of apartment rentals, second only to location near a central business district.
  • Green homes can be built for the same cost as—and sometimes less than—conventional homes. Average upfront costs of 2.4 percent are quickly recouped, as a homeowner will save money for the duration of his or her green home’s lifespan.
  • Green homes sell at higher prices and faster than comparable, conventional homes. According to a 2016 report, “What Is Green Worth? Unveiling High-Performance Home Premiums in Washington, D.C.," by real estate appraiser and author Sandra K. Adomatis and the Institute for Market Transformation, high-performing single family and multi-family homes with green features in Washington, D.C. will sell for 3.5 percent more than those without green features.

Green homes are growing

  • It is estimated that by 2018, the green, single-family housing market will represent about 40 percent of the market, and 84 percent of all residential construction will have sustainable features.
  • More than 370,105 residential units have earned LEED certification as of July 2017 around the world, and this number continues to rise in countries like the United States., Canada, Saudi Arabia and China. Within the United States, states with the most LEED-certified homes include California, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Georgia.
  • The 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study, released by USGBC and prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton, found that the residential green construction market is expected to grow from $55 million in 2015 to $100.4 million in 2018, representing a year-over-year growth of 24.5 percent.

Green homes are healthier and safer

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