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Types of Green Building Materials for Homes

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Green Homes Are Energy Efficient

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Go to any home improvement store, and you'll find aisles reserved for green building materials. Some of these green building supplies are legitimate and others could be considered questionable, depending on which environmentalist you ask. If you are like most Americans -- concerned about global warming and protecting the environment -- do your homework and investigate the origin, harvesting methods and production of green materials before purchasing.

Green Flooring Materials

Green floors are typically made from renewable or recycled products. These non-toxic flooring materials are said to be safe for the environment and for people, and can be installed in an eco-friendly manner without harmful gas emissions.

  • Cork Floors.

    Cork is made from stripped tree bark, leaving the trees intact. It is warm and inviting, but cork can yellow in sunlight, scratches easily and cannot come into contact with water.

  • Bamboo Flooring.

    Bamboo is a grass, not a wood. It renews itself every 3 to 5 years. Inexpensive bamboo is generally younger and not very durable, so ask for premium bamboo, made from adhesives that do not contain formaldehyde. Bamboo can be nailed, glued, stapled or floated, and comes in horizontal or vertical patterns. Do not install in areas that get wet.

  • Recycled Carpeting.

    Most green carpeting is made from recycled plastic food and beverage containers. Their vibrant color options tend to last longer than nylon carpets. This shock-free static product does not emit volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are part of the typical "new carpet smell" but can irritate the lungs, and recycled carpets are stain resistant.

  • Linoleum Flooring.

    Linoleum is a manufactured product made from natural raw materials such as linseed oil, a binding agent obtained from pine trees (without harming the trees), renewable wood products, ground limestone and jute, which is a plant fiber. Linoleum floors are stain resistant, do not absorb water and are biodegradable at the end of its useful life, generally around 40 years.

  • Eco-Friendly Wood Flooring.

    Certain types of exotic hardwoods such as Brazilian Cherry or White Tigerwood are grown in South America. These are harvested from well-managed forests with renewable resources. Brazilian Cherry is engineered wood made from 3-ply construction using formaldehyde-free adhesives. It is generally more expensive but resilient and harder than oak.

Green Building Materials

Reclaimed or salvaged lumber can be used to build walls, as support beams or in roof construction. Many green companies specialize in obtaining building materials from older homes that are about to be torn down or dismantled. Instead of filling up landfills, previously used lumber is put back into new construction.

Environmentally conscious home owners can buy hand-hewn wood beams or rough sawn lumber such as oak, cherry, maple or pine, many of which are aged to a density and hardness that you cannot find in new lumber.

Solar Energy

Solar means sun in Latin. Solar energy uses the sun's power, either in passive applications such as heating water in swimming pools, or directly converting it to electricity using photovoltaic cells. It works through a process called photovoltaic energy. When bits of solar energy, called photons, are absorbed by a solar cell, electricity is generated.

To provide solar power, solar companies install large, flat panels on top of roofs, and each panel contains grids of solar cells. It works best in wide, open locations that get plenty of sun. Some systems can store energy for use at night or on cloudy days.

Many utility companies, especially in California, offers rebates and credits to home owners who install solar panels. In addition, excess electricity can also roll-back the solar power owner's electrical meter -- in essence, sending electricity back to the utility company -- netting home owners a credit.

Energy-Efficient Windows

Sunlight comes through windows in a visible and invisible spectrum. The light we can see spans all the visible frequencies. You can use a prism to see how white light is actually made up of a spectrum from red through blue and violet. The light humans cannot see are infrared and ultraviolet, which fade furniture and floors. Low-e is a hard glaze coating on windows that block some of the damaging rays, while reducing heat loss in the winter and keeping homes cooler in the summer.

Dual pane windows offer insulation against the elements and soundproofing qualities. After I installed dual pane windows, I no longer woke up when the sprinklers came on in the morning. Many energy-efficient windows qualify for rebates and credits.

Energy-Efficient Products

ENERGY STAR is a government-backed program that identifies energy efficient products, from compact fluorescent bulbs to computer monitors to air conditioners. ENERGY STAR says compact fluorescent light bulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than regular light bulbs. Some people don't like them because the spiral design is ugly and they cost more than incandescent bulbs. But not all compact fluorescent light bulbs are squirrelly looking. And the initial expenditure to buy energy-efficient light bulbs is actually a lot less in the long run when compared to the life expectancy of regular light bulbs.

Consumers are also offered energy-efficient appliances such as refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, washers and dryers. Wisdom says buy appliances that sport the ENERGY STAR label.

Carbon Offsets

We all contribute to global warming, whether we mean to do it. Every time you hop in a car or board a jet, global warming is affected. A way to help negate some of the impact is to buy carbon offsets, which puts money into other environmental concerns. Your dollars can restore forests, support solar power or provide for watershed restoration, among a myriad of other options.

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At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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