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Practice sustainability for the kids

By JUDY YATES, Extension Cords
Published August 2, 2007


"Green" seems to be the buzzword in construction and taking care of the environment these days. But what does "going green" really mean?

Building green has nothing to do with the color of your home. It refers to the components of the building and the actions you take to "go green."

Let's start with the word "sustainability" and what that means.

It's fair to say that each one of us wants to leave the world as good or better than we found it. An often-cited definition of "sustainability" is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, which says that sustainable development is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

If we take no more than we leave, we give future generations the possibility of a sustainable life. The idea, when building or remodeling green, is to have as small an environmental impact as possible. Your individual local effort can have far-reaching effects.

If you buy lumber from a producer that practices good forest management techniques, you don't contribute to the depletion of forests. If your materials come from local sources, you don't contribute to the fuel expenses of shipping. You can participate in our becoming independent of fossil fuels.

Factors influencing whether you go green when building or remodeling are:

Site selection, site planning and the construction activity that takes place on the site. You'll keep the birds and animals by conserving the existing natural areas and restoring those that get damaged.

Some of the most beautiful home sites have little or no turf grass and give the feel of living in a park. Ground covers and "Florida Friendly" landscape practices taught by the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program at the Cooperative Extension Service make sense, if one wants to build or remodel green.

If you are considering building a new home, build where schools, roads, sewer and water are in place to avoid "sprawl" and increased public costs.

Water efficiency. You can reuse water by collecting rainwater and the condensation from cooling units. Connect into reclaimed water for irrigation, if it's available. The best scenario is to have no mechanical irrigation. That makes the landscape survive on rainwater alone. If you use an irrigation system, make sure it is efficient. Inside the home, use water-efficient plumbing fixtures such as low-flow toilets and showerheads.

Materials and resources that go into constructing a building. Use recycled or recyclable, sustainably managed, and locally available building material as much as possible. Avoid excessive packaging that has to be discarded, and provide for collection of construction debris on-site. Have the debris recycled instead of dumping it into the local landfill.

Energy efficiency. Provide for lots of passive cooling and solar lighting, using energy-efficient windows and skylights. Buy only Energy Star-rated appliances to keep your utility bill as low as possible.

While a light-colored roof reflects more heat than a darker one, a reflective roof is even more energy-efficient. The building the walls, floor and roof should be airtight and well-insulated. Your heating and air-conditioning duct system should also be sealed with mastic and tested by an energy rater. If you insulate the hot water pipes, you can lower the costs of heating the water.

Indoor air quality. A tight, well-insulated building aids in discouraging mold and mildew, and also reduces dust mites, making for a much healthier environment inside the home.

When buying paint, don't just look at the price on the can. Look for a label that says "low VOC" or "no VOC." VOC refers to the volatile organic compounds mixed in the paint, which make the paint produce an odor. If the paint is low or no VOC, you'll not be bothered with a lasting odor.

Choose window coverings, carpet and wall coverings that have labels indicating there are no toxic fumes from the product.

Now that you know what "going green" means, you may want to try these ideas.

Judy Yates is a family and consumer sciences agent for the University of Florida/Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached at judyyate@ufl.edu.