On the Home Front
By Alexandra Pecci
USGBC’s Green Home Guide website offers homeowners sound advice for better living.
After installing high-efficiency appliances and lighting during renovations of her Eichler home, Elizabeth Milne, a lawyer from Palo Alto, California, was shocked to see her electricity bill actually go up. The culprit? A newly installed instant hot water heater on the sink that immediately provided boiling water—but that also relied on an always-running heating coil that kept the water at a high temperature 24 hours a day.
“I just unplugged it and my utility bill went down,” she says.
Private Allentown residence pool garden. William Dohe, AIA, LEED AP, Project Architect.
Photo: Alyssha Eve Csuk
Like many, Milne is on a journey to green her home. In addition to installing better appliances, she also repainted the walls with low-VOC paint and replaced the kitchen backsplash with tiles made from recycled glass. But she wants to do more—on a reasonable budget—and has questions about things like graywater reuse, the most environmentally friendly furniture, the life cycle of different products, and the overall impact that different “green” decisions make compared with others.
“Everyone talks about green, but it’s not entirely clear what that means,” she says. “Does that just mean it’s less wasteful and more efficient than before?”
Making It Easy
To help consumers find answers to questions like these, pursue do-it-yourself changes to their homes, and find professionals who can help them along the way, there’s the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) website greenhomeguide.com, which relaunched in 2016 with a renewed focus on the benefits of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for a residential audience.
The website allows homeowners, apartment dwellers, and other consumers to find in-depth articles and tips for tackling questions and projects like the ones Milne has encountered and many more. There’s also a comprehensive directory of more than 17,500 green home professionals divided by specialty into 23 categories like architecture, landscaping, cleaning, pest control, and interior design, to help consumers find assistance and expertise.
Articles on the website are highly detailed, wide-ranging, and practical, tapping into real-life concerns of everyday homeowners and renters who want to make healthy and sustainable living decisions, and often providing actions that individuals and families can take on their own. For Milne’s graywater questions, for instance, there’s the article, “Easy as 1, 2, 3: How to Recycle Gray Water,” which features three simple ways to reuse gray water for three different budgets. There’s even a discussion about Milne’s hot water conundrum in the site’s “Ask A Pro” section, which goes over the pros and cons of an on-demand hot water recirculating pump versus an under-sink tankless water heater.
In remodeling her home, Milne enlisted the help of Lucile Glessner, LEED AP, Allied ASID, principal and owner of Saratoga, California–based Lucile Glessner Design. Glessner says Green Home Guide, with its continuously updated content and information about the newest trends and building materials, is not only helpful for DIY-ers, but can also be a useful way for professionals to educate clients who might not know much about green building, aside from basics like solar panels. Glessner says she’s found that sometimes providing too much information about sustainability right up front—especially if cost concerns come into play—can scare people off. That’s where Green Home Guide can help. The articles not only tackle “how-to’s,” but also the associated costs with different projects and options.
“If you’re trying to sell the green building in the beginning without the economic perspective it’s difficult and it can create some barriers instead,” she says. “I can just send them to the site and they can read something if they’re interested. And they can make that decision on their own.”
What Consumers Care About
Parsing the Green Home Guide website analytics reveals which topics are most important to the roughly 830,000 people who use the site each year. For instance, the top keyword searches driving users to the site were “laminate flooring,” “formaldehyde,” “solar panels,” “VOC,” “asbestos,” “recirculating hot water,” “carpet,” “popcorn ceiling,” “paint,” and “floor toxins.”
William G. Dohe, AIA, LEED AP, principal of R+D Architecture in Easton, Pennsylvania, is one of the many professionals listed in Green Home Guide’s directory. He echoes that healthy, green flooring is often a concern for his clients, who are worried about things like using renewable materials and the potential for off-gassing. For instance, he says clients ask about bamboo all the time, since it’s touted as a sustainable option.
“We end up having that discussion that, yes it’s a rapidly renewing material on the one hand, but on the other hand it’s made halfway around the world,” he says. “That opens the door to a larger discussion about what makes a material green, particularly for you in this particular location.”
Discussions and articles about flooring are abundant on the site, including ones that get into the nitty-gritty details about whether bamboo really is the best green option. Indeed, some of 2016’s most popular articles are ones about flooring and floor covering, including ones that offer in-depth information about when it’s safe to be in a home after polyurethane varnish has been applied to wood floors, the best and safest green carpet options, the healthiest and safest wood floors and finishes, and the use of formaldehyde in engineered wood and laminate flooring.
Another big concern for consumers? Cost. “If you tell me the green light fixture is $5,000 and the other one is $500, I’m probably going to go with the other one,” Milne says.
Green building and design professionals say educating consumers can sometimes show them that the green option is actually less expensive, comparable in cost, or will pay itself back within a few years. So it’s no wonder that many popular articles relate to cost, such as how to save money on utility bills, using houseplants to improve air quality, and DIY solutions for testing the health of homes.
Small and Big Steps
Some of the most-read articles offer suggestions to help consumers make small changes to improve the health and environmental friendliness of their homes. Two of the most popular in 2016 were “9 Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient” and “Three Ways to Make Your Roof More Energy Efficient,” for example. There are even articles like “How to Go Green As a Renter.” But the site also provides a gateway for homeowners who want to take on more ambitious projects, like building a LEED-certified home.
Doug Storey, managing partner of Two Storey Building in Bolton, Massachusetts, is another one of the professionals in the directory. He says his firm built one of the first LEED-certified homes in Massachusetts, but works with clients with a range of sustainability goals.
“There’s a group of people that are very conscious of green building and the big picture idea,” he says. He notes one client he’ll be working with this summer is doing a deep energy retrofit on their home and replacing all the siding, insulation, roofing, and windows. Others on a budget, though, want their homes to be comfortable and energy efficient.
“For every person it’s a little bit unique what the most important issues are in their home,” he says. Green Home Guide aims to help people figure out what those issues are and how to best handle them.
Glessner also thinks the website makes such issues manageable and realistic.
“That’s why I like this site,” she says. “I think it’s well done and I’m going to be using it with my clients.”
By the Numbers:greenhomeguide.com
Who’s reading GreenHomeGuide.com? Take a look at a few site analytics:
The site has about 830,000 annual users
Users engage in about 930,000 sessions and roughly 1.145 million page views each year
85.5% of traffic comes to the site through organic search
The top 5 user locations are United States (84.19%), Canada (5.55%), United Kingdom (2.77%), Australia (1.38%), and India (1.09%)
Top 5 articles of 2016
GreenHomeGuide.com’s articles on health, energy efficiency, and DIY topics are what drive consumers to the site.
How to Handle a Popcorn Ceiling That May Contain Asbestos
Can I Safely Seal and Waterproof My Butcher Block Countertops?
Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient
Three Ways to Make Your Roof More Energy Efficient
What Tests Can I Do Myself to Check How Healthy My Home Is?