More than 75% of American households have an air conditioner, yet home AC accounts for more than 8% of all electricity produced in the United States. At a cost of $15 billion, this amount of electricity puts roughly 196 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. However, for such a harmful product and industry, few southern California homes have incorporated sustainability practices into their air conditioning use.
Switching to a high-efficiency air conditioner can reduce your home’s energy use by 20%-50%. When shopping for a new appliance, actively seek out Energy Star products or those that advertise their electricity usage. Though new technologies are changing the way we cool our homes, investing in an energy-efficient unit is, currently, the best way to combat the heat while conserving resources.
However, switching to a sustainable AC unit may not solve your cooling issues. If you still find yourself breaking a sweat, you may need to update or tighten the insulation on your house; if the outdoor temperature is higher than the indoor temperature (as is often the case in southern California), warm air will blow through all available cracks and crevices. Additionally, replacing or upgrading your winds is a great way to increase insulation, and making “cool” painting choices (i.e. choosing lighter colors over darker colors) are great ways to reduce your home’s overall temperature.
When most Americans think about southern California, the ongoing drought is one of the first characteristics to spring to mind. However, through droughts, warnings, and extreme shortages, most of us continue to treat this resource as a given—as something that will always be available regardless of the changing climate. Water conservation technologies, though often overlooked, are imperative to sustainable home design—especially in southern California. Per capita water consumption increases annually, and new water supply options are often unavailable or only accessed at an exorbitant cost. Streamlining your at-home water system is a perfect way to conserve water, limiting your daily use with just a few pieces of technology.
Conservation through Indoor Water Use
Indoor water use is one of the easiest ways to conserve water. Select low-flow sink and bathtub faucets, showerheads, and toilets—this decision alone can reduce indoor water use by 30%-40%. Toilet flushing alone will typically account for a third of a build’s total water consumption. Additionally, actively search for Energy Star appliances, which guarantee a degree of water efficiency and energy conservation. If you have the resources, build a green roof to utilize potential rainwater, or build rain catchment systems to utilize every drop of water that falls from the sky.
Though these changes are small, they will significantly reduce the amount of water you use inside your home without necessitating any major lifestyle changes. The major changes may be coming in the way we build and design our homes to conserve water, not just energy. Arguably, we’re even further behind the curve when it comes to water conservation and home design, but we may be catching up fast. In the past and in recent years, innovation has been driven by environmentally-motivated funding and design competitions. Yet, the need and the economic incentives for superior water-conserving home construction is ramping up fast, as population growth and high per capita water consumption shows no signs of slowing down in SoCal and the western U.S. in general.
California residents pride themselves on staying ahead of the sustainability curve. The state is credited with the success of the solar power industry, and one in two southern California residents actively seeks out local produce, meat, and dairy. However, though you may understand the “farm-to-table” philosophy better than your neighbors to the east, sustainable building and architecture is better left to the professionals.
Find a Green Architect
Working with a skilled, LEED-certified architect is the most effective way to build a sustainable home. An architect will provide you with the full range of necessary professional services; from design and contract building to permits and approvals, these professionals will handle nearly every part of the building process.
Architects, however, are not cheap. It is imperative to have a clear understanding of what you want in a home and in an architect. Make a list of features you want to incorporate—an open floor plan, a specific type of counter, or a back patio may be easily left out of a plan. Moreover, architects provide necessary but expensive advising—you should plan to spend between 10% and 12% of your total construction cost on these services.
LEED Home Builds
An experienced green architect will open up a world of options, but you may also be able to find a more affordable option as more green home builders develop a full catalogue of home build designs.
The LEED Program
LEED, a green certification program, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; if you are planning to build a sustainable home, look for LEED-certified architects, or people who have worked on previous LEED building initiatives. The program prioritizes sustainable building and maintenance practices—everything from neighborhood development to reduced water and electricity use. Often, these buildings have some type of renewable energy component, which you can then incorporate into your new home design. You can easily search the LEED directory to see which buildings in your area are certified, then find the architects responsible for their creation.
You may pride yourself on consistently purchasing Fair Trade chocolate. Maybe you had a Prius before anyone else. We understand that, as residents of southern California, you understand the climate and threats to sustainability more acutely than most Americans. However, when it comes to building your home, leave the eco-friendly factors to the professionals.
Sustainable homes are more than a trendy architecture fad. They actively combat the changing climate, seeking to address (and, perhaps, rectify) pressing environmental issues. A high-performance home may include a range of features, including solar panels, energy-efficient insulation, a rooftop garden, and/or the use of reclaimed or local materials. These inclusions coalesce to create a home that will utilize fewer resources, thus reducing your personal impact on your surroundings.
However, California-specific green housing features exist. In fact, they should be foremost in your mind when you set to building or updating your current home. In recent years, California has seen some extreme climate-related changes. From a decade-long drought to raging wildfires, Californians have had to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate the changing environment. Though these events should not be taken lightly, they present an opportunity: if you are in the process of building or remodeling your sustainable home, you can better assess and address the needs of your community and environment.
A southern California green home, then, should not look like sustainable homes in other parts of the country. Builders should find ways to incorporate water conservation and energy efficiency, whether that means reducing overall home size or being selective about showerhead choice. This blog will seek out and discuss the various ways in which sustainable architecture and living can be applied to the idiosyncratic problems facing southern California.