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What are the most cost-effective green building strategies in new home construction?

M T Published: Nov. 4, 2019, 11:07 a.m.Last updated: Nov. 6, 2019, 1:55 p.m.

I'm toying with the idea of building a custom home. I've done research on contracting, home building, Passive House Certification, etc. I'm by no means an expert but I have some knowledge that would make me wiser when choosing architects and contractors. I don't think I can convince my partner to go full-on passive, but I believe I can convince them to put money into the house early if it will pay off. In other words, I'm happy to spend $50,000 today if it will save me $50,000+ in the long run. Some eco/green building strategies are expensive and I suspect would never recuperate their cost, but others I believe are "high-yield".

Imagine a "selfish" green builder, someone who wants to build green only to save money. What eco/green strategies would you recommend to them? I know this is not a good way to think about it, but it may help me convince my partner (and maybe other down the road) to build as green as possible.

I made a list of some green construction strategies that I've read about, and I put what seem more "high-yield" at the top of the list, and the lower yield stuff at the bottom. I'd love to be corrected and educated!

  • Energy efficient HVAC system
  • “Smart” thermostat
  • Lots of wall and ceiling and foundation and attic insulation
  • Calculate the amount of glazing (not too much, not too little)
  • Having glazing facing the right direction (e.g., south)
  • Tight air-sealing of the envelope
  • “correct” type of windows (thermal conductance, transmittance, solar gain, etc.)
  • Eliminating thermal bridging
  • Efficient lighting
  • Efficient appliances
  • Solar panels
  • Geothermal heating/cooling
  • Adding thermal mass

Feel free to ignore this list completely and simply share your knowledge with me directly about the cost/benefits of different methods. I know green building is more about the attitude, philosphy, approach, than it is about specific methods; however, at the end of the day, it does involve specific materials and techniques, and these vary in cost!

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