Green Homes

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LEED: As Kermit the frog might say, "It ain’t easy bein' green."

Well, it seems Kermit is on to something in the real estate market too. As homes flood the real estate market claiming that they have green features or energy efficiency and ask for a premium price tag because buyers think that they are getting an innovative, eco-friendly and energy-efficient home, the real question is, "How do they know?"

The Business of 'Greenwashing'

The practice of using eco buzzwords and claiming various green features to overly hype a property is known as "green-washing", and it can make it confusing for buyers in the market for eco and energy efficient homes.

Many builders are taking the extra step to complete their homes with a third party certification from a national certifier like Energy Star, LEED, and even Net Zero or the many local or regional certifies. While others rely on the marketing of their real estate agent to boast about how "green" the home is. But unless you have a run-down of all the green and energy efficient features and can weigh how green or energy efficient they are, will you fall into the trap of buying a "green" home just because someone said it was so?

Tips to Ensure that Your Prospective Home is Actually Green

1. Ask if the home has any certifications, either nationally or locally. Because there are a variety of certifications, check to see if that one focuses on the features that matter to you most. Are you interested in energy saving primarily or would you like to be sure the home hosts a combination of energy saving features like high R-value insulation and high efficiency systems as well as healthy finishes such as no VOC paint and zero-off gassing flooring?

Some of the most well-known certifications are LEED, Energy Star, Net Zero, and Built Green. 

2. If the home is being marketed as "green" but all you notice is Energy Star rated appliances in the kitchen (good, but far from what you might consider to be "green" home) ask for a full run down of the features, systems, and building materials.


One of the newest MLS type real estate sites that lists eco-friendly and energy efficient homes for sale is Viva Green Homes They found that in general green certifications, locally or nationally, are very helpful to buyers to get a quick sense of how eco-friendly a home is. For that reason, buyers can quickly search by a specific certification(s) on the website. Or, they can browse through all the listings and note the prominently displayed certifications with the listing’s photo, making searching for a green home much easier than ever before.

energy star cert home

LEED cert homes

But the site goes further in an effort to help combat "green washing" of un-certified homes listed for sale (ones with green features but are not third-party certified). The site lists a special Viva Green Homes Score rating of one to five stars based on the quality and quantity of the green features named in the listing. For buyers who want an eco-friendly home but don’t know how to weigh or calculate just how green one home compares to another, this VGH Score helps to quickly identify how green a home is based on the star rating. The details of the green features are listed on the individual listing’s page.

This Harleysville, Pennsylvania home is an example of an eco-friendly and energy-efficient home that received a 5-star Viva Green Homes Score. This home earned the VGH 5 Star rating because of its quality and quantity of green features including geothermal heat and cooling, tankless water heater, radiant floor heat, and its passive design. For its interior finishes it has low-VOC paint and finishes with little to no off-gassing, and more. The home is for sale and you can see more about it here.

At the end of the day, each buyer will pick and choose the right home that fits their needs. I hope that these helpful tips on buying a truly green home helps make sure that you aren’t singing the blues (or the greens).

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Our homes account for the largest part of our personal carbon footprint (unless you happen to own a private jet). Collectively, the 115 million residences in America today use an estimated 22.5 percent of the country’s energy. This means that one of the best things you can do to help save the planet from the impact of global warming is to make sure you are wasting as little energy in your home as possible.

To do this, you need to target the five main areas of the home that either consume or are responsible for wasting the most energy. These are, in order of impact:

1. Windows

2. HVAC (heating and cooling your home)

3. Water Heaters

4. Appliances

5. Lighting

Windows and HVAC systems are intrinsically linked, and by targeting these areas most aggressively you can save the largest amount of energy. While heating and cooling our homes accounts for nearly 50 percent of its energy use, windows are literally holes in our homes through which 10 percent to 25 percent of our energy bill flows. Replacing old, drafty windows with new, air-tight Energy Star-qualified windows is one of the most effective ways to decrease your home’s carbon footprint.

New windows are particularly effective if your home currently has single-pane windows, as replacing them with double-pane windows with high-performance glass will essentially double your home’s capability to keep the cold air out (or in, depending on the season). Low-e coatings also help reduce heat gain, keeping your home cooler in the summer months. In colder climates, low-e coatings combined with gas-filled windows (containing argon to provide extra insulation and efficiency) will reduce heat loss.

Installation of windows is critically important—if they are incorrectly installed, the seals will fail quickly. This is not a DIY job: Badly installed windows are likely to leak air and water and may rot and cause structural problems. Additionally, by hiring professionals to do the installation, you will be protected by a warranty, meaning if there are any problems over the next 20 to 30 years, you can make sure your windows will remain energy efficient at no extra cost to you.

Rounding out the top 5 energy suckers in our homes are: heating hot water (18 percent), running our appliances (13 percent), and lighting our homes (5 percent).

Water heaters. The easiest way to cut your energy use for heating hot water is to use less of it. Switch to Water Sense plumbing fixtures. Water Sense is the Energy Star equivalent for products that consumer water. Look for certified high-efficiency toilets, ultra-low-flow faucets and aerating showerheads. Insulating is also key to reducing energy use: Insulate your hot-water storage tank and the first six feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.

Appliances. By choosing Energy Star models when replacing worn out electronics and appliances, you can dramatically reduce energy use, especially when it comes to the refrigerator. The fridge is the biggest individual energy hog after the heating and cooling system, accounting for about 13% of a household’s appliance energy use.

Lighting. Switching to energy-efficient lighting, in particular LED bulbs, is one of the fastest and easiest ways to cut your energy bills. Timers and motion sensors save even more energy by reducing the amount of time lights are on but not being used.

Some of these steps are small, others very large, but if you can target them all you can be very proud of the fact that you own a “green” home, and your footprint on our precious planet will become substantially lighter.

Jennifer Tuohy writes on green homes and energy efficiency for The Home Depot. Jennifer's energy saving tips on windows and insulation are aimed at helping homeowners save on heating bills. To view Home Depot's windows installation services, you can click here. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Energy-Efficient Windows

In recent years, attempts to reduce personal carbon footprint have helped homeowners and builders to find a sustainable solution in fiberglass windows. Fiberglass windows demonstrate outstanding energy efficiency because they embody much less energy than vinyl, wood, and other composite window materials through low-emissivity coatings which control the transfer of warm or cool air from your home to the outside. Fiberglass windows contain between 60% to 85% silica sand, a raw material that is considered to be one of the most abundant resources on earth.

Turning silica sand into the molten glass frames involves melting and spinning silica sand into glass fibers and recycling the excess for other practical purposes. Not only are these windows 100 percent recyclable, they are also known for consuming 39 percent less production energy than their vinyl counterparts.

Fiberglass Windows in House

Stronger than Wood, Vinyl, and Other Window Materials

Fiberglass windows are also unsusceptible to many of the weaknesses found in wood and vinyl windows. Immune to dramatic thermal expansion and contraction, fiberglass windows expand at the rate of glass and do not chip, crack, or create leaking points for air to escape from the house.

Whereas the robustness of wood and vinyl windows may be compromised due to unhealthy thermal performances, you can be sure that your fiberglass windows will stay strong and fit in their installed positions for many years to come. Fiberglass windows are 8 times stronger than vinyl and 3.5 times stronger than aluminum.

As a result, you do not need to give your fiberglass window any additional reinforcement that may increase the weight of your window and the cost of its installation.

Interior Kitchen Windows

Safeguarding Your Window Investment with Longevity and Performance

The life expectancy of a fiberglass window is usually 5 times longer than vinyl. With virtually no upkeep on your part, your fiberglass windows are long lasting, which greatly limits their impact on resource depletion and embodied energy.

As Energy Star reports, “fiberglass frames are strong, durable, low-maintenance, and provide good insulation. Fiberglass frames can be either hollow or filled with foam insulation.” The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) further confirms that fiberglass windows have very low coefficient of thermal expansion. This makes them highly compatible with glazing materials, allowing them to be coated with multiple layers to enhance energy efficiency, durability, and cosmetics.

Fiberglass windows are not only energy efficient, but also practical in every way that matters. They are an ENERGY STAR® window solution and a popular choice for architects, builders, and homeowners who seek to create a LEED® certified buildings that have been approved by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Photo (top) by Fotolia/bonzodog
Photo (middle) by Paul Kazlov
Photo (bottom) by Paul Kazlov

Paul Kazlov is a metal roofing expert and has grown Global Home Improvement to be the Mid-Atlantic's largest installer of residential metal roofing, saving the everyday homeowner money on energy costs. He has installed more than 1,000 metal roofs and more than 2 million square feet of standing seam, metal slate, and metal tile, helping the Philadelphia-New Jersey-New York area. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulKazlov.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Ground source heat pumps have many benefits

Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are electrically powered central heating and/ or cooling systems that transfers heat to or from the ground. They use the earth’s relatively constant temperature to provide heating, cooling and hot water for homes and commercial buildings.

GSHP’s have been hugely successful in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. Since their introduction to the commercial market over 50 years ago, there have been key developments to greatly improve their efficiency, making them a serious competitor for alternative heating systems. Mother Earth News explores the reasons for their popularity and the benefits of using ground source heat pumps. 

Save Money

Heat pumps are a sound investment and their initial installation costs are often superseded by the long-term potential savings they offer homeowners. For example, average savings for homeowners using ground source heat pumps is more than 60 percent.  In monetary terms, an average household that produces 75 percent of their heating from a ground source heat pump can potentially save between an estimated £600 - £700 per year on energy bills.    

Since ground source heat pumps generate their energy from the earth and the heat they extract from the ground is constantly being renewed naturally, they are considered a renewable form of energy.  This environmental benefit also has a financial bonus for homeowners who have are not left vulnerable to fluctuating oil prices that are prone to increased price hikes during the winter months. Therefore, ground source heat pumps bring a certain level of security for a homeowner who has a cost-effective and reliable heating system, whenever they need it.

Of course, on top of this, there is also the added bonus of having no concerns over unreliable fuel deliveries with a ground source heat pump system in place and no concerns over fuel being stolen.      

Safety Is Key

Another key benefit of ground source heat pumps is they are intrinsically safe. With no exposed equipment, children and pets cannot injure themselves or damage exterior units. Furthermore, homeowners with ground source heat pumps do not need to worry about flammable fuels, dangerous fuel storage tanks or open flames. There is no risk of potentially harmful gas emissions and no combustion involved.    

Low Environmental Impact

Homeowners wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt a greener lifestyle can benefit from using ground source heat pumps over other forms of heating, especially electric heating or coal.

Furthermore, those opting for ground source heat pumps can expect reductions of between 350 and 5410 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year. The exact environmental impact will depend on the efficiency of the system and the type of fuel being replaced. According to the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, currently installed systems are having a huge impact on our environment by helping to eliminate more than 3,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide and is the equivalent of taking 650,000 automobiles off the road. 

Pairing a heat pump with a green electricity supply such as solar photovoltaic (solar PV) can cut carbon dioxide emissions to zero whilst meeting a homeowner’s heating, hot water and electricity needs. 

Reliable yet Effective

A well-designed ground source heat pump system will have a 20 year life span and only require an annual check. Otherwise, little to no maintenance is required. What’s more, since these pumps are hidden underground, they are rarely affected by the cold British winters and not susceptible to damage from harsh elements like storms, ice or snow. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



For all the joys of Christmas, it’s not exactly kind to the planet. It seems like we use enough wrapping paper to fell a whole rainforest, and the electricity consumption through December must be astronomical. It’s important that at this time of year we think of new ways to be kinder to the planet. All the festivities can be preserved, just with a little less wastefulness. Here are some helpful ways for you to cast a smaller environmental shadow this Christmas.

Buy Local, Buy Less

The environmental impact of all those new toys and gadgets aside, there is a huge impact on shipping them across the world. Instead of going to buy Chinese imported gadgets and items from far-flung places, consider trying to source your gifts from local producers. Traditionally crafted items make great gifts, have a far smaller environmental impact, and do your local economy good.

Additionally, you should take stock of how many presents you really need to buy. The volume of the gifts you give doesn’t equate to how much you care. Be thoughtful about what you buy, and you’ll find the recipient is just as grateful for one great gift as they would have been for a mountain of small, thoughtless gifts.

Real Trees

There is a huge amount of debate over Christmas trees and how damaging they are to the environment, and whether or not buying a real tree is best. The bottom line is that real trees are better, and here’s why: despite the fact that chopping down trees might not sound very eco-friendly, the process of growing and disposing of real trees is actually much better for the environment than the production of plastic trees. And despite the fact that you can reuse a fake tree several times over, the PVC they are made from makes them impossible to recycle.

A real tree is going to shed needles, and it’s going to go brown eventually, but over the actual Christmas period it’s going to smell fantastic and in general look much better in your home. To be kinder to the planet this Christmas, go get a real tree.

Shop Smarter

Christmas shopping can be really tough. You’ll have loads of different shops to go to, not a lot of time to do it in, and you’ll be competing with everyone else who’s rushing around to get everything done. In order to limit your environmental impact, it’s important to take as few trips as possible. Try and think about a place that you could park (or even better, get a bus) and get plenty of shopping done in one trip. Where possible, try and get as much of your shopping done in local, independent stores as you can.

Make sure that you take your own bags to each shop, instead of using the bags that the shop provides. Cutting back on the use of disposable packaging should be a top priority.

A fantastic way to save energy and time is online shopping. You could still find locally sourced products online, but in any case, shopping online is a much more environmentally friendly option. Find a place for all those quirky presents and Secret Santa Gifts that’ll deliver to you, and save a tank of petrol and all the emissions that would have come with it.

Turn Off The Lights

On some streets, decorating houses for Christmas turns into a festive arms race. Whilst they may look pretty, Christmas lights take a serious toll on electricity usage. Leaving lights on all day and night is not good for the planet, or indeed anybody’s electricity bill.

There are number of ways you can do better this Christmas. The first is to switch from incandescent to LED bulbs. LED bulbs can glow in every colour of the rainbow, but have a much lower energy consumption.

Another great option is to buy a timer for your Christmas lights. Rather than leaving them on all the time, connect them to a timed plug socket and set them to come on for about three or four hours each evening, and not until it’s really dark. This way, you can still make the most of the lights without burning unnecessary energy.

Cut Down On Food Waste

Turkey with all the trimmings is a Christmas essential (with or without Brussels sprouts). The centrepiece of Christmas day can produce a lot of waste, however. The first thing to consider is how much food you really need. Think carefully about the number of guests you have coming, how much they eat (or how much they should be eating), and how many different foods you really need to serve. Instead of cooking everything and putting it out on the table, plating up everyone’s serving is a good way to limit consumption but still keep everyone satisfied.

Everything you eat for Christmas dinner should, where possible, be bought locally, rather than purchased from a supermarket. A typical festive meal can rack up a huge amount of air miles, unnecessarily. Source some local vegetables and find a local farm that can supply the turkey (or whatever meat you happen to be having).

These are just a few ways to cut down on consumption, but they’re a great start. At every turn during your Christmas planning, take a couple of seconds to think about how you’re impacting the local economy, the local environment, and the planet as a whole.

Photo by James Case 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Let's say you are thinking about building a cordwood home or cottage, but are not quite sure if all the effort is worth it.  Why not take the time to not only research, but to actually spend some time in a cordwood home? There are, believe it or not, several places where you can enjoy vacation time in a Cordwood Bed and Breakfast. Find out how it "feels" for yourself. Take the time to see if this is the natural style for you.

One of my good friends spent a week at a Cordwood Bed and Breakfast (On Golden Pond) in Canada, before he and his wife made the decision to go ahead and build a two-story, 16-sided cordwood home in Minnesota.

This is also an effective method of getting a partner to see what your new green building passion is all about. The books and social media sites are all fine and dandy, but nothing beats an actual night's sleep and breakfast in the potential home of your dreams. One of the many great advantages of cordwood is that the walls are sound deadening, so you can open a window to hear the crickets and then close it when the crows come to caw.

How does one go about finding a Cordwood B &B? Well that is not the easiest Google Search in the world, so I have come up with an extensive list of the ones of which I am familiar.

 Bracebridge B & B Ontario

This is the Cordwood Lodge in Bracebridge, Ontario.

 Cordstead in Quebec

The Cordstead boasts four round cordwood buildings. The thought herein is to give you a “cordwood living” experience to see if a cordwood home is your cup of tea. Sandy and Angelika are fine hosts.

 On golden pond

The Gathering Place on Golden Ponds is in Coe Hill, Ontario, and just so you are forewarned, many people who have stayed here, have gone on to build their own cordwood home.

 Flying M Ranch Nebraska

The Flying L M B & B is located in Nebraska. It is a huge cordwood building with massive beams and lots of space. It is near Pierce, Nebraska.

 Barna Vacation Rental Michigan

The Barna’s Vacation Rental in in Houghton, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Nicole built this as her college dorm room and now rents it to weary travelers.

 Mermaid Cottage Colorado

Mermaid Cottage near Del Norte, Colorado, is not necessarily a B & B (no breakfast), but it is a gorgeous vacation rental.

 B & B New York

This beautiful cordwood rental is in the Adirondacks Mountains of upstate New York.

If your goal is to find out if cordwood living is for you, take the time to visit and check out some of these places.  With a rental you can poke around and enjoy your stay rather than imposing on someone to open their cordwood home at your convenience.

Should you wish to learn how to build a cordwood cabin, cottage or home, visit Cordwood Construction and read the articles, click on the pictures and consider buying an ebook or print copy of Cordwood Construction Best Practices. There are many other cordwood books and plans at the Online Bookstore.

 Cordwood Construction Best Practices

If you would like to see 110 more posts about cordwood construction, please click here.

Richard Flatau is the Director of Cordwood Construction Resources LLC, which provides cordwood consulting, writing, workshops and building advice. Connect with Richard at and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow o,ur Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Using new design ideas in your home will help you create an aesthetic that is all your own, but you don’t have to go out and dump your bank account into new items. You can make some great updates to your home using recycled or salvaged pieces for very cheap. This article explores five design ideas anyone can do for a dime by incorporating recycled materials that will make your home look amazing.

1. Change your front door. Your front door is a the calling card for your home. Elizabeth Arden centered her cosmetics empire on the red door, and an iconic door design will change the way people perceive your home and family.

Glass front doors add more than color to the front of your home, and you can choose glass that is beautifully crafted. Stained glass doors will use several colors, or a plate glass door will reflect light in a rainbow of colors. There are modern frosted doors that obscure what is behind the door, and you can cover the door with a storm door for your own protection.

If you can’t afford a brand new door, you can find great doors from a salvage yard for cheap. All it needs is a coat of bright paint to restore it to its original, beautiful self.

2. Install rustic hardware. Chunky barndoor hardware makes each door in your home look as if it came from a country estate (especially if you live on a country estate), and similar fixtures on your cabinets make your kitchen look like it came from a small cottage. You can use rustic hardware on every door in the house, and rustic hardware on your windows helps bring the design aesthetic together.

Rustic hardware in your home can include plumbing fixtures in every room, or you can install country door knobs that help you promote the cottage feeling. You can transform your home into a place where your guests are taken to another century, and your family will feel more relaxed in a country-style surrounding.

Such pieces can be found at flea markets, or other secondhand stores. Pieces found here are even more unique as they will have a special history. I’ve had luck finding pieces from the early 1900s that are particularly rare.

3. Use tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. Tiling in your kitchen and bathroom can help you create patterns and pictures that you choose. Creating a unique pattern in the kitchen or bathroom that carried through to other rooms in the house will create flow and uniformity. Tile and grout cleaning can be easier than most people think, so don’t let the upkeep deter you.

Create your monogram on the wall of your kitchen, or create a mural in the bathroom. Start tiling on the floor, and extend the tile onto each wall. If you’re looking for a more rustic feel for your house you can find tile pieces that replicate old farm house designs. You can purchase tiles that have special images printed on each stone. Display your love of birds, lighthouses or seaside landscapes with your tiles, or consider commissioning an artist to paint the tiles for you.


4. Transform your deck. You can turn an ordinary deck into a beautiful design feature with a few alterations. Add an arbor to your deck to create more cover from the sun. Grow vines, grapes or tomatoes on your arbor, or put a roof over part of the deck to protect the family. You can build in your grill, or you build in extra seating for your family. The deck is a room that your family can use in the spring or summer, and you just might start using the deck as much as any other room in the house, and it’s a great place for hosting parties. You can find leftover wood from lumberyards for pieces that might be unusable for finer projects. But with a bit of stain and sanding these pieces will come back to life.

5. Finish your garage. The garage is a place where you can create storage or work space easily. Storage cabinets can be built along each wall, and you can move everything that clutters the house to the garage. Seal the floors with primer. Work items can be pulled out from the wall when the cars are gone, and you can turn the garage into a work room. Hanging hooks in the ceiling helps store toys and bikes, and you can install shelves on the wall for all your books (I think of my garage as a drive-in library).

Photo of door by Marius Buzac/Pexels; Photo of bathroom by Ed Merrltt/Flickr; Photo of deck by Flberon/Flickr

David Glenn has lived his entire life in the beautiful state of Utah. He was fortunate enough to be successful in the residential construction market and was able to retire a few years back. He has been a contributor to Vivint and SmartHome USA. Click here to read all his posts on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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