Green Building Labels: Water Conservation and Energy Efficiency Made Easier

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Kongs
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The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their homestead-building adventure unfolds.

Many of the choices we’ve made for our new home have required some extra legwork on our part. We did the research on green countertop and flooring materials. We asked about and searched through resale shops to find used or leftover materials. We researched and custom designed our greywater system. We had our double-pane windows ordered without the factory standard glazing to allow for more solar heat gain in winter. The list goes on.

We can happily report, however, than when it comes to choosing water-conserving faucets and toilets, VOC-free paints, and energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs, the task is incredibly easy. Most websites allow you to search based on resource-conserving qualities, and almost all widely available brands have options that meet EPA or third-party certification standards. Below is a sampling of the easy ways to choose greener products for your home — whether you’re building, remodeling or upgrading.

WaterSense label. The EPA has a list of faucets, shower heads and toilets that meet its criteria to be labeled as a WaterSense product (label shown above).  These water-conserving products must perform as well as their standard counterparts while being at least 20 percent more efficient than average similar products. Plus, multiple styles and colors are available from nearly all the major manufacturers, so you’re not limiting yourself in design options by choosing water-conserving pieces. We were able to find faucets, low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets with the WaterSense label in styles we liked and at prices we could afford for all of our plumbing.

Energy Star label. The EPA’s widely known Energy Star certification is available for an array of home appliances, including clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators, furnaces — the list goes on. Products with this certification must contribute significant energy savings, so much so that should a given product cost more than a similar, standard version, the extra cost must be able to be recouped via monthly bills within a reasonable timeframe. As with the WaterSense label, you can filter on most appliance producers’ or retailers’ sites to exclusively search for Energy Star options, or you can review the available products at the Energy Star website. We chose all Energy Star labeled products when one was available (not all appliances, such as stoves, have an Energy Star option).

Paint. All the major paint brands that our contractor asked us to choose from had a zero-VOC and, usually, a zero-emissions line. We didn’t have to order special paint or pay extra. Most new paints are low-VOC, and the zero-VOC, zero-emissions options are readily available industry wide. You can verify that the product has been certified by as zero-emissions and zero-VOC by a third-party agent or the EPA.

We were impressed that the home-building industry has been responding to consumer demand and providing more and more eco-friendly products. A not so easy choice? Making the decision to install a custom greywater system, which we’ll detail in the next post.

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Next in the series:Rethinking Our Greywater System: A New (Much Improved) Plan
Previously in the series:Our Home Insulation Decision: Based on R-Value

­­­Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!

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