When it comes to sustainable residential construction, the keys to success are planning, conserving water and using energy efficiently.

Of course, there’s more than one way to achieve sustainability in residential construction so instead of presenting you with a checklist, we’ve provided a series of tips. Some are more useful than others but we’ll leave it up to you to decide which ones to pursue and which not. If you feel so inclined, feel free to implement all of these suggestions in your pursuit of sustainable residential construction. You’re bound to save money and reduce your carbon footprint.

Here is our list of 12 tips gleaned from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes specifications:

Minimize disturbed area of building site. Before you start building, develop a tree and plant preservation plan with “no-disturbance” zones clearly delineated on drawings and on the building lot.

Install erosion controls during construction. Protect on-site storm sewer inlets, streams, and lakes with straw bales, silt fencing, silt sacks, rock filters and similar measures. Store disturbed topsoil for reuse later on.  

Limit framing waste. In a bid to optimize the use of framing materials for the home, try to limit the waste factor to about 10 percent. This includes material from wall sheathing, rafters, ceiling joints, cornice work, studs, beams and headers and roof deck. You can cut down on waste by drawing up detailed plans for the framing along with a detailed cut list for the lumber.

Consider nontoxic pest control. Keep all wood from the house at least 12 inches above the soil. Seal all external cracks, joints, edges and entry points with caulking. If for some reason caulking cannot be used, install rodent and corrosion-proof screens. Also, when installing landscaping, make sure the mature plants will not come within 24 inches of the home.

Erosion controls after construction. Use terracing and retaining walls to reduce long-term soil runoff if portions of the lot are located on a steep slope. Also, the U.S. Green Building Council recommends planting one tree, four 5-gallon shrubs or 50-square feet of native groundcover per 500 square feet of ‘disturbed’ lot area on the construction site (including the area under the roof).

Install a vegetated roof. This will help reduce the runoff of water from the roof.

Install a rainwater harvesting system. This can be as simple as setting up a rain barrel to collect water from the roof of the home. The LEED for Homes program recommends using a system that can capture 50 to 70 percent of the total roof area. The captured water can be used for landscape irrigation or indoor water use. On a side note, if municipal recycled water is available, it can be used to help with landscape irrigation.

Conserve indoor water use. Installing high-efficiency faucets, toilets and showers can reduce the demand for hot water and the corresponding energy use for water heating.

Installing high performance windows. To get the highest level of energy efficiency, the U.S. Green Building Council recommends homeowners seek out windows and glass doors with National Fenestration Rating Council ratings that substantially exceed the window requirements in the ENERGY STAR for Homes national Builder Option Package. Just make sure the window salesman doesn’t stay longer than four hours.

Energy efficient lighting. Using ENERGY STAR labeled compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can help reduce energy consumption. In addition, exterior lighting with motion controls and integrated photovoltaic cells can further reduce energy needs.

Use high-efficiency appliances. Installing ENERGY STAR labeled refrigerators, ceiling fans, dishwashers and clothes washers will help reduce appliance energy consumption.

Use renewable energy. The most obvious source of renewable energy is the sun. Installing solar panels on your home can help reduce the need to consume electricity from nonrenewable energy sources.

Do you have more tips for sustainable residential construction? Please leave your ideas in the comments below.

Sustainable residential construction
When it comes to sustainable residential construction, the keys to success are planning, conserving water and using energy efficiently.