“Green” homes in the Lowcountry come in all colors, and they all help to lessen resource depletion and pollution in the environment.
Common denominators in these eco-friendly homes include energy-efficient appliances, products and systems; sustainable, recycled or reclaimed materials; the reduction of carbon footprints; the improvement of indoor air quality; and water conservation.
Here are some examples of the environmental, economic and social benefits of going “green” inside and outside the home.
Many new or remodeled homes feature reclaimed wood in wide-plank flooring, stairways, beams and trusses, fireplace mantles, walls, paneling, farm tables and cabinetry.
The widespread appeal is obvious. Reclaimed wood is beautiful, with its unique characteristics, centuries-old patina due to its natural aging process, a distinct sense of history and provenance, and imperfections such as bolt and nail holes.
Most reclaimed lumber comes from timber and decking retrieved from old barns, factories, warehouses, houses, mills, coal mines, boxcars, water tanks and wine barrels. The stately longleaf pine — used predominately in commercial structures in the Southeast during the Industrial Revolution — was a favorite then and now because of its age, dense grain with a high ring count, durable, extremely hardy, stable and plentiful. Oak, hickory, poplar, cypress and teak also are common in Lowcountry homes.
The use of reclaimed wood in home construction surged in popularity in the 1990s as environmental concerns increased over the millions of tons of “eco-unfriendly” construction waste being dumped at landfills, including wood from demolished buildings. More recycling means smaller landfills. (Almost 40 percent of the estimated 251 million tons of consumer solid waste generated in the United States annually comes from construction projects, and most of it can be recycled but isn’t.) Also, the logging, transporting and processing of new wood and its toxic elements applied during treatment for commercial use fill the air with pollutants.
The process of producing reclaimed wood flooring uses 13 times less cumulative energy than that of producing virgin wood flooring, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, demolished buildings provide about 1 billion feet of usable lumber per year.
Much like reclaimed wood, the use of reclaimed bricks in new and remodeled homes in the Lowcountry creates a distinctive appearance that is impossible to duplicate. Most homeowners choose to install reclaimed bricks for their aesthetic appeal, but a growing number of homeowners also are consciously making a statement about protecting the environment. Recycled brick doesn’t contribute to landfill waste and carbon footprints, unlike the air-polluting production and firing processes in the making of new bricks. Homeowners also typically save money when installing recycled brick and pavers, or any other recycled construction material.
Whether they come from a deconstructed 19th-century warehouse in Savannah or Charleston, reclaimed bricks in Lowcountry homes are having second lives as fireplace surrounds, kitchen backsplashes, flooring, walkways, walls, accent paneling in libraries, patios, exterior walls and doorsteps.
Solar Energy Systems
There are many alternative energy sources in this world of rising utility bills. Think solar. Some people do, but of the 8 percent of Americans who get their energy from a renewable source, only 1 percent heat up with solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
If you do go solar, you can say goodbye to your electric bill and sell whatever excess energy you have back to a utility. It’s a win-win situation for you regarding expense, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.
The cost of solar panel hardware has fallen dramatically over the past six years; the price tag ranges from $18,000 to $40,000, depending on the number of kilowatts. The more energy a system can produce, the more it will cost. Most of the expense incurred these days for a solar energy system is for installation, permitting and other “soft costs,” not the actual expense of the panels themselves. State tax credits also are available.
Most residential solar energy systems are roof-mounted and face south to garner the most sunlight and produce the most energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The average energy savings nationwide for a solar homeowner is $1,000 a year for 20 years — typically, the length of most solar panel warranties. But because of abundant sunlight in the Lowcountry (62 percent of daylight hours on Hilton Head Island are sunny year-round), that $20,000 in savings would likely spike higher; in Hawaii, for instance, the savings max at $60,000. The average installed cost of a solar panel system is $4.72 per kilowatt.
Protecting the home from termites and other insects can be achieved inside and out with non-toxic and highly effective methods. When applied to wood inside the home, borate (boric acid, oxides and salts) solution protects against termites and other wood-destroying insects from infestation. This treatment eliminates wood as a food source for pests and also penetrates deeply into wood fibers to prevent wood-decaying fungi. Borate compounds disrupt the enzyme systems of insects and fungi with its toxins, which are not harmful to humans.
Sodium silicate-based preservatives are another effective pest-resistant option when applied to sustainable “green” lumber.
Sentricon, the only termite protection product to be awarded the Presidential Green Chemistry Award by the EPA, eliminates termites’ ability to eat, survive and breed. The eco-friendly formula, found in Sentricon stations installed in the ground and maintained by specialists, is an insect-molting inhibitor bound within a bait matrix around the outside of the home.
Products for the Home
Want the products you use every day as you live and play inside your home to be “green,” too? Try these items:
• Organic, reusable Eco-Ditty sandwich and snack bags are made from 100 percent organic cotton and come with three non-toxic permanent fabric markers for fun personalization ($12.99).
• Green Home makes an organic, 400-thread-count cotton sateen sheet set in natural or white tones ($139).
• Love sailing? You’ll love these tough, eco-friendly, nautical-patterned shower curtains made from recycled sailcloth from handcrafted America’s Cup boats, cruising yachts and racing boats ($105).
• You can clean, “green,” too, with the Vapamore MR 100 Primo Steam Cleaner Deluxe, a non-toxic “green” machine that cleans and sanitizes without chemicals ($299).
• Bag to Nature’s 13-gallon compostable tall trash bags are tear- and leak-resistant ($13.25 for 15).
• When it comes to home repair or arts and crafts projects, check out non-toxic and recycled non-porous citrus from Glu6 ($6.50).
• Gaur’s backpack with exterior and interior polyester fabrics is made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles ($68).
• The 14-inch Sun Tunnel skylight meets Energy Star approval guidelines for energy efficiency and channels natural sunlight from roof to ceiling in any room in the home ($466).
• For form and function, check out the sustainable handcrafted maple-wood writing desk and hutch from Pacific Rim, which is free of toxic glues and hand-rubbed with non-toxic tung oil with a beeswax finish (from $585).
• A 75-gallon rain barrel from RainXchange in terracotta or sandstone helps conserve your home’s water supply and reduce your water bills ($219).
• Even your pup can go “green” with non-toxic recycled rubber dog bones from Orbee-Tuff ($66).