Glossary of Green Building Terms
BPC Green Builders prepared this glossary of green building and related terms to help consumers who are researching, considering, or building a green home to better understand green building terms.
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BPC and organizations working with BPC used their expertise and information from the online sources whose links are at the bottom of the glossary when preparing this glossary. Not all sources agreed on the meanings of some terms. Should you believe any definition in this glossary is inaccurate, or have comments, suggestions, or questions, please let us know at: BPCglossary@cmg-dev.com.
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The portion of a solar heating system that soaks up heat energy from the sun which is then sent to the thermal solar system to heat hot water or provide home heating.
This is the use of solar energy that is first converted into another type of energy such as a solar photovoltaic panel, or a solar thermal system that concentrates solar energy to heat water (or other medium) that then generates steam which is converted into electrical power.
This kind of heating is accomplished by using mechanical systems that collect solar thermal radiation and transport that heat via a liquid or air to heat the interior of the home.
This method uses a photovoltaic solar (aka PV or PV solar) panel system which converts sunlight into electrical energy.
See PV Solar Panels & Photovoltaic
In a home, an active system is one that requires mechanical energy to work. Heaters and air conditioners are part of an active HVAC system. The opposite of an active system is a passive system.
See Passive System
Framing consists of the structural elements of your home like studs, trusses, and so on that make up the skeleton of a home.
Advanced Framing (aka “Optimum Value Engineering” or “OVE”) are methods that optimize the use of lumber and other framing materials while simultaneously improving the home’s energy efficiency.
For example, an outside wall in a conventional home would normally have vertical 2 x 4 wood studs at 16” intervals that are in contact with the exterior and interior walls of a home. Each stud becomes a thermal bridge from the inside to the outside of your home, reducing energy efficiency. A wall that uses larger (2 x 6 for example) but fewer studs (studs placed at 24” intervals) minimizes the number of thermal bridges. Fewer and deeper studs increase the distance energy must travel to be lost and allows for 6” of insulation instead of 4” of insulation between the inner and outer walls.
Walls can also be built as “double walls” with a gap between the inner and outer wall. This eliminates the studs from being thermal bridges and adds yet more room for insulation.
Example of on type of Advanced Framing – Double Wall Construction. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Example of Energy Truss, an advanced framing approach
AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency.
See Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency
Also called living in place, this is an approach to home design that makes a home safer and easier to use for older homeowners, such as wider doors and halls to accommodate wheelchairs. The objective is to allow homeowners to stay in their homes longer and be safer.
Air barriers (aka wind barriers) are the parts of a home’s envelope that work to restrict airflow and air infiltration. Air barriers are always on the outside of a home’s sheathing and under the home’s cladding (siding, etc.) and water plane.
Air barriers are different from vapor barriers and moisture barriers, although some building products can function as more than one type of barrier.
See Vapor Barrier
ACH and ACPH both stand for air changes per hour. This is how many times the entire volume of air in your home is replaced by an equal volume of air from outside.
The term ACH relates to both intentional and unintentional air changes per hour.
Because green homes being built today are almost airtight, fresh air is brought in and filtered while the stale air is exhausted in a controlled manner. The ACH are controlled using an ERV or HRV system (energy recovery ventilation or heat recovery ventilation system), something conventional homes don’t usually have. These systems usually also filter incoming air so the air coming into the home is both fresh and clean. These systems control the number of air changes per hour while at the same time recovering the energy used to heat or cool the inside air being exhausted.
Unintentional ACH (aka Natural Air Changes Per Hour or NACH ACHn)
Unintentional ACH occur and change based on many factors.
One factor is the air tightness of your home’s envelope. Then temperature inside vs outside your home, wind speed and direction, the barometric pressure and other factors can change the unintentional ACH of your home. This type of air change per hour is also called the Natural Air Changes Per Hour.
To measure the air tightness of your home, all the windows and doors in your home are close and one door is replaced with a special “blower door” for a blower door test. The blower door causes the pressure inside vs outside the home to be different by a set pressure differential.
By doing this the technician can calculate how much air is leaking into or out of your home as a base line.
For green homes the unintentional air changes per hour must be at or below the ACH set for the home’s target green building standard. In conventional homes, especially older homes blower door tests find excessive uncontrolled ACH.
See Building Envelope, ERV, and HRV
Air leakage, typically referred to on energy performance charts as AL, means the amount of air that gets through or around the building product or building. This may be the air that gets through a window or door frame or the amount of air that is getting through the home’s envelope.
Air leakage lowers energy efficiency and can cause air infiltration into the home. The lower the air leakage is the better.
Some types of products, like windows and doors, have an AL rating.
An air-source heat pump is the most common type of heat pump used by homes in the US. It uses the latent heat in the air (there is latent heat in the air even in the winter) and transfers that latent heat to help heat the home.
Air-source heat pumps vary in their performance in several ways. The most important ways include the lowest outdoor air temperature from which they can still extract heat and the efficiency with which they can convert the heat they extract into heat for the home.
Technically, there is latent heat in even the coldest atmospheric temperatures on earth. However, due to the current level of technology, heat pumps can only extract and transfer latent heat from certain minimum outside temperatures. Therefore, heat pumps are viable options for home heating in all but the coldest climates. High-performance air-source heat pumps can provide all the heat a home needs most of the time; when it is extremely cold, they need some electrical heating to work with, or in place of, the heat pump system.
Also see Heat Pump and Ground-Source Heat Pump
Albedo describes how much solar radiation a surface reflects. The scale used is a fraction from 0 to 1, where 0 represents a black surface which reflects no solar radiation and 1 is the albedo of a surface that reflects all the solar radiation. A colored surface albedo might be 0.6 for example.
Relative to green building, the albedo of the materials and colors you use for your home affect how much solar radiation that material would reflect or absorb. Not accounting for insulation, a white roof would reflect more heat, keeping the attic cooler, whereas a black roof would heat the attic.
As more and more energy comes from clean energy sources, this type of clean energy will no longer be considered alternative energy. The important issue here is that the energy is clean and has little to no negative environmental downsides. Relative to green building and climate change, alternative energy consists of those sources which are:
- Newer and used less often than conventional energy sources, like coal, gas, and nuclear power.
- Clean energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and hydrogen fuel cells.
- Renewable, meaning use of the energy does not diminish the source of the energy.
Alternative energy for other uses such as transportation includes electric, hydrogen, natural, or liquified gas and biofuels. Of these, gas and biofuels are alternative and better than gasoline and diesel, but they are not truly clean sources of energy.
Electricity is only as clean as the way it was generated. An electric car charged with energy from a coal-fired power station is no longer a clean energy vehicle; an electric car charged via solar panels or wind energy is a using clean alternative energy.
The heat that is around you or an object, whether inside or outside. Even when it is cold outside, there is still ambient heat in the air that can be used by a heat pump to transfer heat into your home to heat it.
Also see Conductive Heat and Radiant Heat.
This is the angle the sun’s rays hit a surface relative to a perpendicular line from the angle or pitch of that surface. When the sun’s rays hit a surface perpendicularly, they transmit the most solar energy to that surface. Any variation from the perpendicular reduces the potential transferable energy.
Relative to green building, the angle of incidence is important because it impacts the efficiency of both passive solar thermal heating and active solar systems such as PV solar panels.
The sun’s position relative to a given surface on a home varies over the course of a day and over the course of a year.
Daily, the sun’s angle of incidence changes as the earth rotates and the sun’s position appears to move from east to west.
Annually, the sun appears higher or lower in the sky, depending on the season, which also alters the angle at which the sun’s rays are to a given surface on the home.
PV solar panel systems have either fixed or movable panels. Movable systems can maintain an optimal angle of incidence for a longer time than fixed panel systems. Some movable systems can track the sun seasonally, and some can track the sun both seasonally and over the course of a day. Movable solar panel systems are more expensive than fixed panel systems and the added performance of a movable panel system can be offset by adding more panels to a fixed system, sometimes at a lower cost than a moveable system. PV solar panel technology is improving, and costs are reducing.
Passive solar heating strategies using the sun’s radiant energy optimize the angle of incidence by allowing the most radiant energy into the home in the colder months and using shade trees, awnings, and roof overhangs in the summer so that when the sun is higher in the sky, less radiant heat can enter the home.
As a metric, AFUE is used to measure the fuel efficiency of a heating system. It measures all aspects of real-world use such as starting up, operating, and cooling down. AFUE is different from combustion efficiency.
Argon is one of the gases commonly used in double and triple pane windows to make them even more energy efficient. Argon has less thermal conductivity than normal air used between glass panes in less energy efficient windows.
Balanced ventilation is accomplished by having stale air from a home exhausted at the same rate as outside fresh air is brought in. ERV and HRV systems provide balanced ventilation in green homes while greatly minimizing energy loss.
Also see ERV and HRV
Batt insulation is typically made from rock wool or fiberglass that is backed by a paper or composite sheet. Batt insulation typically comes in rolls and is usually used between wall studs or beams along the home’s envelope. It can also be used to insulate an attic.
The insulation’s backing can simply be paper, or a composite material engineered to reflect heat and/or be a barrier to vapor and air. However, alone, batt insulation does not create an airtight air or vapor barrier. Batt insulation must be properly installed and of the proper R-value to correctly insulate a home.
Batt Insulation being installed
A blower door test is a method to determine how airtight a home is. A specialized door with a powerful fan or blower is installed in one of the home’s exterior doorways (one that is part of the home’s envelope). All the home’s other doors and windows are closed, and if you have wood burning stoves or fireplaces, the flue vents are closed.
The fan either overpressures or depressurizes your home’s interior, and by doing so, a trained technician can measure how much air infiltration your home’s envelope has. This test can be used to identify areas where your home has air leakage so you can weatherize your home. With green homes, a blower door test is used to determine if the air leakage is within the permitted limits of the green building certification.
Blower Door testing in progress. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Foam insulation is essentially made of a building material, such as polystyrene, that contains lots of small bubbles. To create the foam, such as expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), a gas is essentially blown into polystyrene to create the bubbles. The gas used to create the bubbles is the called a “blowing agent.” Different types of foam use different types of blowing agents.
During the manufacturing or installation of foam insulation some of the blowing agent can escape into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, most of the blowing agents used are greenhouse gases that are many times worst for climate change than CO2 or have other negative environmental impacts. While the blowing agents used today are less harmful than in the past, they still have a way to go before they are carbon neutral.
Also see Embodied Carbon, Greenhouse Gas and Global Warming Potential.
BTU is the acronym for British Thermal Unit. One BTU is the amount of heat energy needed to increase the temperate of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
BTUs are used as a common metric to gauge and compare the amount of heat they generate or the amount of electricity they use. Home heating systems and cooking appliances, such as stove tops commonly use BTUs to describe their heat output.
A building code is a set of minimum standards for construction of a building. Building codes often pertain to structural and fire safety. Building codes are generally set at the state level and help ensure that all construction meets an agreed-upon minimum standard of safety and comfort.
The term building code, as it is commonly used, rarely, if ever, pertains to green building standards, as those are always higher than building codes.
NOTE: A building envelope is one of the most vital parts of an energy efficient home and is important to understand.
A building envelope refers to those elements that divide the home’s inside, conditioned spaces from the home’s non-conditioned spaces and the outdoors. Conditioned spaces are the parts of your home you use energy to heat and/or cool.
Non-conditioned areas of the home usually include the garage, porch, deck, and sometimes the attic.
Elements of a home’s envelope include the foundation, exterior walls and framing, insulation, air sealing, vapor barriers, wind barriers, drainage planes, exterior windows and doors, attic floor, and/or roof.
The quality of a home’s envelope, including its strength, insulative qualities, it being airtight, and acting as a vapor/moisture barrier are critical to a green home’s energy performance, indoor air quality, comfort, and health.
Green homes have envelopes with superior insulation and that are essentially airtight. The insulation and airtight nature of the envelope is, in large part, what makes your home energy efficient.
Red Outline is Home’s Building Envelope
Building science is a scientific approach to the design and construction of buildings. It includes the physics, chemistry, math, engineering, materials, construction methods, and testing that go into building higher performing homes and commercial buildings.
It is important to have a clear understanding of building science to build high-performance, green, LEED-rated, Passive House-certified, sustainable homes.
Carbon dioxide or CO2 is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. It is primarily caused by burning fossil fuels, but it can also come from other sources such as burning biomaterials like wood and naturally occurs from sources including animal respiration, ocean-atmosphere exchange, and volcanic activities.
Also see CO2E and Greenhouse Gases
A person’s or family’s carbon footprint is the sum total of all the carbon and other greenhouse gases caused by how you live your life.
It is well known that carbon is released any time a fossil fuel is burned to generate energy. Coal- and gas-fired electric plants, manufacturing facilities, gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks all contribute to your carbon footprint. If you use gas to heat hot water or your home, your hot water heater and furnace emissions contribute to your carbon footprint.
Less known is that your carbon footprint also includes the greenhouse gas emissions created by trucks, trains, planes, and ships that transport the things you use from where they are made or grown to you where you use them. So, if you buy a piece of lumber or food grown locally, it contributes to your carbon footprint less than if the lumber or food you buy was grown or made thousands of miles away.
Note: The word “carbon” in carbon footprint is often used to mean any greenhouse gas. Some greenhouse gases like methane trap heat at a much greater rate than carbon. For example, pound for pound methane emissions are 25 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon.
CO2 is used to indicate emissions specifically from carbon. CO2E means CO2 equivalent and 1 unit of methane emissions is equal to 25 units of CO2. So, each unit of methane emissions you cause increases your carbon footprint 25 times more than if you caused 1 unit of CO2 emissions.
Also see CO2, CO2E, and Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Carbon neutral refers to a process, energy source, materials, or product that when factoring everything that goes into it neither adds to nor reduces the amount of CO2 or CO2E (aka greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere.
Carbon sequestration is the trapping and storing of carbon and carbon emissions so that they don’t escape into the atmosphere.
Traditionally, this term has been used in the energy and manufacturing fields to refer to pumping carbon emissions (generated by burning or extraction of fossil fuels) into deep underground storage.
Carbon sequestration is now starting to be used within the context of green building, although not in the traditional way. Wood and other types of natural building materials, such as cellulose insulation, contain carbon. By using these materials to build a home, especially those that include what otherwise would be waste products, such as sawdust and wood chips and would otherwise be burned to generate energy, the home is trapping or sequestering the carbon in these materials for the life of the home. This also reduces the supply of and increasing the cost of the carbon-based waste (like wood chips) that would otherwise be burned.
Carbon Smart building materials have some embodied carbon but even more sequestered carbon, which is atmospheric carbon locked up in the material itself for the life of the home. These are typically fiber-based, renewable materials.
Also see Embodied Carbon
See Closed Cell (spray) Foam Insulation (CCF)
CDD means Cooling Degree-Days.
See Degree Days
Cellulose insulation is plant fiber-based insulation and is generally made from recycled paper or by-products of manufacturing wood products, like sawdust. Cellulose insulation is generally treated with borates or other materials to make them fire and insect resistant.
Cellulose insulation comes in several forms including dry, spray applied, stabilized, and low dust. It can be installed damp and sprayed on, or loose – either “tight-packed” meaning densely packed in walls and other cavities or “loose-packed” as it is typically used in attics.
Cellulose insulation offers several key advantages over other forms of insulation.
- It is among the cheapest insulation materials.
- It is an efficient insulator, equal to or better than many other types of insulation materials.
- It can be used in new construction and can often be used to improve the insulation qualities of existing homes.
- It can be added to existing homes without having to remove the inner or outer walls completely.
- It has good moisture handling properties.
- It sequesters carbon in your home helping reduce CO2
- Its manufacturing and installation have a low carbon footprint compared to most other forms of insulation.
The meaning of certified depends on the context. In green building, people, building products, home products, and homes themselves can be certified.
People can be certified as having been trained or trained and passed exams.
Certified products and building materials can mean they were built or made in a manner that has been prescribed or they have been tested and proved to meet specific certification benchmarks.
Homes can be built to meet certain green building certification standards. In some cases, simply building to the prescribed way and using the prescribed materials makes the home certified. In other cases, to be certified the home must be built according to prescribed approaches and be tested to ensure it has achieved the certification performance requirements.
There are self-certifications and those that require testing and certification by a third party.
A home built to meet certification standards may have achieved the performance benchmarks, but if the homeowner opts not to have the home tested and go through the certification process, the home is not considered certified.
See Stack Effect
Cladding refers to the building products used on the exterior sides of roofs and walls. Siding, brick, stone, shingles, and metal are examples of cladding.
Some types of cladding are more eco-friendly, last longer, require less maintenance, and/or are made from recycled materials or can be recycled when removed.
Clean energy is the term for sources of energy that do not emit pollution to produce that energy. Geothermal, solar, hydro, and wind are all considered clean energy sources.
Nuclear-generated energy is sometimes called clean energy in that it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and exacerbate climate change. However, it being a clean energy is debatable in a wider sense as current nuclear power generation technologies produce radioactive waste which is dangerous and not environmentally friendly. Nuclear reactors today also generate nuclear waste that can be weaponized.
Also see Foam Insulation
Climate change (or more accurately, climate crisis) is arguably the single most critical danger to life on our planet. Climate change is the impact that human activities are having and will have on the world’s climates and weather patterns now and in the future.
Climate crisis, climate destabilization and greenhouse effect are alternative terms for climate change. Climate change is increasing average global temperatures, but more importantly it is shifting climate zones and weather patterns, making weather patterns less stable and more severe. This means more flooding and more droughts, more storms, more severe storms, and more extreme temperatures, all of which can be deadly. Climate change affects rainfall patterns and is causing increasing and more severe wildfires, water shortages, and flooding.
The increase in “global” temperature does not mean increasing temperatures everywhere or equally in all areas. Because the most northern and southern areas of the globe are warming the most, polar icecaps and glaciers are melting, and the melt water is raising sea levels. This exacerbates the damage to coastal areas during storms and is already causing low-lying areas like Miami, Florida to flood at high tide even without rain or storms.
Within decades coastal areas around the world, where most of the world’s population live, will experience severe flooding and eventually be below sea level. This will cause massive numbers of people around the globe to become climate change refugees and will cost trillions of dollars and cause loss of life.
Closed cell (spray) foam insulation (CCF) is a very energy efficient type of insulation that also acts as a moisture and air barrier, but which is more expensive than traditional types of insulation. Sometimes a small amount of CCF is used in combination with other insulation to get the most cost-efficient and energy-efficient insulation in a given space.
Closed Cell (spray) Foam insulation being applied
Also see Foam Insulation
CO2 stands for carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.
See Greenhouse Gas
CO2E stands for carbon dioxide equivalent. Greenhouse gases vary in their ability to trap heat and persist in the atmosphere. CO2 is equal to a CO2E of 1. Other greenhouse gases have a higher CO2E.
See Greenhouse Gas
Commissioning is the testing of a home after its construction or renovation to verify that the home’s systems are working at maximum efficiency. Typically, minor adjustments to the home’s operating systems occur at this time.
Commissioning is different from certification although a certification process can be the method of commissioning.
Also see Certified
Composite lumber refers to building materials that are made from plastic mixed with wood fiber or other agricultural by-products. Composite lumber often contains recycled material and is generally used for decking; hence it is often referred to as composite decking.
Conditioned space is the portion of your home that you heat and/or cool, such as the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and family rooms. Ideally and in green homes, these spaces are well insulated and air sealed. Porches, decks, patios, and often garages and attics are not part of the conditioned spaces of your home. In green homes crawlspaces that have HVAC systems or water and sewer pipes are conditioned spaces.
It is the conditioned space portion of your home that is measured for verification and certification of green standards.
Conditioned space is the Space inside of the home’s envelope
Also see Building Envelope
Conduction is the movement or transfer of heat energy through a material. In homes the materials are usually glass, metal, wood, vinyl, sheathing, and drywall.
Green homes are designed to minimize movement of heat energy through the home’s envelope, so the home doesn’t lose energy either by it leaving or entering the home via conduction. Insulation and reducing the physical connections between the inside and outside of your home help reduce conduction.
The R-value is a metric used to show insulation’s resistance properties to reduce conduction and the U-value is the metric used for windows for the same purpose.
Also see Thermal Bridge
Conductive heat is heat energy that moves through a solid. This comes into play with a green home when building materials like wall studs are in direct contact with an inside and outside wall. In the winter, the stud can conduct heat energy from inside your home to outside causing your home to be less energy efficient. When it is hot outside, heat energy from outside your home can be conducted to inside, again making your home less energy efficient because it increases your need to cool your home.
Even if the space between a home’s wall studs are well insulated, there can be conductive heat energy moving through the wall studs that diminishes the insulation value of your home. Therefore, there are building approaches, such as double wall construction and the use of sheet foam, that help minimize or eliminate any part of an outside wall, floor, or ceiling from being able to conduct heat into or out of your home.
Also see Thermal Bridge
Construction waste management involves strategies for the control and reduction of the amount of waste generated by construction through careful planning, sizing, and ordering of construction materials.
The objectives include:
- lowering construction costs
- using fewer non-renewable natural resources
- reducing the amount of materials going into landfills
- increasing the use of salvaged and recycled building products and recycling more post-construction building materials.
A conventional home is one that is built to meet building code standards. It meets the minimum requirements for safety and comfort. In contrast, a green, high-performance home, such as a net zero or zero energy ready home, is one that meets much higher performance standards.
See Degree Days
Cost of home ownership includes the first cost (cost to design and build the home or to buy the home) combined with the operational costs (costs of living in the home such as energy and maintenance).
Relative to green homes the first cost (also called prime cost) may be marginally higher than the that of a conventional home, but the operational costs of the home are often considerably lower than a conventional home.
Without a Mortgage:
After a certain period of time, the lower operational costs provide enough savings to recover the marginal cost of building a green home. After that is achieved, the operational costs remain lower for a green home and so the cost of home ownership is lower for a green home.
For example, if the marginal first cost of a green home is $15,000 more than a conventional home but the green home uses $5,000 less energy per year, after 3 years the marginal cost of $15,000 is fully recovered. Each year going forward the green home owner saves $5000. By year 5 of living in the home, the cost of green home ownership is $10,000 less, after 7 years, $20,000 less and so on.
With a Mortgage:
If you have a mortgage on your home, the cost of home ownership can also be looked at in terms of PITI vs PITI-E.
For a conventional home PITI is the cost of your mortgage based on what you pay each month for principle, interest, taxes, and insurance.
For a green home, PITI-E should be used to calculate cost of ownership because while the monthly principle and interest may be slightly higher because the green home is slightly more expensive, the E or Energy of PITI-E savings is greater than the marginal increase in the principle and interest so your ownership costs (or monthly costs) are lower.
For example, if a conventional home mortgage’s PITI is $2000 a month, a green home’s PITI may be $2050 (higher to cover the marginal cost increase of building a green home) but the green home’s monthly energy savings is $350. So, the PITI-E per month for the home is $1,700 and not $2000 as its $300 less per month in mortgage and energy costs.
Cost per kWh (kilowatt hour) the cost paid for or cost to generate 1 kilowatt of energy for an hour. kWh is a standard measure of electrical use. Cost per kWh on home energy bills may or may not include a transmission fee, depending on your energy provider.
Cradle to cradle describes the process in which a material is created, used, and then recycled so it can be used again, rather than becoming waste and no longer useable. This is in contrast to the phrase cradle to grave.
See Cradle to Grave
Cradle to grave, in building and engineering parlance, describes the creation, use, and then disposal of a product or material which then becomes waste or is no longer usable. While some portions of a green home have a cradle to grave life cycle, green building aspires to use products that have a cradle to cradle lifecycle.
Also see Cradle to Cradle
Daylighting is optimizing the use of natural light, such as through windows, to reduce the energy needed for artificial lighting. At the same time, it helps create environments that are healthy, stimulating, and productive.
Relative to green building, Deep Green refers to a building being very green vs somewhat green. An ENERGY STAR® Home is light to somewhat green. A LEED for Home’s Platinum certified net zero energy home is Deep Green.
Degree-day is the metric used to show how cold or warm a location is over a given time period relative to a specific base (room) temperature which may vary, but is typically 65°F when used for heating (and sometimes cooling) and typically 75°F when used for cooling.
When degree-days is used relative to heating it is called heating degree-days, or HDD.
Likewise, cooling degree-days or CDD is used to measure the air conditioning requirements of a home.
Delta-T is the temperature difference across a specific divider. Delta-T is frequently used to measure the difference between a home’s indoor and outdoor temperatures.
The US Department of Energy is responsible for a broad range of issues related to energy as well as some other areas such as nuclear weapons.
Relative to Green Homes, the DOE created the Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program including its standards for certification and other aspects of the ZERH program.
US Department of Energy Logo from USGS.GOV
Also: see Zero Energy Ready Home
Depressurization describes a situation within a home when the air pressure inside is lower than the air pressure outside.
Depressurization can cause outside air to infiltrate the home. With conventional homes, even with windows and doors closed, depressurization will cause air to infiltrate the home through cracks and gaps in the home’s envelope. This brings in allergens and if the air flows through your home’s insulation can bring in particles of insulation.
Green homes are designed to minimize air infiltration even if there is depressurization in the home.
Kitchen and bath exhaust fans, dryers that exhaust air outside, as well as non-sealed fireplaces can all cause air to be pulled from the home causing depressurization.
Depressurization can also cause back drafting which can pull any radon gas present in the ground into the home. Green homes foundations are sealed to help prevent radon getting into the home. Radon gas is a health hazard.
Depressurization can also pull gas into the home from even small cracks in gas lines or gas connections that are not properly sealed. Gas in the home is a dangerous situation.
A home’s design temperature is the expected minimum or maximum temperature for the home’s location. The design temperature, along with other metrics and factors, is used to properly determine the size and capacity for a home’s heating and cooling systems.
A direct-gain system is one approach for passive solar heating systems. One type of direct-gain system uses south-facing windows through which the sun’s radiant energy, heats the home during the day. This is called heat-gain. This heat energy is also absorbed and stored in the home by building materials such as stone, brick, concrete, or other materials which can absorb and store heat. A wall, floor, fireplace, countertop, etc. made of such products acts as a thermal mass.
At night, when the sun has set and it is generally cooler, heat stored in the home’s thermal masses radiates into the home keeping it warm.
Direct Gain Energy through south facing windows with overhangs that block most of the energy gain in the summer
For this type of system to work all year, roof overhangs, shades, filters, and other devices must be used to reduce or eliminate solar heat-gain during the daytime. This is possible because during the summer the sun is higher in the sky so often simply extending the roof further is all that is needed.
See Thermal Mass
Because warm air rises, displacement ventilation works by natural air convection without using additional energy to provide ventilation.
Simply having windows or air vents both high and low in a room or on different floors allows displacement ventilation to work.
Displacement ventilation. Warm air rises and exits upper windows pulling in cooler air from windows and doors open below.
Also see Stack Effect
Diurnal flux is the technical term for the difference between average daytime and nighttime temperatures.
A home’s drainage plane is the space or special material between the outer cladding (siding, brick, etc.) of your home and your home’s weather barrier which allows water that gets behind the cladding to drain down and out from the wall assembly thereby preventing moisture from damaging the cladding and inner sections of your wall assembly.
Let’s understand the structure of your home’s exterior walls. From the outside moving in you have cladding (siding, shingles, brick, etc.), then the drainage plane, then a weather barrier – sheathing that is affixed to the perimeter of your home’s framing – insulation, and then sheets of drywall which make up your home’s inner walls. Depending on your home’s climate you may have a vapor barrier in the wall assembly.
Illustration of one type of drainage plane. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
A drainage plane can be created using thin strips of wood running vertically under the cladding to create a space for the water to flow downward. It can also be a specialized sheet or wrap applied outside the weather barrier that has channels for the water to flow down and out from the wall assembly. Some weather barriers have integrated drainage planes.
Double Pane windows are windows where there are two layers of glass separated by a gap with a spacer. The glass and spacers are surrounded by an airtight frame that makes the entire glass assembly a unit. The gap is filled with air or a gas like argon or krypton for a glass unit. The gap between the glass panes windows reduces the transfer of heat from one side of the window glass unit to the other and increases the insulation value of the window. Argon and Krypton are more efficient thermal insulators than is normal air.
Double Pane Glass. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Double pane windows are more energy efficient than single pane windows but less energy efficient than triple pane windows that are filled with the same gas (air, argon, or Krypton). Most new homes today are built using Double Pane or Triple Pane windows.
Also: see Insulated Window and Triple Pane Windows
A Double Stud Wall is a type of wall design that has two layers of studs, one on the exterior side of an exterior wall, the other on the interior side of an exterior wall. This creates both a thicker wall with room for more insulation than in a single stud wall configuration. By staggering the studs or placing the inner and outer studs apart so they don’t touch, this wall design approach also eliminates thermal bridging.
Example of a double stud wall with the inner and outer studs spaced apart so they don’t touch, therefore eliminating the potential for thermal bridging. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Double Wall Construction using staggered studs. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
See Thermal Bridging
Dual Flush Toilets are designed to save water by allowing the user to use less water for flushing liquid waste and more water when solid waste is flushed. These toilets are usually High Efficiency Toilets, as are low flow and other WaterSense toilets can be.
Also: see WaterSense, High Efficiency Toilet
A ductless mini-split refers to a type of small-capacity air-source heat pump (commonly called a heat pump) that is designed to be highly energy efficient and provide both heating and cooling or just cooling.
A ductless mini-split is called ductless because it’s outside unit (heat pump) is connected to one or more indoor wall-mounted units (ceiling and floor units are also available) by refrigerant lines. These lines move heat energy to or from the indoor units’ heat exchangers.
The indoor units suck in air from the room they are in, pass the air over the unit’s heat exchanger, and then back into the same room. The heat exchanger either heats or absorbs heat from (aka cools) the air passed through the heat exchanger.
Conventional central air heating, cooling and ventilation systems, heat, or cool air in the home in one location and circulate that air throughout the house using air ducts.
Ductless mini-splits are made that only work with a single indoor unit and some are made so that multiple indoor units can be connected to a single outdoor unit. With multiple indoor mini-split units you can have each indoor unit set to a different or the same temperature, thereby creating heating and cooling zones in the home.
A Dutch Drain is a type of drain system that carries storm-water runoff from the bottom of a house wall away from the house.
EEM stands for Energy Efficient Mortgage.
See Energy Efficient Mortgage
See Energy Factor (EF)
A home’s effective leakage area is the amount of air leakage a home’s envelope has with all its doors and windows closed, as compared to a 100% perfectly sealed home envelope with no air leakage.
Most older homes have an effective leakage area equivalent to the home have a hole in its envelope equal to one or square yards. This is like a home with many windows and doors open allowing cold air in or warm air out.
Even new, non-green homes built to current building codes often have effective leakage areas of several to many square feet.
Effective Leakage Area for Green Homes is very small, for older homes often very large. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
In an energy efficient, high-performance green home, the effective leakage area should be measured in square inches.
Embodied carbon is the carbon (CO2 or CO2E of greenhouse gases) emitted into the atmosphere during the growth, mining, extraction, harvesting, transport, manufacturing, and distribution of a building material.
Embodied carbon does not include any carbon emissions the building material or product causes when in use after the home is finished such as would a coal, oil, or gas furnace. Those emissions are called Operational Carbon.
Also see CO2, CO2E, Operational Carbon, and Embodied Energy.
Embodied energy is the energy used in the growth, mining, extraction, harvesting, transport, manufacturing, and distribution of a building material. This is strongly related to Embodied Carbon.
Also see Embodied Carbon
Energy assessment and energy audit are used interchangeably. They describe the evaluation of an existing home’s energy efficiency and usage. The purpose of this process is to identify where the home is wasting energy and develop recommendations for improving energy efficiency.
Energy Audits typically include both blower door tests and thermal imaging
Typically, such an assessment or audit will recommend where to seal or caulk spaces around electrical outlets on exterior walls, gaps in walls or between windows and walls as well as between walls and floors where heat is leaking into or out of your home. The audit should also inspect and make recommendations if your current windows and doors should be replaced with more energy efficient windows and areas of your home that would benefit from added insulation. These audits also look to identify any air leaks from air duct systems, imbalances in air handling systems, and so on and also make recommendations on how to fix the problems.
A report should not only include recommendations but also expected costs per recommendation and its expected energy savings. Typically, you will find some remedies (like adding more insulation in your attic have low costs and high returns while others have high costs but lower returns.
When recommendations are followed a home becomes less drafty, more comfortable and more energy efficient.
Emissivity is the measure of heat radiation emitted from a surface. It is expressed as a fraction, from 0 to 1. Asphalt’s emissivity is .88 whereas aluminum foil’s is .03.
Also see Albedo
Energy can be generated, used, and wasted. Energy efficient means slightly different things depending on the context.
Energy Creation: How much energy is generated from a given amount of raw materials to create a given amount of power determines its energy efficiency. A device that uses less raw material to generate more power is more energy efficient.
Energy Use: The less energy needed for a device to operate at a given performance level, the more energy efficient that device is.
Energy Wasted: Homes that are poorly insulated and/or not airtight waste the energy used to heat or cool the homes through conduction or air leakage. The greater the R-value is of a home’s insulation and doors, the lower the U-value is of its windows, and the more airtight the home’s envelope is and the more energy efficient the home will be.
Also see Energy Performance, R-value, and U-value
The energy-efficiency rating, or EER, is typically used to measure the operating efficiency of a room air conditioner. The higher the EER, the more energy efficient a device is.
To calculate the EER of a product, you take the cooling output expressed as BTUs and divide by the watt-hours of electricity used.
Also see Seasonal Energy-Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Watt-hour
An energy-efficient mortgage is a type of FHA-insured mortgage where the lender increases the maximum loan amount it will offer (compared to a mortgage for a conventional home). The lender can do this because the home is energy efficient and will cost less to heat and cool, allowing the homeowner to afford a larger monthly mortgage payment.
See PITI and PITIE
Energy factor is a measure of energy performance for products such as clothes washers, dishwashers, and hot water heaters. The higher the EF the more energy efficient the product is. The EF is related to the percentage of energy going into the product that is turned into “useful energy.”
For example, in a dishwasher, useful energy is the energy used to keep the water hot, dry the dishes, and spray the water on the dishes.
The energy performance of a home factors in the energy efficiency, energy use, passive energy, heating, and cooling used, and clean energy generated by the home. HERS (Home Energy Rating System) scores are the typical method of expressing a home’s energy performance.
See Home Energy Rating System HERS
An ERV is a device that brings fresh air into a home without wasting the energy used to heat or cool the home. An ERV uses blowers to bring fresh air in and push stale air out through a heat exchanger which transfers the heat (and moisture) from the stale air to the fresh air (in the winter) to heat the cold incoming air. This means the air coming in will require very little if any energy to bring it to the desired inside temperature. In the summer, the heat in the fresh air coming into the house is transferred to the stale air leaving the house. ERVs also help maintain proper humidity levels in the home.
Energy Recovery Ventilator. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Also see Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)
An energy truss is a roof truss designed and constructed to allow more room for insulation to be installed in the attic, specifically around the home’s envelope. Without this additional room, the slope of the roof would normally limit the amount of insulation installed in an attic near where the roof hangs over the home’s outer walls, which are part of the home’s envelope.
An energy truss is also called a heeled truss, high-heel truss, energy-heel truss, or raised-heel truss.
Photo and illustration of energy heel-truss courtesy of APA
Normal Truss vs. Energy or Heeled Truss – Source of illustration BPC Green Builders, Inc.
ENERGY STAR® is a multi-faceted energy-efficiency standards, certification, and information program developed and administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Appliances, windows, doors, devices, and even homes can be Energy Star rated.
ENERGY STAR® products must use or have ENERGY STAR® standardized labels or statements of performance so builders and homeowners can see that a building material or product meets a given level of energy efficiency. Usually, in addition to being energy efficient, the product or material must meet a performance level equivalent to average non-Energy Star products and materials of the same type.
ENERGY STAR logo from EPA
ENERGY STAR® Homes meet the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) established performance requirements. The ENERGY STAR® Home program aims for the construction of new homes that are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes that comply minimally to the energy efficiency requirements as specified in the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC).
ENERGY STAR® Home certification requirements vary by climate.
US EPA Climate Zone Map
Also see ENERGY STAR®
The ENERGY STAR® Indoor Air Package is a program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was created to foster the design and construction of new homes so that they are less likely to have indoor air problems compared to homes built to conventional standards.
For a home to comply with the ENERGY STAR® IAP it must also meet ENERGY STAR® Homes requirements plus additional requirements which address indoor air quality.
The use of specific types of building approaches aim to prevent or mitigate problems caused by water infiltration and moisture, radon, substandard duct sealing, improper placement of furnaces, poor ventilation systems, and more.
Also see ENERGY STAR®
ENERGY STAR® labels show buyers the energy efficiency of the product.
Energy Guild Energy Label
ENERGY STAR® ratings are given to products either by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or another standard-granting organization authorized by the EPA to manage the rating program for that product.
Not all products rated as ENERGY STAR® certified provide the same level of energy performance. So, ENERGY STAR® labeling is a method to determine something meets a threshold of energy efficiency and to compare the energy-efficiency between two or more ENERGY STAR® rated items when selecting products and materials.
ENERGY STAR® appliances and products should be selected whenever possible and are required to meet Zero Energy Ready Home and other green certification standards.
Also see ENERGY STAR®
The ENERGY STAR® Window Standard relates to overall and specific aspects of a window’s energy performance, and for each climate zone in the US, different minimum performance levels are required.
The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) manages the certification program. Critics of the ENERGY STAR® Window Standard believe the standard to qualify for each zone is too low and, in some cases, no different than windows not certified as meeting the standard, but which are required by local building code.
Image courtesy of EPA
Also see ENERGY STAR® and ENERGY STAR® Label
Endocrine disruptors are any chemical that may interfere with or harm bodily processes normally controlled by the body’s hormones. Hormones control reproduction, growth, and other functions. Some building materials and products, such as PVCs, vinyl, material binders, and adhesives contain chemicals that are considered endocrine disruptors.
While it is difficult to eliminate all building products that contain endocrine disruptors, when building a healthy home, a certified green builder should take steps to minimize these chemicals as much as possible.
Engineered lumber is manufactured to use less wood, as well as wood from faster growing and smaller diameter trees, and that provides performance superior to standard lumber.
Engineered lumber is made by gluing together veneers (sheets) or strands of wood to create laminated framing members (beams, arches, etc.) that are stronger and less prone to warping than a framing member made of standard lumber.
Engineered lumber also includes short pieces of lumber that otherwise would be waste or unusable. These shorter sections of lumber are cut so each end has fingers or otherwise integrates into the next piece of wood and is glued to form a very strong joint. Sometimes the natural direction of the grain of the adjacent short sections is alternated between sections to create a longer section of lumber that is less likely to warp.
I Joist of engineered lumber, photo courtesy of APA. Note in this photo the connecting portion of the beam is made from strands of wood bonded together while the top and bottom sections of the beam are made from laminated sheets of wood.
Also see Engineered Wood Products
Engineered wood products include engineered lumber as well as composite wood-based products such as plywood, particle board, and other types of lumber, panels, and other building products made from sheets, strips, strands, and/or chips of wood. The wood components of such products use binders or glues to form the final products.
The objectives of engineered wood products include reducing the use of natural resources, recycling wood by-products of other manufacturing processes, reducing costs, and providing superior performance of the final product.
Also see Engineered Lumber
Enhanced air filtration in homes refers to air filtration beyond common home air filters.
Enhanced air filtration is generally accomplished with the use of a thick pleated air filter that has a MERV rating of 13 or higher. The MERV scale goes from 1-16, where 1 provides the lowest filtration and 16 provides the highest. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.
The type of filters you see at big box stores that are 1” thick are often below MERV 10 with many much lower. Hospitals and clean rooms typically use filters with MERV ratings of 13-16.
The upside of a higher MERV rated filter is it filters out more and smaller particulates. The downside of higher MERV rated filters is they clog up faster because they are filtering out more particles. High performance air filters with high MERV ratings are often pleated to increase their filtering capacity and lengthen their useful life.
Also see MERV and HEPA
See Building Envelope
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA’s website:
“The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment.
EPA works to ensure that:
- Americans have clean air, land, and water;
- National efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information;
- Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are administered and enforced fairly, effectively and as Congress intended;
- Environmental stewardship is integral to U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
- All parts of society–communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments–have access to accurate information enough to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
- Contaminated lands and toxic sites are cleaned up by potentially responsible parties and revitalized; and
- Chemicals in the marketplace are reviewed for safety.”
EPA programs that impact home construction include EPA’s ENERGY STAR®, WaterSense and Indoor airPLUS Programs. For home renovations the EPA has a certification program to assure older homes are lead safe.
Also: See ENERGY STAR®, WaterSense and Indoor airPLUS
EPS stands for expanded polystyrene. It is a rigid type of foam board insulation panel commonly used in homes. There are several types of EPS insulation. Type I is lowest in density and strength and Type X is highest. EPS generally has less embodied carbon than other types of foams used in home building, which is a good thing. The blowing agents used to manufacture it are not harmful to the ozone layer in the atmosphere and have a lower impact on global warming than blowing agents of some other foam insulation products. EPS also generally contains a high amount of recycled content, also good.
Also see Foam Insulation, Blowing Agent, and Embodied Carbon
Exfiltration is the uncontrolled, unintentional, and unnecessary flow of air from the inside of your home’s envelope to the outside.
The energy used to heat or cool that air that exfiltrates the home is wasted. So, exfiltration is not just air leaving your home, it is the energy as well. Exfiltration is the opposite of infiltration.
Also see Infiltration
First cost refers to the initial cost of design and building or buying a home. It does not include the operational costs of owning or living in the home such as expenses for energy, repairs, maintenance, etc.
Relative to green homes, their first cost is sometimes marginally higher than that of a home built to local building codes. But, because the operational costs of a green home are lower due to energy and other savings, the total cost of owning a green home (first cost + operational costs = total cost) is lower.
Also see Marginal Cost, Lifecycle Cost, Cost of Ownership, Operational Costs
Fluorinated gas is a category of greenhouse gas normally related to refrigerants and aerosols.
Also see Greenhouse Gases, CO2, CO2E, and Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Fluorocarbons are carbon-fluorine compounds generally containing additional elements such as hydrogen, bromine, or chlorine.
Within the category of fluorocarbons are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
Because CFCs are known to deplete the earth’s protective ozone layer, the US began phasing them out in 1978.
Also see Greenhouse Gases, CO2, CO2E, and Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Flush-out is the amount of time it takes a new home’s materials to cure and release any VOCs or other toxic substances prior to homeowners living in the home.
Because green homes are built using materials that emit little to no VOCs or other toxic substances, there is usually very little if any flush-out time required from the home’s completion until move in.
Also see VOC Volatile Organic Compound
Foam insulation is a type of insulation used in homes and comes in spray or rigid panel form. Some types of foam insulation provide a higher R-value per inch than other types of insulation such as fiberglass batt insulation. Some types of foam insulation also create wind and moisture barriers and can be used to seal air and water crevasses.
Commonly used foam insulation in homes include XPS, EPS, CCF, ISO, expanded polystyrene, PRI and Polyiso.
Currently, the downside of foam insulation is its embodied carbon. Embodied carbon is greenhouse gas released during the manufacturing and application of a building product. Embodied carbon is a problem with building products that was not realized until relatively recently.
All foam insulation causes greenhouse gas damage, some more than others. The main question is how much damage is caused by the foam versus the heating and cooling energy saved over a given period of time. Foam manufacturers are changing the way foam insulation is made and applied to reduce its embodied carbon.
Also see Embodied Carbon, XPS, EPS, CCF, ISO, PIR, Polyiso
The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit trade organization that fosters the responsible management of the world’s forests. The objectives of the FSC relative to “responsible management” include approaches that are environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable. FSC also fosters proper labor conditions and fair trade practices.
Wood products that are FSC certified assure builders and consumers that the wood used in their home was grown, harvested, and managed in compliance with FSC standards for certification.
Formaldehyde is a chemical used in certain building products, usually as a component in binders in engineered wood products. The chemical is classified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a “known human carcinogen.”
See Engineered Wood Products
Fossil fuel refers to any fuel created by the remains of living organisms which have been converted to fuel over millions of years by the natural forces of heat and pressure.
Strip Coal Mine
Examples of fossil fuels include oil, coal, and gas. A waste product of converting fossil fuels into energy is carbon dioxide. Fossil fuel use can also generate other harmful and dangerous pollutants.
Fossil fuels are the opposite of clean energy. Fossil fuels are generally used in conventional homes, but not (or to a much smaller degree) in high-performance homes.
Fossil fuel prices are volatile and despite some occasional dips in prices, the costs for fossil fueled energy trend upwards.
The best ways to minimize the impact of these volatile and increasing costs are to conserve energy by using energy efficient products, live in an energy efficient home and to use alternative, clean energy sources such as solar panels on your home or buying energy from companies that make electrical energy from wind, water or solar power.
A fresh air ventilation system or ventilator is a part of an HVAC system that draws in and often filters fresh air from outside the home. It can be integrated with the duct and air handling system of a central air heating and cooling system or use a separate system of ductwork.
In a green home, an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) or heat recovery ventilator (HRV) functions as the home’s fresh air ventilator but unlike a simple fresh air ventilator, the ERV or HRV also expels the home’s stale air and recovers 90% or more of the energy used to heat or cool that air.
Also see Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) or Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)
Framing is the structural portion of a home above the home’s foundation or slab upon which the wall board, ceilings, flooring, roofing, outer sheathing, and cladding are affixed. It can be compared to skeletons in living beings. In homes, framing is generally made of lumber and makes up part of a home’s envelope as well as its interior partitions.
Most homes use one of two basic types of framing:
- balloon framing, used in most homes
- timber framing often used in barns and in some homes.
Example of Balloon Framing
Green homes, while they may use balloon, timber framing or some other type of framing system are framed differently than conventional homes and use various advanced framing approaches.
Also see Advanced Framing
Friable means a material breaks down easily. For example, some types of home insulation materials are friable. As the insulation breaks down, it loses its insulation effectiveness and can release hazardous dust when it breaks down. In a non-green home, air infiltration through walls can cause the broken down insulation to come into the home. A green home with an airtight envelope minimizes or eliminates air infiltration into the home and therefore airflow that causes dust from insulation entering the home’s living areas.
Green home builders strive to use materials that are less friable than other options. This translates into homes that last longer, require less maintenance and are healthier.
See Forest Stewardship Council
Fungicide is a chemical/substance which kills fungi, mold and mildew, and yeast. It is sometimes used in building products such as insulation.
GPF is the amount of water a toilet uses each time it is flushed. Since 1992, the federal limit for all toilets sold in the US has been 1.6 GPF or less.
EPA WaterSense qualified toilets (considered high efficiency toilets, or HET) must use at least 80% less water than the federally mandated GPF, meaning 1.28 GPF or less.
GPM means the flow rate of a liquid measured in gallons per minute. When used in connection with homes, GPM almost always refers to water.
Geothermal and geothermal energy is simply heat energy from rocks, earth, water, or steam underground. Geothermal energy is a source of clean energy (both passive and active) that can be used by homes and industry.
Geothermal energy, when used in home heating in the US, generally refers to the ground’s heat energy below the frost line, where the ground temperature is generally 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Systems that use this type of geothermal energy are called ground-source heat pumps.
In some areas around the world (e.g. Iceland) high levels of geothermal activity and energy are enough to allow for geothermal use on an industrial and municipal scale. Generally, for this type of use geothermal energy must be high enough to create very hot water or steam.
Small Utility Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland
The hot water from these sources can be used for heating homes and hot water for homes and businesses. The steam can be used with steam turbines to create clean, carbon-free electricity or can be used as steam heating.
A geothermal home system, as typically used in the US, has a heat exchanger connected to pipes buried in the ground below the frost line and filled with a heat-transferring liquid. As the heat-transfer liquid follows though the pipes and then through the heat exchanger, it transfers the heat energy from the ground (geothermal energy) into the home’s geothermal energy system.
In the winter, the earth is warmer than the air, helping to heat homes; in the summer, the heat from the home is deposited in the earth, helping to cool homes.
Geothermal Ground Source Heat Pump – US EPA images
Geothermal energy can be used in most locations in the US for heating and cooling homes and for making hot water. However, in recent years, in many areas around the country, other types of energy efficient heating, cooling, and hot water systems have become more cost effective than geothermal systems.
A geothermal system’s energy-efficiency is high, but with advances in non-geothermal energy systems, their cost-efficiency is usually lower than that of more common air-source heat pumps.
See Geothermal Heat Pump System
Glazing refers to the part of the window that light comes through. It can be transparent, patterned, or translucent.
Glazing in a white window
Glazing can be a sheet of glass or a glass assembly with layers of glass and space between them as with multi-pane windows. Glazing can also be acrylic or a glass plastic laminated material such as for bullet-proof, shatter- or break-resistant glass windows and doors.
This is a metric and a key concept related to greenhouse gases and climate change. The GWP of a given greenhouse gas is a value that differs based on the specific gas’s heat trapping ability and how long it stays in the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide’s (CO2) heat trapping ability and its persistence in the atmosphere is used as the standard by which all gas’s GWP are measured. As the table below shows, CO2 is always 1.
There is a fair amount of complexity involved in the calculations of a greenhouse gas’s GWP, and not every organization calculates the GWP the same way. Also, GWP numbers change over time and because of several other factors.
Basically, the higher a greenhouse gas’s GWP, for the time period being considered, the worse the gas is in regard to climate change.
This chart shows the result from one method of calculating the GPW of three gases.
|Gas||20 year GWP||100 year GWP||500 year GWP|
Gray water is a household’s wastewater (except for toilets, which is referred to as “black water”). It is the wastewater from kitchen and bathroom sinks, tubs, and shower drains. It includes wastewater from appliances like clothes washers and dishwashers.
Gray water, gray water reuse, and gray water systems have obvious benefits and are critical aspects of green homes and life in areas where water is scarce, such as in the Southwest United States. The benefits are less obvious and clear in BPC’s service area but there are still reasons for considering gray water use. At some point, climate change may cause BPC’s service area to have periodic or constant water shortages. Reducing the demand for both clean water (which to pump and purify for drinking requires energy) and wastewater treatment (which requires energy) lowers over energy use (typically from non-green sources), cost, and potential release of chemicals into the environment.
Also see: Gray Water Reuse and Gray Water System
Greywater reuse is a way to reduce the use of clean, treated drinkable water by using gray water instead. This reduces wastewater output that will need to go to a water treatment facility before being reused and increases cost savings on water and sewer services.
The approach works by diverting water such as from sinks, washers, showers, and baths into storage tanks where it can be reused to water lawns, gardens, and other similar purposes.
Gray Water can be used to water lawns
Gray water can also be used to flush toilets as flushing does not require drinkable water, except where it might be otherwise mandated.
Also see Gray Water and Gray Water System
A gray water system captures a household’s gray water, often via a drum or barrel, which is then piped or drained into a home’s landscaping. It is important to check local building codes to make sure that a gray water system is permitted.
Also see Gray Water and Gray Water Reuse
“Green” is a widely used term that can mean different things to different people. However, relative to homes, lifestyle, products, and the environment it generally refers to systems, processes, materials, products, and conduct that are environmentally and ecologically sensitive, responsible, and that don’t cause harm, but instead protect and improve the environment, living things, humans, or the earth.
“Sustainable” is often used as a synonym for “green.” While the two terms certainly overlap in meaning, they are not truly synonymous.
Green building refers to buildings, building approaches and methods, products, building and other materials that use energy, water, materials and other natural resources responsibly and that minimize or eliminate harm to the environment by their sourcing, use, operation, or disposal and are good for those living or working in the building.
Green building strategies can be used in a new building or building renovation. They are applicable to all phases of the life of a building: development and siting, design and construction, operation and maintenance, and remodeling/renovation to eventual demolition.
There are differing levels of green building. Some green building focuses more on energy efficiency or health or use of green building materials, resources, water, air, etc.
Furthermore, some green buildings may achieve a 15% reduction in the use of fossil fuels while other green buildings achieve a 100% reduction in the use of fossil fuels and are called Net Zero Energy buildings. A 15% reduction in energy use can be called “light green” building where a 100% reduction would be considered a “dark or deep green” building.
Green building standards are objective, qualitative, and quantitative rating systems including minimum performance requirements by which the “greenness” of a building can be built to achieve, measured, and for some standards, verified by a third party.
Green building standards are developed and managed, often through collaboration, by government, trade, and professional organizations, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and organizations related to developing standards.
Examples of green building standards include HERS, LEED, Passive House, Zero Energy Ready Home, ENERGY STAR®, the National Green Building Standard, and the Living Building Challenge. The different standards emphasize different areas such as materials sourcing and operating efficiency.
Logos of Various Green Building Standards
By verification or certification to a green standard the testing entity, entity that established the standard, the builder, and homeowner can be sure the home will perform as the standard intended or better.
Homes that have been verified or certified as meeting these standards can positively affect a home’s assessment when obtaining third-party financing for building and remodeling, setting the foundation for a more accurate, consistent understanding between realtors, buyers, and sellers about the high-performance elements of a sustainable home. As seen around the country, certification to green standards can also improve a home’s resale value.
Green electricity is generated from clean and/or renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, wind power, biomass, or small-scale hydropower. Typically, large-scale hydropower electricity generation is not defined as green electricity. Some people include nuclear generated electricity as green energy because it doesn’t generate greenhouse gases.
Solar Panels provide green electricity
Some define green electricity as generated only from clean, renewable energy sources that do not generate greenhouse gases, or cause other environmental problems. This definition would exclude electricity generated from nuclear power because of the nuclear waste it produces. It would also exclude biomass generated energy as electrical energy derived from biomass sources requires burning the biomass fuel.
Green guides are guidelines from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which set out the requirements and standards for advertising claims relating to promoting a product as being “green.”
Green homes are designed and built to provide benefits to those who live in the home and to the environment that conventionally built homes (homes built to normal local and national building codes) don’t offer.
There are many “shades” of green homes, with each shade being a different green building standard. At the lighter end of green (lower on the green home continuum) are green homes that only comply to the US EPA ENERGY STAR program standard. Deeper green home standards include the US DOE Zero Energy Ready Home certification standard, Net Zero Energy Homes, Positive Energy Homes, Passive House certification standard, LEED for Home certified homes (with certification through a platinum level), and the National Green Building Standard, which also has many levels of certification and other green building standards.
Also see Green Building Standards, Energy Star, WaterSense, Indoor airPLUS, Zero Energy Ready Home, Net Zero Energy home, Positive Energy Home, LEED, and National Green Building Standard
See Energy Efficiency Mortgage (EEM)
Green philosophy and green living are approaches to acting, behaving, and living in socially responsible ways consistent with and intended to contribute to the preservation and conservation of natural resources and the environment.
To have a green philosophy and to live in a green manner require an understanding and acceptance of the holistic balance and interplay that exists between human activities and the health of the environment and to act in a manner consistent with maintaining a healthy balance.
Green power refers to “grid-base” electricity produced from renewable energy sources such as Photovoltaic Solar Panels, Solar Thermal, and Wind Turbines.
Wind Turbines provide Green Power
Green pricing is any pricing strategy used to sell grid-based electricity generated from renewable energy, typically from solar and wind power generating methods, which helps an energy company focus on providing green power.
Greenfield refers to undeveloped land.
Green Seal refers to both an organization that establishes standards and certifies, and a certification for construction and other products and materials that are deemed by the organization to be environmentally responsible.
Greenhouse gases act like the glass in a greenhouse to trap heat, and when these gases are emitted into the atmosphere, they contribute to climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are two common greenhouse gases.
Coal, Oil, and Gas fired Power Plants emit greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere due to natural events, such as volcanic eruptions, and due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels.
Not all greenhouse gases trap the same amount of heat and they persist in the atmosphere for different lengths of time. Therefore, different greenhouse gases contribute to climate change differently and this is measured using formulas that calculate the gas’s global warming potential (GWP).
Also see Carbon Footprint, CO2, CO2E, Global Warming Potential (GWP)
Greenwashing refers to using false, deceptive, or misleading advertising, marketing, information, and claims intended to make a product, service, or organization appear more environmentally friendly and/or responsible than it is, if it is at all.
A ground-source heat pump is a device that uses pipes filled with circulating fluid buried in the ground, at or below the frost line where the temperature is generally a constant 50-55°F. The GSHP then uses a heat exchanger to transfer or “pump” heat from the ground into the home for heating in the winter. In the summer, it transfers heat out of the home to be absorbed by the ground for cooling.
A GSHP is a type of geothermal energy device when it is used for heating. When used for cooling, a GSHP uses the ground as a heat sink.
Until recently, GSHPs offered better performance and energy efficiency and were more cost effective than air-source heat pumps. Due to improvements in high-performance air-source heat pump technology and the higher cost of GSHPs, the latter are no longer always the most cost effective option but are still a better option in colder climates.
Illustrations from US EPA
See Geothermal Heating and Heat Sink
Geothermal heat pump systems (GHPs), also called ground-source heat pumps, are an energy-efficient home heating and cooling system that relies on the ground temperature below the frost line (which is consistently 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit year round) for heating and cooling a home similar to the way an air-source heat pump, commonly called a heat pump, uses air for the same purpose.
The key difference of a GHP (or any heat pump system) vs using fossil fuels or electricity for heating or cooling is that transferring and concentrating heat takes much less energy than creating heat with gas, oil, or electricity. So, in the winter a GHP transfers (pumps) and concentrates the heat from the ground into the home. In the summer a GHP transfers heat from the home into the ground. In both cases, the heat transfer process is more energy efficient than just heating or cooling the home.
A GHP requires drilling wells or excavation so that pipes filled with liquid for transporting heat energy can be buried several feet underground. The liquid in the pipes transfers heat into or out of the home from below ground.
Ground Source Heat Pump illustrations from US EPA
In the past few years, because of sizeable improvements in air-source heat pump technology and efficiency and because of lower installation and maintenance costs than GHP, BPC generally specifies air-source heat pumps because they are nearly as energy efficient and more cost effective than GHPs.
Also see Ground Source Heat Pump
A gut-rehab is a major renovation of a home. Gut-rehab renovations remove all interior walls and ceilings leaving only structural elements of the home (generally its framing) and sometimes a home’s exterior sheathing.
A gut-rehab is an excellent and cost-effective opportunity to create a deep green or deep energy retrofit and convert the home into a green home.
Gypsum board is a flat panel of compressed powered gypsum bonded between two layers of heavy-duty facing paper. It is most commonly used as the material for the inside-facing side of walls and ceilings in homes.
Gypsum board is the generic name of what is also commonly referred to as drywall (also generic) and Sheetrock®, which is one company’s brand name for their gypsum board.
Halocarbon is a class of man-made chemicals that include some of the most damaging and persistent greenhouse gases. Gases able to stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. As such their use is and should be limited as much as possible.
As a class, halocarbons include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Halocarbons are most commonly used in air conditioning, refrigeration, electrical systems, and as blowing agents for some types of foam insulation products.
Also: see Greenhouse Gases
HDD means heating degree-day.
When degree-days is used relative to heating it is called heating degree-days, or HDD.
Related to homes, heat gain and loss is simply a description of how much heat is increased or decreased based on various factors and usually specifically related to building materials.
According to the EPA website (edited for brevity and clarity, bolding to highlight value to look for):
Windows, doors, skylights can gain and lose heat through:
- direct conduction through the glass or glazing, frame, and/or door;
- the radiation of heat into a house (typically from the sun) and out of a house from room-temperature objects, such as people, furniture, and interior walls;
- air leakage through and around them.
These properties can be measured and rated according to the following energy performance characteristics:
- U-factor is the rate at which a window, door, or skylight conducts heat through it. It defines the same thing that the R-Value represents for insulation. It uses a scale of 0-1 with 0 meaning not heat is conducted through the window and 1 means it conducts all heat through the window. A U-factor of .50 means the window conducts 50% of the heat through the window. Note: The U-value measures heat transferred from the outside in or the inside out o
- For windows, skylights, and glass doors, a U-factor may refer to just the glass or glazing alone.
- National Fenestration Rating Council’s U-factor ratings, however, represent the entire window performance, including frame and spacer material.
- The lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the window, door, or skylight.
- Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) is the fraction (scale between 0-1) of solar radiation admitted through a window, door, or skylight – either transmitted directly and/or absorbed, and subsequently released as heat inside a home.
- The lower the SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits and the greater its shading ability.
- A product with a high SHGC rating is more effective at collecting solar heat during the winter.
- A product with a low SHGC rating is more effective at reducing cooling loads during the summer by blocking heat gain from the sun.
- Your home’s climate, orientation, and external shading will determine the optimal SHGC for any given window, door, or skylight.
- Air leakage is the rate of air movement around a window, door, or skylight in the presence of a specific pressure difference across it.
- It is often expressed in units of cubic feet per minute per square foot of frame area (cfm/ft2).
- A product with a low air leakage rating is tighter than one with a high air leakage rating.
- Note that air leakage also depends on proper installation of a window, which is assumed in all ratings.
- The less air leakage the better.
A home’s heating load is the amount of heat that must be added to the home’s conditioned space to maintain a desired indoor temperature, given an outdoor air temperature for that location that is representative of a relatively cold mid-winter low.
A heat pump is a home heating and cooling device that is energy efficient because it transfers (or pumps) heat into or out of a home. Transferring heat energy is more energy efficient than generating heat energy.
Most devices that people call heat pumps are technically air-source heat pumps, which is just one kind of heat pump.
There are also geothermal heat pumps, also called ground-source heat pumps, which use the earth several feet below the surface or frost line, which maintains a constant temperature of between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit year round, during the winter to help warm a home and during the summer to cool a home.
Illustration from US EPA
A heat-pump water heater uses a heat-pump system to transfer latent heat from the air or ground, to assist in the heating of hot water in the home. This reduces or eliminates the need for a secondary source of heating such as gas or electric power.
Heat-pump water heaters use insulated tanks, as most conventional hot water systems use.
An HRV is a device that allows a home to expel stale air and take in fresh air without losing energy used to heat or cool the home’s interior air. Today’s HRVs recover 50-90% of the energy used to heat or cool a home’s indoor air.
An HRV runs the fresh outside air and the stale air being expelled through a heat exchanger. In the winter, this allows the warm, internal air being expelled to heat the incoming air from outside, reducing the energy needed to maintain the home’s indoor air temperature. In the summer, the exchange is reversed: cool air being expelled chills the warmer air coming into the house through the HRV.
Heat Recovery Ventilator HRV. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Also see Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV)
A heat sink is a material, element, or part of a system or device where heat can be transferred into.
Relative to cooling homes, air conditioners and air-source heat pumps use the air as a heat sink and ground-source heat pumps use the ground.
See Energy Truss
HEPA is a type of high-performance air filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air or High Efficiency Particulate Arresting and several other variations of what the filter does. To be considered a HEPA filter in the US, US DOE regulations require it to remove 99.97% of particles passing through the filter.
HEPA filters can be used in a home’s HVAC system as an air filter and some vacuum cleaners have HEPA grade filters. HEPA filters are also used in industrial and research clean rooms, hospitals, and other places were indoor air must be as clean as possible.
While many people confuse HEPA and MERV filters. HEPA is a different filtration rating system than MERV. HEPA filters filter out smaller particles in the air than the highest rated MERV filters.
HEPA filters should be used in homes where people have breathing problems or allergies.
HEPA and MERV rated filters can both be used in a home’s fresh air ventilation and HVAC systems. MERV filters can be used to first filter out larger particles which will prevent the HEPA filters from clogging as quickly.
Also see MERV
HERS stands for “Home Energy Rating System.” It is a nationally accepted energy performance and certification standard that is used to measure and compare a home’s energy performance to a baseline home or other homes. HERS is administered by RESNET, the Residential Energy Services Network.
The energy used by a home is the net energy a home uses from the power grid. A new home built to the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code is the baseline of the HERS scoring system. Such a home would have a HERS score of 100.
HERS Rating Scale. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
A green home with a HERS score of 50 uses 50% less energy (from the grid) than the baseline home. A green home with a HERS score of 0 uses no net energy from the grid. A green home with a HERS score of -10 would use no net energy from the power grid and would feed back into the power grid 10% of what the HERS baseline home would use each year.
An older or poorly built new home would likely have a HERS score over 100.
- Because a HERS score is based on energy used from the power grid, a home can lower that score by being more energy efficient and producing its own clean energy such as via solar panels.
- The HERS scoring method described here is how HERS scores are calculated since 2006; prior to that HERS scores were calculated a much different way. Under the old way 100 was not the baseline and instead of a lower score being better, a higher score was better.
See High-efficiency Toilet (HET)
A high-efficiency furnace meets the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) definition based on its annual fuel utilization efficiency or AFUE score for the type of fuel it uses.
Oil furnaces that have an AFUE of 85% or higher and gas furnaces that have an AFUE 90% or higher meet the FTC definition. The furnace’s FTC Energy Guide label has the information needed to determine if a furnace meets this standard.
High-efficiency hot water heaters are any hot water heater that is ENERGY STAR® qualified and rated.
High-efficiency toilets must provide no less than a 20% reduction in water use per flush than the federally mandated maximum gallons per flush (GPF) standard of 1.6 GPF while still meeting high standards of flush performance. All EPA WaterSense qualified toilets are HET, but not all HET are WaterSense certified.
Types of HET include gravity-flush toilets using 1.28 GPF or less, pressure-assist toilets that can use as little as 1 GPF and dual-flush toilets that provide the option of two flushing modes, one for flushing liquid waste and one for solid waste.
See Energy Truss
A high performance home is typically defined as one which is significantly more energy efficient than a conventional home.
High performance is measured using standard ratings systems like HERS and is achieved through thoughtfully combining an airtight, well-insulated, thermal envelope; a highly efficient heating and cooling system; ventilation and air filtration for high indoor air quality; and clean energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic electricity.
Some people also factor in other metrics of performance into what a high-performance home means such as indoor air quality.
See Energy Assessment / Energy Audit
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® is a home weatherization program administered jointly by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy which helps connect interested homeowners and qualified contractors who are trained to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency and performance, recommend remedial actions, and perform energy improvement retrofitting of the home.
HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. The term incudes the home’s mechanical systems involved in these functions. It also includes control devices, ductwork, air filtration, energy and heat recovery, humidification, and dehumidification when part of the overall system.
In green homes, the HVAC system is second to the home’s envelope in importance relating to energy efficiency. Every part of the HVAC system must be carefully selected, sized, engineered, and built for the home to achieve the desired level of high performance.
Homes can have more than one HVAC system when it is more efficient to heat and cool portions or zones in the home separately. Zoning a home using a single HVAC system can be accomplished using dampers in the ductwork.
In some homes, the fresh air/energy recovery and heating and cooling systems are combined into one system and in others the fresh air/energy recovery system is separate.
Green homes use high-performance, highly efficient heating and cooling components and they use energy recovery ventilators or heat recovery ventilators.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbon is a gas commonly used as a refrigerant in refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps and as a blowing agent to for some types of foam insulation. HCFC gas is classified as an Ozone depleting substance and can damage the earth’s atmosphere’s ozone layer which helps prevent damaging UV radiation from reaching the earth’s surface.
Also: see Ozone Depleting Substances
Hydrofluorcarbon is one of the many greenhouse gases.
Also: see Greenhouse Gases and GWP
Hygrothermal comes from Hypro meaning moisture and Thermal meaning temperature. It characterizes temperature and moisture conditions both outdoors and indoors.
IAQ stands for Indoor Air Quality.
See Indoor Air Quality
IC-AT stands for Insulation-Compatible Air-Tight Recessed Lighting.
See Insulation-Compatible Air-Tight Recessed Lighting
ICC-ES is the acronym for the International Code Council Evaluation Service. It is a non-profit public benefit corporation. The ICC-ES evaluates building products and materials. It then generates reports on these products and materials code compliance.
An ice dam is a buildup of ice that can form along the lower edges of a roof, blocking the normal drainage of water.
When water is unable to drain normally, such as under a pile of snow or ice, it builds up, leading to water getting under and/or through the roof and causing damage to the roof or other parts of the home.
Ice Dams form when insulation over exterior walls is not sufficient to keep the home’s heat from escaping through the roof and causing an ice dam. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
Ice dams are caused by heat leakage from exterior walls or the attic, which in turn melts snow or ice on the exterior walls and/or upper parts of the roof. As the water flows onto the uninsulated and cold eaves of the roof, it refreezes. That ice dams up the water still flowing down the roof which pools it and backs it up and under the roof’s surface.
Green homes are designed with energy trusses so that there is adequate insulation and air-sealing by the exterior walls and attic (or at the roof itself in the case of cathedral ceilings) to prevent heat inside the home from escaping.
Green Home’s use energy trusses and other devices to assure no heat from the home can cause Ice Dams. Source BPC Green Builders, Inc.
ICF means Insulated Concrete Form.
See Insulated Concrete Form
Icynene is a low density, open-cell, foam insulation material. It can be sprayed onto walls, floors, and roof assemblies.
Also: see Foam Insulation
IEA stands for International Energy Agency.
See International Energy Agency.
IECC stands for International Energy Conservation Code. A code used as one of many within the green building industry.
Superior Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a key objective of green homes. IAQ directly impacts how healthy a home is to live in. A home’s IAQ includes factors such as particulates in the air such as dust, pollen, allergens, and dust, as well as moisture and mold, the emissions of volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde from building materials and products, as well as the home’s ventilation and indoor air filtration.
A home’s ventilation is the exhausting of stale air and the intake of fresh air from outside. In a green home this happens via an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) or heat recovery ventilator (HRV) system and the air being brought into the home from outside, as well as the indoor air circulating, is filtered through high-performance air filters.
Also: see, Indoor airPLUS, Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), VOC, MERV, and HEPA
Indoor airPLUS is a voluntary partnership and labeling program by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that helps new home builders improve the quality of indoor air by requiring construction practices and product specifications that minimize exposure to airborne pollutants and contaminants. Clean air is good for everyone’s health, but it can be especially important to those with chronic respiratory conditions.
The EPA created Indoor airPLUS to help builders meet the growing consumer preference for homes with improved indoor air quality. Indoor airPLUS builds on the foundation of the ENERGY STAR requirements for new homes and provides additional construction specifications to provide comprehensive indoor air quality protections in new homes.
Construction specifications include the careful selection and installation of:
- moisture control systems;
- heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems;
- combustion-venting systems;
- radon resistant construction;
- low-emitting building materials.