Bringing “green” indoors

As the word “green” gains in popularity and usage as a synonym for “environmentally friendly,” it might be easy to lose sight of exactly which environment is being referenced. For the Waehlers of Ocean View, “environment” not only meant the environment in which people live on Earth but the environment inside which they live most of the time — as in peoples’ homes.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Marie and Jim Waehler’s home in Ocean View.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Marie and Jim Waehler’s home in Ocean View.

The Ocean View couple said keeping their home environment “green” meant teaming up with a builder who is a member of the Department of Energy’s Building American Program and having their house third-party certified by the American Lung Association’s Health House program.

Marie Waehler (better known to Coastal Point readers as food columnist Marie Cook) and her husband, Jim Waehler, decided on using Rob Lisle, owner of Insight Homes, to build their home after meeting him through Jim Waehler’s job as an attorney. Insight Homes works closely with local custom builders Joe Mullins and David Noel of Vision Builders. Before they even bought their lot, Insight was involved, helping them to decide if it was situated correctly for active solar heating.

“Rob was great,” said Marie. “He was working with people from Duke University and they came up here and looked at the lot, and we decided it would be a good fit for what we wanted to do. It had to be in the right position so you get the most for your money,” she said.

What Insight Homes does as a company includes using “green” fiber carpeting, which cuts down on volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), and emissions; and using low-VOC paints that do not emit significant pollutants and are virtually odor free. They purchase from manufacturers that contribute by using recycled content in their building materials; and they use renewable resources, such as the sun. The Waehler’s house also boasts many of the now-expected systems of an energy-efficient house.

“Our home has a Rennai water system, which gives us instant hot water — no wasting water waiting for it to heat up for showers, laundry or dishes. It also has extra insulation and a conditioned crawlspace, which is supposed to maintain a uniform temperature year-round,” she said.

“We have a central vacuum and a whole-house humidifier,” Marie continued. “We have a duel-fuel system — when the temperature drops below 35 degrees, we switch from the solar grid to propane gas for heat. We’re supposed to be a negative producer of electricity — selling it back to the electric company — something that is limited in its scope, as only as certain number of producers are eligible.”

In addition to the active solar heating by the panels, they situated a sunroom that will maximize the sun’s rays.

“It really is the wave of the future,” said Marie. “Energy prices are only going to go up. My husband is a car guy and sees that all cars in the future will eventually be electric. With us being able to sell electricity back to the company, that could mean free fuel!”

A number of nationwide programs aim to encourage home owners to build with such environmentally-friendly goals in mind.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Building America conducts systems engineering research to produce homes on a community scale that use on average 30 to 90 percent less energy; integrate onsite power systems leading to “zero-energy” (ZEH) homes that will ultimately produce as much energy as they use by 2020; help home builders reduce construction time and waste; improve builder productivity; provide new product opportunities to manufacturers and suppliers; and implement innovative energy- and material-saving technologies.

The American Lung Association Health House Program’s mission is to raise the standard for healthier living environments. With stringent guidelines above and beyond local building codes, it helps builders ensure a healthy, durable and energy efficient home. Typical components include foundation moisture control, advanced framing techniques, high performance windows, energy efficient sealed combustion heating systems, high-efficiency air filtration systems, whole-house ventilation, humidity control and carefully selected interior finishes.

It is through those programs and others like it that the environment the Waehlers will now enjoy will be one that is clean, “green” and healthy.

“You know those little particles you see floating around when the sunlight comes in your house? With this house, they’ll be almost non-existent,” noted Marie.