Concrete is the key building material used in The New American Home 2004. Erin OBoyle Photographics. Photo Courtesy of Portland Cement Association.

For most homebuilders and homeowners, expressions such as sustainable development, green building, and eco-friendly design werent part of the vernacular several years ago (although commercial builders have long been familiar with these terms). But with mounting concerns about rising energy costs and the continued depletion of finite resources, these environmental buzzwords are becoming mainstream.

In the past 10 years, green building has surged in popularity in the residential sector, according to Ray Tonjes, chair of the National Association of Home Builders Green Building Subcommittee. He says that more homebuyers are making environmental issues a top priority for new construction and remodeling.

Sustainability expands on the basic concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle. It seeks to balance sensitivity for the environment with economic and social values. For homeowners, the benefits of green living go beyond environmental stewardship. Sustainable homes also offer many practical, personal, and economic advantages including:

  • Lower utility costs.Through such strategies as proper site orientation, the use of insulating building materials, and tighter construction to reduce drafts, sustainable homes require much less energy to heat and cool. Sometimes off-grid energy sources, such as solar power, can be used to meet all or part of the homes electricity needs.

  • Reduced impact on the surrounding environment and community. Sustainable homes make more use of materials manufactured or harvested in an environmentally responsible manner. They also use materials available locally, not only to reduce transportation impacts (such as fuel consumption and pollution) but also to stimulate the local economy. Attention to landscaping is important as well, with consideration given to minimizing stormwater runoff, which can pollute local waterways.

  • A healthier, more comfortable living environment. By using nontoxic materials, sustainable homes have better indoor air quality. They also use materials resistant to moisture and rot to eliminate concerns about the growth of hazardous mold and mildew. Exterior walls typically have greater thermal mass, which offers the dual benefits of reducing temperature fluctuations and muffling outdoor noise.

  • Greater durability with less maintenance.Building with highly durable, low-maintenance materials, such as concrete, extends the useful life cycle of a sustainable home and reduces maintenance and replacement costs.