Vail Valley Voices: Low cost of green home |

Vail Valley Voices: Low cost of green home

Murray V. Heminger Jr.
Vail, CO, Colorado

Short-term thinking has a higher cost than when it keeps people from choosing an environmentally friendly option.

Your home investment is much more than a down payment and monthly mortgage. Energy bills, maintenance, and repairs add up quickly, and effects on the health of a home’s occupants can be the greatest cost of all.

Compared to the initial price of building a conventional house, all of the green alternatives will certainly cost less in the long run. These green building systems are proven to save from 30 percent to 90 percent on heating and cooling bills. They are much more resistant to termites, other pests, wind damage, fire, earthquakes, rot and mold. They are healthier for their inhabitants. And they do less harm to the planet.

Conventional building flaws

One unavoidable problem with insulation in a conventional wall is the thermal bridging that occurs at every stud.

The middle of a 6-inch fiberglass batt might have an R-value of 19, but the stud next to it has an R-value of less than 7. Given that the stud framing constitutes 15 percent-40 percent of a wall’s volume, studs sharply reduce the whole-wall R-value, and each stud becomes a cold spot that attracts condensation, which can lead to mold and rot.

Conventional walls are also prone to excessive air infiltration and gaps between insulation and framing, both of which get worse as insulation sags, framing shifts, shrinks, settles and warps.

Fiberglass or cellulose insulation loses effectiveness as it absorbs moisture.

When stud walls become homes for rodents and other creatures, the insulation gets dirtier, wetter and compressed. This can cause a threat to human health.

Biological processes or movement of framing inside walls can cause damage to Drywall and paint inside as well as outside.

Green building alternatives can avoid all of these problems.

Cost comparison

Many green building methods cost less than conventional construction, but let’s assume you choose a more expensive green option.

You will have a higher mortgage for this green option. Your mortgage on the less expensive conventional home will be less.

Which is better? A mortgage payment will remain constant over the years, but energy prices are likely to rise dramatically as fossil fuels get scarcer and more expensive to extract.

U.S. mortgage interest is tax-deductible; energy bills are not.

You can save on your mortgage by making bi-monthly payments instead of monthly payments, or pay it off early. No such options exist for energy bills.

If you ever want to sell your house, green features will raise its value and the house will have an increasing market advantage as energy prices and environmental concerns inevitably grow in the future.

Your savings on the initial cost of heating and cooling systems may offset much of any additional cost of a green structure.

All of the green houses here are more resistant to fires, winds and earthquakes (monolithic domes especially) than a conventional house, which may save you on insurance and will certainly save you on losses and deductibles when your house survives disasters that others don’t.

The advantages become clear once you add up energy savings; maintenance and repair saving; possible insurance savings due to better fire, wind and earthquake safety; and everyday benefits of a healthier, more comfortable home.

Green products are also produced less harmfully, typically last longer and emit fewer, if any, pollutants while in use.

Some of your options are: Liteblok, Superadobe, straw bales, monolithic domes, RASTRAICFs, Pumic-Crete, Al domes, and structural insulated panels.

Not all green building methods are included here, just those that seem most promising and that have highly informative sites where you can find much more information.

Murray V. Heminger Jr., of Edwards, can be reached at (970) 331-4877 or e-mail

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