Sustainable home building trends started in the 1980s but the movement has grown most rapidly in the last decade. The percentage of environmentally-friendly homes built in the U.S increased to 16 percent in 2010 from just 2 percent in 2006, says McGraw-Hill Construction, a market-research firm in New York.
According to the Sustainable Housing Foundation, “sustainable” homes are designed to reduce the overall environmental impact during and after construction. Aside from harnessing the earth’s richest energy source — sunlight — green builders and designers examine a number of other issues to make a house eco-friendly. Green homes often are constructed using re-purposed materials; designed to produce their own energy; built in locations that utilize natural lighting, shade and breezes; tap into natural water sources and reuse; and have their own recycling system.
In 2007, the LEED for Homes rating system was launched by the U.S. Green Building Council. Currently, more than 50,000 LEED-certified green housing units have been approved, with more than 82,000 units under construction or in the pipeline for LEED certification.
Pa Ka Makani Farm
A primary example in North Hawaii is Pa Ka Makani Farm, one of the first LEED-certified Platinum eco-friendly houses in the state, completed in 2014.
The owners worked with green and sustainable design architects Matt and Rhonda Goyke from Green Sand Inc. in Honolulu to devise plans for the 4,750-square-foot Polynesian pod-style home that includes separate garage, office/guest room and main house structures.
Originally from the East Coast, the owners wanted to live off-the-grid (without reliance on public utilities) and be sustainable with as little impact on the environment as possible. They were first intrigued back in the 1970s by a then-new paradigm of thought against the deterioration of the environment.
The home’s location in Kapaau was an easy choice, with a climate that allows plants, trees and flowers to flourish and picturesque views of Maui as the backdrop. Matt designed the residence to take advantage of the area’s abundant breezes, so the home would only need air conditioning in two rooms. Natural daylight was utilized to help reduce the need for lights during the day, saving energy and making a smaller carbon footprint.
“The wind is constant and oppressive (in that area) so the house was designed to protect against the wind in addition to using it to ventilate the room,” he says. “It is shaped in an arc so it creates a wind shadow and calm space on the windward side so the outdoor spaces are protected.”
Matt continues, “As far as sunlight, the quality of light is important, specifically to bring in natural light and reduce glare and heat. In an effort to create a cool interior, we minimized the heat that comes into the space.”
The contractor, Andrew Queen with Queen Construction in Holualoa, brought a genuine enthusiasm to the project according to the owners. Committed to reducing the environmental impact with many years of construction experience from the company his father created, building a LEED certified home was a motivating factor.
Queen created an extensive waste management and reduction program to minimize construction-related waste. The ceilings, walls and roof were specially insulated, and lights in the ceiling and attic are all ICAT-rated to reduce heat transfer from the attic to the interior space.
Natural materials were used whenever feasible and low VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials such as paints, coatings, sealants and adhesives were also utilized.
“We tried not to use any vinal so we chose fiberglass windows,” Matt says. “Ceramic tiles were chosen because they are handmade using more natural materials. We also used American Clay that absorbs moisture and then releases it.”
Energy at Pa Ka Makani is produced by a photovoltaic system built for the house with a battery backup system for evening use.
“A sustainable home is one that can support itself as well as the people who live in it without substantial outside influences,” Queen says. “For example, the photovoltaic system was designed to support all functions of the home, without the outside influences from utility companies, such as HELCO.”
For water, rain is caught and purified and then used for drinking water and to irrigate agriculture on property. It is also harvested onsite through graywater and blackwater management systems.
“The entire site is a catchment area ranging from roofs to the courtyard and then collected at a water tank with overflow into a pond at the bottom of the site,” Matt says.
Permaculture was used extensively for the agricultural and gardening aspects of the farm as part a five-year project the owners are now working on.
“From a green building standpoint, I am most proud that 75 percent of all construction waste was recycled,” Queen says. “Since completing Pa Ka Makani I’ve found that green building concepts are brought up in almost every interview and project we’ve had. Not every house may be this iconic, but it doesn’t take a lot to make a substantial impact.”
Another exemplary home is Hiilani EcoHouse, built in 2013 overlooking the ocean near historic Waipio Valley. Co-owners Dave and Sherry Pettus and Jim and Teri Sugg designed the sustainable 4,000-square-foot “carbon-neutral home” together as a two-family residence, ready for grid independence, with designer Robert Mechielsen and his team at Studio RMA.
“We came together and share the space. By doing so, this reduces each person’s ecological footprint while enhancing the quality of life by sharing resources, land and the community,” Dave says.
Most of the house’s energy and functionality are derived from sustainable sources, now in the final stages of being completely independent. The goal was not to burden the earth’s atmosphere with more carbon dioxide, based on a carbon neutral design strategy developed by C-N Tech in the Netherlands.
The home’s signature “butterfly” roof harvests sun for electricity and rain for household and irrigation use. The wing shapes create accelerated airflow through the building and the roof generates negative air pressure which energizes an innovative and energy-saving “eco air conditioning” system.
“We want to help people find good ideas to design their own homes for sustainable building,” Dave says.
Mechielsen says the Hiilani Ecohouse serves as an example of living in concert with nature by promoting carbon neutral design and innovative green technologies, reducing each person’s ecological footprint while sharing resources, land and community.
“It’s possible to live sustainably more comfortably and at lower cost per inhabitant than people tend to think is possible,” Mechielsen says.
Common green features like water catchment, solar energy and permaculture practices in agriculture are options available to everyone. Eco-friendly homes can be built nowadays no matter how big — or how small.
One example are “tiny homes” produced by Habitats Hawaii, a business based in Waimea co-owned by local realtor Barrie Rose and contractor Johanna Tilbury. It began in 2006 and offers fours models from 200 to 250 square feet as well as custom designs.
A fully plumbed and wired home on wheels is complete with a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom and built-in furnishings, appliances and fixtures.
“Each feature of our Habitats is tailored to the idea of living lightly on the earth,” Rose says. “All models are solar-ready and wired for 110 volts, with metal-roof gutters to capture rain water.”
Large windows allow sunlight to beam into the home, cooling or warming the interior. The foundation’s steel chassis with wheels allows owners to move the home to other natural surroundings. Different roof structures are also available.
“The idea originated out of a perceived need and as a creative project,” Rose says. “The custom designs allow owners to live sustainably in a beautiful and functional environment.”
For one such home, Hale Maluhia, the owner used “green” products on the exterior made from recycled plastic carpeting. Non-toxic American Clay plaster was used as an alternative for the interior wall coverings.
Other owners have added a “furo,” or Japanese bath, bamboo floors, outdoor showers, lanai or decks. Approximately six Habitats have been sold on Hawaii Island and interest is spreading to other islands.
“We have a customer on Kauai who wants us to build and ship there,” Rose says.
While many homeowners and builders are beginning to incorporate eco-friendly products and materials into their homes, this is just the beginning of the going-green trend.