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Educate>Sustainable Resources in Residental Homes

You, Your Home, and Sustainable Resources


Jesse Pellman, of Longview Structures, stresses insulation for homes. As co-founder of the Sustainable Construction Company, Pellman says this is one of the most important things you can do. He also mentions several other resources that make living sustainably easy and accessible for people in all types of homes.

There are so many things that are constantly changing around the home and throughout this webpage, you will see how it is better for your home in the long run, and the benefits of using sustainable practices and items.

There are so many simple things people can do to make their homes sustainable. Whether it is a new or old home, sustainable resources are available.


Insulation - In Your Home, Means In Your Wallet


The Outside of Your Home

Plumbing In Your Home

Heating Systems

Existing Homes

Wrapping It Up

This Project and Me


Sustainable Resources in Residential Homes

For hundreds of years, people have been building homes in a consistent way. The same foundation and studs, concrete, drywall, and PVC piping; the same look and feel to each house as you walk down the street. However, building your home in the standard fashion may not be what is best for you or your wallet.

Whether you are constructing a new home or working with an older one, there are many different ideas and changes that you can make to your home so that you can make your home more sustainable.

For new home owners you should consider the insulation being put into your home. Insulation is probably the single most important thing that you can do to help make your home more sustainable.

New homeowners can also look into the type of cement being used, the material being used for the outside of your home, your plumbing and your heating and cooling systems.

Older homes can become more sustainable as well. There are ways to insulate your home without starting over and finish work that can be done to your home to make it more “green.”

Insulation - In Your Home, Means In Your Wallet

When insulating a new or existing home, it is important to remember the impact that it will have in the future to yourself, your family and the environment. While this might seem like a no brainer decision, something that is practically made for you, it is well worth your time to do your research and find out what type of insulation would really be best for you and your home.

Traditional insulation uses fiberglass. Though fiberglass can be slightly more cost effective in the short term, it is not always the appropriate insulation to use in your home. It is traditionally pre-cut into batts and then placed into the walls the best way that it can fit. The problem with this is that when you put the fiberglass insulation in, it misses a lot of cracks and crevices, therefore making the insulation less effective than it is supposed to be.

Also the fiberglass is only as efficient as they say it is if there is no air flow. If you have stuffed the fiberglass insulation in between spaces and have it filling areas, then there is extra space for air to move around. This lowers the R-Value of the insulation and  because of that air movement it allows for hot and cold air to come in, increasing your heating and cooling bills.

Some of the other options that you can use are:

  • Spray Foam

  • Cellulose

  • Structural Insulated Panels

These three options are all completely different and have different properties, but they are all more sustainable and going to insulate a home better then traditional insulation.

Spray foam insulation is basically an expanding foam sprayed into walls and the roof.  There are several different types of spray foam insulation, but they all do the same thing fill in all the space, even the tiniest cracks and crevices.

It will completely cover all the imperfections made during the construction period and has a higher R-Value then the batt fiberglass insulation. This is a great way to go for insulation because it will most likely do the best job in insulating your home, which according to Jesse Pellman of Longview Structures, is the best thing that you can do to make your home more sustainable.

This is a picture of spray foam insulation in a wall. This is wider view of spray foam in a wall.

Photos provided by Ryann Dennis


Cellulose Insulation

All cellulose insulation is recycled paper or plant fiber.

It is a great way to recycle paper and not have it end up in a land fill.

As Jesse Pellman, of Longview Structures, always says green building is nothing new. This is especially true of cellulose insulation. Cellulose insulation is some of the oldest type of insulation. It has been around for hundred of years.

There are many different types of cellulose insulation. It can be applied wet or dry and there are benefits to each.

Dry Cellulose is applied by blowing the cellulose into the area. It should be done by a professional. This type of insulation does tend to settle, but the R - Value is not effected by it. It meets the standard that it has to meet.

You can also have wet Cellulose insulation. This is used in newly constructed homes due to the way that you have to install the wet insulation. The benefits to this type of insulation is that you don’t have to worry about settling issues. A professional will spray the wet cellulose into your walls and wait until it almost dry to cover the wall up.

Due to the cellulose being wet and then drying it insulates the home better then dry cellulose. However, due to it being wet it does need to have a mold resistance spray on it.

There is another type of cellulose insulation. This is a low dust version of this insulation. There is a lot of dust that comes along with cellulose insulation, but this is only during the installation process. You can chose to get this insulation if you are going to be in your home while this is being installed and you have people in your home who are sensitive to dust.

Structural Insulated Panels

Another sustainable type of insulation is Structural Insulated Panels (SIP). These consist of a thick layer of spray foam with two panels on each side. These SIPs can be used for all over your home. They can be used for walls, roofs, and floors. Using SIPs can greatly benefit how well your home is insulated as well.

This is a picture of a SIP

Photo By: Ryann Dennis

They can also be use as I-beams. These are a structural supports that are put into every home. They can also be used for foundations. These are huge benefits for using SIPs. Not only does it help your home be insulated, but it could help cut down on building costs and labor costs when building a home.

Every type of insulation that a consumer will go and use will be assigned a R - Value. This R- Value the measure of thermal resistance. It is used to show how well a material will be able to thermally separate spaces.

If your insulation has a higher R- Value it will better insulate the home. It will keep the warm air in the winter and the cool air in in the summer months.

Most homes use wooden studs to help the structure of the home. They are typically placed 16 inches apart. This was thought to help with the insulation and structure of the home. However, wooden studs can be placed up to 24 inches apart without disturbing the structure of the home.

The reason for putting the studs closer together is to give the home better structure, but what it also does is create more areas for the heat or cool air in your home to escape. By giving the homes less studs, it therefore creates less spaces where you can lose heat or cool air.

This idea of breaking up the insulation less, is good for every part of building your home, not just the wooden studs. For example, a newly constructed house in Lititiz, Pa, has wooden beams running through the ceiling that are made to look like they run to the outside.

Just by cutting the beams and creating the illusion that they run to the outside instead of actually running them through the insulation and to the outside will make your home more sustainable and cost effective.


Cement is a key element used in almost every home. It is used to create the foundation of a home.

Cement is made by mixing concrete, mortar,stucco and grout. They mix it with water and put it in a clinker. When it dries it is a water resistant material that is dense and strong.

Portland Cement

Portland cement is a widely used building material, it is inexpensive and effective in what it tries to do.

However, Portland Cement is not the safest or most sustainable resource. When applying cement one needs to take several precautions. You need to wear a mask, and be careful of cement to skin contact. If you do not wash all the cement off you could have damage to your skin. Also the gases that come off the cement could cause headache and fatigue.

Portland cement is also not good for the environment. The process alone is detrimental.  It release pollutants into the air and the way the clinker works is bad for the environment as well. The amount of gas that the clinker takes up alone is bad for the environment as well.

While Portland Cement is not the greatest building material for people or the environment there is a way to make it a little better.

Fly Ash Cement

By using Fly Ash Cement you use a cement that is stronger, more durable, and more sustainable.

Fly Ash Cement is cement that is mixed with fly ash. Fly ash is a bi product of burning coal. This bi product is normally dumped into landfills, so using it in cement is a great way to recycle it.

The reason that fly ash creates a harder cement is because the particles of rounder at a molecular level. This makes it flow easier and stronger. It is inexpensive and great alternative.

We talked a lot about cement and the way that it is constructed and how you need cement to make a home. Having cement in your home can be very beneficial and help keep you heating costs down if your house is positioned correctly.

If you position your home correctly and have concrete flooring you can use the concrete as a heat conductor. In the winter time you will have to position it so that you can have the sunlight hit it in the winter and in the summer it will not hit the concrete at all. In the winter time when the sun is coming in the concrete will soak it all up. It will gather all of the heat from the sun and then release it at night when it cools down and then your house will warm up.

This idea of heating up the concrete during the day and then having it release at night will effect you heating bill and even though it might not seem like much, it is better in the long run.

It is also a good idea to look into not building a basement and just having a concrete slab for your foundation instead. Building just a concrete slab will help with creating the thermal mass that will help heat your home when it is cooler.

The Outside of Your Home

Similar to the insulation, this seems like a pretty basic choice for when you are building a home. There are a few options that everyone seems to go toward. You can chose siding, stone, stucco, brick or a combination of the four.

However, if you are looking to build a sustainable home there are some things you can look into to make it more sustainable.

A lot of what people use on the outside of their homes are not the most sustainable of products, but if you try to stay local with it you can make it so it is more sustainable.

One product that is a good way to go is stone. This is a good way to go because you can get the stone locally. You can get it from quarries in your area which will benefit the local economy.

This is a picture of the outside of a green home. It includes stone.

Photo By: Ryann Dennis

One part about being sustainable is using local resources, so being able to use what is around as opposed to having get something shipped in is one way to help create a sustainable home.

An example of a local stone quarry would be York Building Products Company. They are close by in York and available for all types of deliveries and will help you chose the products that are right for you.

Stone is not only a good choice because you are using local resources, but because it durable and lasts a long time.

Plumbing in your Home

Polyvinyl chloride or PVC piping is a inexpensive pipe that many people use in their homes. It is widely used due to its cost and how effective it is. What a lot of people fail to realize is how bad it is for them and how bad for the environment it is.

To avoid the hazards that come along with PVC piping you can go back to traditional copper piping.

A lot of people think that because copper piping is something that was used in the past it is going to leak, but the truth is that it is probably better for your plumbing system and even though it is a bit more costly, it is worth it in the long run.

Some of the benefits of having cooper in your home is that it lasts for a very long time, some types of copper even come with 50 year warranties. It adheres to most building codes, so you won’t run into a problem there, and it is pretty much maintenance free. It also requires less supports then some of the alternatives possibly making the cooper closer to the same price of the alternative piping.

Copper is also a natural metal, so it is much better for the environment and your home. Due to it be something that comes from the Earth means that there are virtually no added chemicals to it. This is unlike some of the other alternatives that can give off these chemicals. Copper is also a great conductor of heat. This will be beneficial to the hot water in your home.

Copper is a good decision for the plumbing system in your home. It is a way to keep your home environmentally friendly and to reduce maintenance repair costs throughout your lifetime and the lifetime of the house.

Heating Systems

Heating your home can be a very costly process when it is done inefficiently. Traditionally homes have the heat flow through the entire house and then go into the home.

Due to the process of going through the whole home, the hot air is going to be cooled down when it goes to certain sections of the home, such as the attic. It then has to use more energy to heat back up, costing you, the homeowner money, and not being very sustainable.

A way to fix this is to install radiant heating. This heating system is set up differently then a traditional heating system because the heat comes through the floor. This is another old way of doing things that just seemed to get lost along the way.

Also this type of heating system works well with the concrete slabs that we talked about earlier. It is a way of adding heat to the slab so that it will release it throughout the day, keeping your home warm.

Another way that this will make it so your home is warmer is by keeping your feet warm. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing that you feel is a cold floor chances are you will walk over to the thermostat and crank it up. If you wake up and feel a warm floor, you will most likely not feel the need to adjust the temperature.

Another way to help save you money on your heating bill is to zone your radiant heating. If you have a larger home and only use the downstairs, what is the point in heating the upstairs if you don’t need to? It is a waste of energy and money.

By zoning your heating unit you can make it so that you control the heat. You only have to heat the areas of the home that you need to to make the home comfortable. This will work more efficiently if your home is properly insulated, which is something that we talked about earlier. This way even though you are not heating your entire home, the heat that you are using is not leaving your home, and the cold air is not coming into the home.

This is a picture of what the set up is for heating zones. This is another example of how zone heating is set up.

Photos By: Ryann Dennis

Another benefit to using radiant heat is it can be better for your health. For people who have allergies or are sensitive to dust this is a great way to go. A traditional system blows the hot air into the house picking up all the dust particles and making them fly throughout the house. The radiant heat comes up through the floor, so it doesn’t blow through vents creating a better breathing environment.

Another way to cut down on your heating bill is by installing a soapstone fireplace. Soapstone is a stone that has been used for hundreds of years, even back to Native Americans, who used it as a type of stove top.

Soapstone is a soft stone that is easily carved, so it can be carved into whatever type of fireplace you would like. Then you can use the fireplace. The soapstone fireplace is not like just any fireplace. The soapstone will absorb the heat from the fire while it is burning and then after is has finished burning it will release that heat evenly through out the day, heating your home with the fire heat.

This is an example of what a soap stone fire place looks like.

Photo By: Ryann Dennis

Now that we have talked a lot about heating your home, we should spend some time on cooling your home. Air ducts are installed in home, but there is not always a lot of thought behind where they go and how they should be placed. this is imperative if you are going to keep your home sustainable and keeping your cooling bills down.

The way to do this is to make sure that your cooling ducts are placed in an area where they can run straight and be insulated well. It once again goes back to the idea that insulating your home is key. If you insulate your home well, then other sustainable choices will be easier to make.

Existing Homes

If you are not constructing a new home and can’t completely change the structure of your home, there are other steps you can take to make your home more sustainable.

This is a picture showing an example of a straight well insulated air duct.

Photo By: Ryann Dennis

Let’s start with insulation. Just because your are working with an existing home, doesn’t mean that you have to stick with the insulation that you have now. Earlier we talked about spray foam insulation. This is available in a do it yourself can that is low expansion. This is a great way to work on sealing up your windows.

A lot of people think that they need to replace all of their windows to make their homes more sustainable, but by just sealing them and creating some more insulation around them, you are taking a step in the right direction.

If you chose to go this route please just remember to get the low expansion foam or it can possibly cause damage to your windows distorting them and then the foam loses its purposes.

This same concept can be used with your doors. Doors bring in huge drafts and they too can be sealed up with spray foam. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that just placing a rolled up towel or some other barrier at the bottom of your door is enough of seal to make a difference in making your home more sustainable and making your heating and cooling bills less because your home will be using less energy.

This is a picture of adding insulation to an existing window.

Photo By: Ryann Dennis

Now that we have talked a lot about the structure of the home, lets talk about some of the fun finishing touches you can add to your home to make it a more sustainable and healthy place to live.

When someone says cork, most people don’t think “I’m going to put that on my wall,” but cork is a sustainable resource that works very well as decorative wall pieces, flooring, and for your ceiling as well.

There are many manufactures who sell all different types of cork now, making it not only sustainable, but something that can look very nice in your home. It doesn’t have to look like you threw some cork boards up on your wall, but like you chose something that is complementing to the decor of the room.

One of the nice things about cork is that it has great acoustic qualities to it. So if you are into music and would like to play in your home, but do not appreciate the way your room bounces the noise around, cork would be a good option for you.

If cork is not your thing and you can’t see yourself putting it in your home, then another alternative is clay. Clay plasters are a great way to add depth to a wall without bringing in toxic chemicals into your home. American Clay is a brand that is readily available in this area. If you are interested you can go to Fresco Green to look at samples.

If cork and clay are still a little too much for you and you are think that you would like to just stick with paint, then you should try to use a paint that isn’t going to hurt you, your family or the environment.

Mythic Paint is a non toxic paint that won’t harm you. The nice thing about this paint is that there is no odor when you are applying it. You do not need to open up all the windows just to be comfortable.

Mythic Paint is also available at Fresco Green and it is available in a wide variety of colors. This paint is can also be color matched if you are looking for a specific color.

Wrap Up

Building sustainable, green homes is nothing new. It is using the technology that we have had for hundreds of years and applying it correctly.

One of the biggest things that you can do to make your home more sustainable is to insulate it properly. This can be done whether you are working with a new home or an existing home. There are so many different alternatives to creating a home that uses something other then fiberglass insulation which will not only help the environment, but your wallet as well.

You also have to think about using the resources that are available locally to you to create a more sustainable home. Something as easy as choosing a stone front for your house from a local quarry instead of one across the country can make your home a better place for the environment.

And it’s not just the structure of your home, but the interior finishes as well. There is a lot of options for decorating and finishing your home that make it more sustainable. Just by choosing a paint that is non - toxic is not only better for your health, but better for the environment.

So, next time you go to chose to do a renovation project in your existing home, or if you are making a decision while building a new home, take the time to look into the more sustainable option. Green building is something that everyone can accomplish. Just by putting one foot forward in our own home, we are starting the larger process of making Green Building the acceptable form of building everywhere.

This Project and Me

Starting a semester long project one always thinks that it is going to be a topic that is going to be a bore by the end, but all that this topic has done for me is made me want to know more. Sustainable building is something that I would have never thought about, but now having done this project and gaining this knowledge I know there are going to be so many things that I will want to implement into my own home, when I get one.

The number one thing that I think will always stick with me is insulation. If you insulate your home correctly then there will be some many more benefits. While it is good for the environment, it also benefits the homeowner in the long run, which is something I would have never guessed.

This semester I worked with Jesse Pellman of Longview Structures. He was a wonderful person to work, he has so much to offer to green community and genuinely cares about making green building the way we build. I can only hope that this happens and we see Green building take off.




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This site was created by Ryann Dennis at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

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