But behind the buzz is an important message: Outfit your modern log home with the right appliances, fixtures and components, and you'll not only help save the planet but save your bank account, too. When you consider that 17 percent of the greenhouse gases in this country come from our homes—that's about 9,000 pounds per person per year—maybe it's time for a change.
1. Protect the Land Around YouBefore you even start building, you can score points toward LEED certification by choosing the right site. Since most log homes are in remote, open areas, make sure you're not building on protected land, such as a wetland or an endangered-species habitat. Also, try to build in a way that doesn't disturb the surrounding habitat too much. And if possible, build or buy in an area close to others to minimize the overall impact on the land.
2. Plan Around the SunAnother simple way to make your home more energy efficient is to place it on the land correctly. Though it sounds simplistic, a step as easy as avoiding direct western exposure (which can overheat your home) can dramatically reduce energy consumption. "It's best to utilize the natural arc of the sun," says Clark Wilson, CEO and president of Green Builders Inc. in Austin, Texas. "For instance, we lay out our streets in an east-west direction, shielding homes from the western exposure of the sun. This thoughtful planning dramatically reduces energy consumption for cooling your home."
3. Landscape LocallyWe all want our yards to look nice. But this can be done without exotic plants from faraway locales, which tend to require more resources to thrive—and without having to water or fertilize as much. "Using natural and indigenous landscaping methods and materials will keep you from polluting the groundwater with chemicals," says Dal Loiselle, president of Evergreen Homes & Developments LLC, a company that has built several LEED-certified log homes.
4. Choose Non-toxic FinishesLog homes need a nice-looking finish that also protects logs from the elements, and that, of course, requires a good log stain. Contrary to popular belief, even stains can be earth-friendly. The key is choosing a low- or no-VOC product, which is more often than not water-based (or "latex" when it comes to paints).
Thanks to increasing regulations on the VOC levels in paints and stains, low-VOC options are gradually becoming the norm rather than the exception, and most of the major stain manufacturers at the very least carry less-toxic product lines.
5. Go With Windows That WowTo create a LEED-certified log home, you're going to need to get used to seeing the "Energy Star" sticker. For an appliance or home fixture to get the designation, it has to exceed the EPA's minimum requirements for water or energy usage. Windows are certainly one part of the home where the Energy Star seal is a must.
The innovations in window design over the past few decades are nothing short of amazing, and manufacturers have come up with a number of different ways to reach that Energy Star rating—low-E glass, double- and triple-pane glass, windows with gas between the panes, and others. While choosing Energy Star over standard windows for an entire home costs $1,500 more on average, they'll also save you between $125 and $340 a year, so you'll recoup your expenses quickly.
6. Rethink Your HVACHeating and air conditioning accounts for more than half of the energy used in the average home. The good news is that starting with a log home already gets you off on the right foot. "Thanks to the thermal mass of log homes, you can eliminate or at least reduce the size of mechanical air-conditioning systems by making use of proper shading and cross ventilation," says Dal.
In addition, radiant-floor heating, geothermal heat pumps, and even Energy Star-rated furnaces and air conditioners also can boost your home's efficiency. Radiant in-floor heating, which consists of a series of tubes that pump hot water beneath the surface of the floor, typically makes up the extra installation cost in three to five years. Heat pumps have similar statistics: Though they cost $3,000 to $7,000 more upfront, they cost 50 percent less than furnaces to operate.
7. Plug Into the SunWe already touched on passive solar design, and you want to use the sun actively, too. "With log homes, it makes sense to use solar to heat water and provide electricity," Dal says. This is because log homes are usually in prime areas for harvesting sunlight. And a number of factors are combining to make it a more viable option for your home: The price of the materials to do this (solar cells) is coming down, and there are state and federal government programs to help offset the cost. The design also has improved, to the point that the newest panels are more efficient, not to mention barely noticeable on the home. And of course, there's the substantial savings you'll see on your energy bills.
8. Save WaterA LEED-certified home takes a two-pronged approach to water conservation. First, it typically has low-consumption toilets and fixtures, which can save you anywhere from 12 to 16 gallons of water every day.
The second component is a system that actually captures rainwater for reuse in the home. "By installing gutters with rain barrels, the captured water can be used in landscaping," Clark says. Even better: You can incorporate a water filtration system to make collected water potable.
9. Know Your Appliances
A Closer Look at LogsOne misconception about log homes is that they can't be green simply because so much lumber is used to build them. Quite the opposite is true.
"From an energy standpoint, log homes require less energy to produce than a conventionally built home, and they are more energy efficient to operate, too," says Dal Loiselle, president of Evergreen Homes & Developments LLC. "The energy efficiency is due to the thermal mass of the log walls. They store cool air in the summer and warmth in the winter. Log walls also naturally regulate humidity, so you won't need to run a dehumidifier in the summer and then a humidifier in the winter."