Green Terms/Tidbits

Alternative Energy

Energy from sources other than fossil fuels (coal, natural gas), such as renewable sources like wind, sun, or running water. Solar panels are a common way to collect the sun’s energy.


Able to decompose or break down by a natural process without harm to the environment.


A renewable fuel for diesel engines made of renewable organic raw materials like soybean oil or vegetable or animal fat that is then combined with alcohols like ethanol or methanol.

Carbon Footprint

The total amount of carbon dioxide emitted over a given time by a person, organization, or state. Usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).


The path taken by raw materials, processed materials and products, from the forest to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation and distribution.

Compact fluorescent bulbs

the bulbs use about 75 percent less electricity than old-style incandescents. Only 10 percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb produces light; the rest is given off as heat.

Cool roof

Specialized roofing materials designed to reflect the heat of the sun away from the building, thus reducing the cooling load and associated air conditioning costs. There are various manufacturers of cool roofs. Learn more about cool roofs >>

Dual-flush toilet

These toilets have two different settings, usually 0.8 gallons for liquid removal and 1.6 gallons for full flush solid removal. On the average they use about 2,500 gallons per year, compared to a 1.6 single flush that uses about 4,500 gallons per year. Learn more about dual-flush toilets

Earthen flooring

Earth that has been compacted with straw or other fibers and conditioned with various oils to form a hard surface. Fairly labor intensive, but relatively easy to repair and usually very low bodied energy and inexpensive materials.

Energy Star

Introduced in 1992 by the as a voluntary labeling program to identify and promote energy-efficient products to help reduce greenhouse emissions. Originally designed for computers and monitors, it has now expanded to include office products, major appliances, lighting, home electronics and more. New expanded programs now also include complete buildings such as homes, commercial and industrial buildings. Learn more about the Energy Star building program

Flow reducer

A device that limits your water use. It can be attached just downstream from the water shutoff valve at the outlet, or it can be a fixture designed to reduce or limit the amount of water flow from a faucet. Flow reducers can cut the flow of water dramatically, saving thousands of gallons each year in a a single-family home. Find out more about using water aerators in the bathroom.

FSC-certified wood

The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization that certifies various forests around the world exhibiting good sustainability and management practices based on a specific management criteria. The wood from these forests is often quickly renewable using hybrid timber and advanced forestry methods. Other forests are simply carefully managed by limiting the impact on both the environment and the people and demonstrating a social benefit in the process.


Waste water from lavatories, showers, baths and sinks only. This water can be stored in special equipment and may then be used to water lawns, gardens or other relatively benign non-potable uses such as groundwater recharge. Water from toilets is called black water; it must be properly drained to the sewer or septic system. Learn about how to recycled water in the bathroom.

Green power

Generally this is the production of electricity from environmentally friendly sources such as photovoltaic, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells, ocean energy and wind power. Many homes and businesses are taking advantage of solar systems that not only make electricity but also heat water and interior environments. Learn more about solar panels >>

Green roof

A literally green roof that’s covered with plants to reduce the roof’s heat absorption. The roof system uses a specialized undercarriage for the waterproof membrane and excess water removal. Large roofs can be turned into pleasing garden spaces, but depending on the type of vegetation, you may end up using a large amount of water.


The practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice.

Home energy rating system (HERS)

 a way to measure the home’s energy efficiency. The evaluation rating is on a scale from 0 to 100, and the score is called the HERS (Home Energy Rating Scale) rating. A “0” means the home uses an infinite amount of energy (not a good thing) and 100 means it uses almost no energy (a great thing), and the average home built to code minimum usually has a rating of 80. A HERS report is required in order to get a green mortgage.


The acronym for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Get tips to cut your heating and cooling costs

Incandescent Light Bulb

A source of light that works by incandescence using a a thin filament inside a glass bulb.


units of energy typically found on your utility bill that tell you how much power you are using–and, of course, how much it’s costing you to use that power. Usually, kWh are used to measure electrical power or natural gas use.


The acronym for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” The LEED program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a system for rating new and existing commercial, institutional and residential buildings. It evaluates the overall environmental performance during the lifecycle of a building and provides a tangible methodology for analyzing the standards of a green building. Find out more about the LEED certification


A term referring to reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint and finishes. Low-VOC paints do not off-gas as much as conventional paints and contain less toxins that are harmful to the environment.

Organic Products

made from natural resources as well as food or food products grown free of artificial chemicals. Organic materials are often certified by a regulatory body.

Photovotaic panel

Either roof- or ground-mounted to collect solar energy and, through the use of special solar voltaic cells, convert the energy to direct current electricity. A special controller converts this electricity to alternating current, making it usable in most residential and commercial applications. Electricity made in this fashion can be stored in batteries for later use; consumed as it is made to help offset the overall electrical use of a building; or placed into the commercial electrical grid for use in other locations. These panels only work when there is light, but surprisingly produce electricity even on cloudy days. Learn more about solar panels

Pressed earthen block

Like adobe, pressed (or compressed) earthen block is made from a mixture of soil and aggregate with no chemical additives. Often machine manufactured at the construction site. Because there is relatively no quality-control routine compared with other types of manufactured block, its use may be limited, especially in high seismic zones. Careful engineering will be required to use this material in structural applications.

Reclaimed lumber

Lumber reclaimed by “deconstruction” of a building or structure. This lumber can be used for paneling and flooring and, if re-graded, can be used in structural applications.


a way of working and living that balances immediate needs for commerce, living, habitation, food, transportation, energy and entertainment with future needs for these resources and systems as well as the liveliness and support of nature, natural resources and future generations.


Able to be recycled or re-used in some way

Recycling Collecting

and reprocessing a resource so it can be used again. An example is collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products.


Replanting of forests on lands that have recently been harvested.


 A raw material that can be replenished within a reasonable amount of time. Example, bamboo and sustainably-harvested woods are renewable. Gold and precious stones are not renewable.

Renewable Energy

Energy obtained from naturally replenished sources such as sun, rain, wind, tides, and geothermal heat.


Taking a thing or a material and using it for a purpose not originally intended.

Solar Power

The technology that we use to obtain energy from sunlight. Learn more about solar panels.

Solar water heating

Heating water with solar rays collected on rooftop or ground panels.

Straw bale

Tightly bound straw bales that can be used to fill walls in homes. The bales provide a substantial increase in insulation value.

Structural bamboo

Bamboo as a construction material has many uses. Because the material is very hard, it has recently found a niche as flooring material. However, the material is also very strong and with new methods of handling the material, structural uses of bamboo are finding their way into the construction industry. They can be derived into trusses, supporting poles and simple beams. Learn more about bamboo flooring

Sustainable deck materials

Most of us are familiar with the wooden deck. However, new materials on the market are making a dramatic impact in the form of recycled content decking and railing systems. The intent is to select materials that are sustainable or easily replaced with limited effect on the ecology. Similar to wood, these new materials are easily worked but are considerably more expensive. The trade-off is the longevity of the material. Learn more about earth-friendly options for your deck 

Tankless water heater

Most of us have a 30- or 40-gallon storage water heater in our houses. Even when you are not home or sleeping, that water heater is diligent in keeping your hot water ready at all times. Modern advances in storage tank water heaters reduces the number of times it must fire to maintain temperature, but the basic operation remains the same. Tankless water heaters are designed to wait until you actually need the hot water on demand to fire up and raise the water temperature very quickly to operating level. The term instantaneous is often used for these heaters and generally by the time the water clears the heat exchanger inside, it’s ready for use. Additionally, these water heaters take up less space than a storage tank type.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

VOCs, usually in the form of formaldehyde gas, a by-product of hydrocarbon-based materials. Building materials such as particle board, plywood, adhesives, paints, varnishes, carpet, drapes and furniture are often made with formaldehyde products. Other sources include some you may not think of: tobacco, burning gas, perfume, cleaning agents, hairspray and even copy and printing machines. Degrees of exposure to VOCs can cause everything from mild symptoms such as irritated eyes, ears and throat to more severe reactions such as wheezing and lung, memory and anxiety problems. By using low-VOC products, exposures are reduced and indoor air quality is improved.

Zero water urinal

This wall-mounted urinal uses virtually no running water, with the exception of an occasion servicing to clean the unit. The units rely on simple physics: Urine has a specific gravity that is greater than a special sealing liquid. Several inches of the liquid are used to create a trap seal allowing the urine to flow into the system. The super slick surfaces do not allow material to remain behind and thus reduces odor and maintenance. The obvious advantage is a significant reduction in water usage over long periods of time. A disadvantage to steel plumbing is a build-up of salts on the pipe interiors, increasing corrosion. Careful maintenance schedules must be followed to keep systems working properly.