Expert Interview Series: Gary Wollenhaupt of Proud Green Home

Green home

Gary Wollenhaupt is the editorial director of, a website devoted to inspiring and education home builders and owners on their own green home journey.

Here, shares ideas about the easiest ways homeowners can introduce green practices to their homes. Read on:

Tell us about What is your mission?

We are an online resource for homeowners, builders and the residential construction industry to accelerate the adoption of high-performance strategies, systems and products for all types of single-family and multifamily, new and remodeled homes.

Why are you so passionate about green homes?

My passion comes from improving efficiency and eliminating waste - wasteful use of energy and water, waste in the production and transportation of goods for production and shipment of building products. The process to build a standard wood-frame home is mind boggling; it's a wonder they get built at all, let alone built with any degree of quality. Of course, reducing energy use, being wiser in our use of natural resources and reducing pollution all add up to positives for the environment as well.

What are the most interesting trends or innovations you're following in green homes today?

The growth of home certification programs such as Energy Star, LEED, National Green Building Standard, Passive House, and so on, finally give homeowners some measure of quality control in their homes. Previously, if a new home owner didn't see a problem during the punch list walk through, it was really hard to get it fixed. Now third-party raters verify the performance of the home.

What are the benefits to homeowners of integrating green products or systems in their homes?

A high-performance home or green home can be more comfortable in terms of even heat and humidity levels, better air quality with less pollutants in the home, and lower cost to live in over the years.

In what areas of the home is it easiest for homeowners to introduce green products, technologies or practices?

Smart thermostats like the Nest are an easy place to start. HVAC systems are getting crazy efficient, like the mini split heat pump systems. Steps like additional insulation, better air sealing and new windows can also be done one at a time.

What green investments would you recommend all homeowners look into?

The biggest bang for the buck is air sealing and insulation. Depending on how your home is built, for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars you can seal up air loss and start saving money immediately, literally while the insulation is being added to the attic you can start telling a difference.

What green options should homeowners look into when they're shopping for HVAC systems?

Smart and learning thermostats are proving to be effective in reducing costs, so that can be a good place to start. If you're looking at a new HVAC system for a home, look at the efficiency ratings. There are mini split heat pump systems that have a SEER rating in the high 20s, compared to 14 SEER for a standard unitary furnace. Geothermal or ground source heat pumps are highly efficient as well.

What should home owners be looking for in HVAC systems if they want to be more green and energy efficient?

Do your homework and compare the numbers such as the SEER rating. Energy Star certified products are also a good place to start. There's always a trade off in cost vs. performance, but spending a little more upfront can save money for years to come.

What green options are there in plumbing?

First, look for Water Sense certified fixtures, it's similar to Energy Star but for water conservation. Manufacturers work hard to provide the right level of water flow for sinks, showers and toilets while using less water.

Also talk to your plumber about a water recirculation pump. When you're waiting on hot water to reach the shower or the sink, that cold water goes down the drain and all the energy in it is wasted. A recirculation pump keeps hot water flowing through the plumbing system so it's instantly available, you don't have to wait for the water to get hot. The pump can be activated by a timer, a motion sensor or a wall switch. Homes save lots of money on water and energy.

Do you have any anecdotes or examples of homeowners who have gone above or beyond in introducing green practices/products/systems into their homes? What can we learn from them?

Maura and Kurt Jung built the first Passive House certified in Michigan, which is the top-of-the-line in green home, using 80 percent to 90 percent less energy than a typical home.

Their architect-designed home is a modern interpretation of a Michigan farm house. The Jungs settled on the Passive House path because it met their desire for environmental responsibility while allowing them to choose their favorite architectural style. A Passive House is like the Porsche of houses, well engineered and high performance, compared with a Ford Taurus standard home. You can have a vision and make it come true, the lesson is to find partners such as architects and builders that will listen to you and not steer you to what they know how to build.

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