To address a warming world and an ever-more-erratic climate, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Even as awareness of the threats of climate change spreads, the world is becoming more and more industrialized, and more urban every day.
Efficiency is one of the most important concepts to embrace as a would-be planet-saver, and one of the best places to scrimp and save on energy use is in our buildings.
Buildings use a whopping 42% of America’s total energy each year, and a mind-boggling 72% of all electricity generated. That’s more than any other single sector of the economy, and according to the research in RMI’s book Reinventing Fire  cutting the wasted energy from buildings could save, get this: $1.4 trillion!
So called “green” buildings come in many forms. The US Green Building Council ‘s rating system for buildings, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED , is the most common, especially for new and large-scale construction. LEED practices look at every aspect of a building, from how much power it takes to air condition to how much construction waste gets recycled, and whether there are bike racks for conscientious commuters.
But let’s say you’re not a major corporation or government. How can you participate in building green?
If you’re in the market for a new home, you can explore LEED rating for new home construction. You can also look into EnergyStar standards which focus more narrowly on the home’s energy efficiency.
You can also investigate a deeper level of green, and look into natural building  techniques. Whereas “green” buildings tends to look and act a lot like “normal” buildings, natural buildings can look as if they grew organically out of the earth itself — which is basically true. From timber framing  with whole logs, to thick walls made of straw bales  and plaster mixed from site soil, and built-in wood-fired heating systems, a natural home can be a beautiful way to build a better world.
If you already own a house, you can still gain a lot from green building practices. There are countless small ways to increase your house’s overall efficiency, from insulating your refrigerator  to building a simple outdoor shower heated by the sun .
But if you’re facing any sort of extensive renovation already, you’ll gain the most through the process of a Deep Energy Retrofit (or DER). This is not for the faint of heart — it involves getting into the guts of your old house and tightening things from the foundation to the rooftop. But if you can afford it, a DER will bear fruit for the entire life of your house.
Coming this summer, we’ve a great book to help you master a deep green renovation of your existing house. The Greened House Effect  by Jeff Wilson tells the story of his family’s DER. Even better: the Wilsons documented the whole process on video, and you can watch right here! Below is Episode 1 of The Greened House Effect show, and you can find the others on our book page .