Here are some of the terms commonly used in green building and green living. Carbon footprint: The total amount of carbon dioxide and other...

Here are some of the terms commonly used in green building and green living.

Carbon footprint: The total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service

CFL s: Compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are more energy efficient than standard incandescent light bulbs and last longer.

Cob: Made from clay, sand and straw, which creates a mixture that is flexible and sculptural. Cob homes are energy efficient and cost effective, but they present challenges with permits and financing. (; search for “cob”)

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

Energy-efficient: Used to describe property or products that exhibit special features designed to save electrical and heat power — for example, special light fixtures or double-insulated windows.

Energy Star: A joint program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that sets energy efficiency guidelines for products, homes and businesses. (

Green building: Also known as sustainable building or environmental building, this definition varies depending on the agency or group. Generally it means to construct a building to the highest environmental standards by minimizing the use of energy, water and materials. A green building, for example, might have skylights, recycled building materials and solar panels.

Greenwashing: A term playing off “whitewash” that is used to describe projects that are labeled as energy-efficient and sustainable when they’re really not. It’s also a term sometimes used to describe the distribution of misleading information by a business or an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment.

LEED: A certification program through the U.S. Green Building Council that stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The nationwide program provides guidelines for residential and commercial construction projects to follow to determine if a project is green. (

PBDE: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, is an industrial toxic chemical used as a flame retardant in plastics, furniture and mattresses. In April, the Legislature passed a measure that bans the manufacture, sale or distribution of most items containing PBDEs, which goes into effect for mattresses after Jan. 1, 2008. The chemical would be banned in upholstered furniture and in televisions and computers after Jan. 1, 2011.

PVC: Polyvinyl chloride, is found in vinyl and emits the toxin dioxin when produced. It also contains phthalates, a plasticizing and softening chemical. It’s commonly found in toys, shower curtains, window blinds, vinyl furniture covers and artificial leather. It’s also found in plastics with the recycling symbol 3.

R value: Measures the ability of insulation to resist heat flow; the higher the number the better.

Rammed earth: Made from soil that is mostly clay and sand. The earth is highly compressed to create the structural forms. ( Rapidly renewable materials: Include those that replenish faster than hardwoods. Bamboo and cork fall into this category.

Renewable energy: Energy obtained from sources that are essentially inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels. For example, wind power and solar energy.

Shades of green: A term used by officials in the green industry to describe the varying levels of sustainability achieved in residential and commercial projects. For example, a home with only some energy-efficient features and attributes would make it a lighter shade of green than one that is energy-efficient from its light fixtures to its carbon footprint.

Smart growth: Basically describes environmentally sensitive land development that takes into account minimizing dependence on auto transportation and reducing air pollution.

Solar energy: Energy derived from sunlight — in a home or office.

Straw bale: Homes constructed using straw bales as thick, wall bricks. These homes reduce the amount of timber required for building, as well as offer energy efficiency through better insulation. (

VOC: Volatile organic compounds are carcinogens found in paint, finishes, synthetic foams, fabrics and stains. Most labels should indicate if something has low or zero VOCs.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy,

The Natural Resource Defense Council,

U.S. Green Building Council, Built Green and The Seattle Times