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Originally published Sunday, April 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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A green glossary: Common terms in sustainable building and living

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

Here are some of the terms commonly used in green building and 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: Compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are more energy efficient than standard incandescent light bulbs and last longer.

Cool coating: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Cool roof coatings are white liquids applied over an existing low-sloped roof structure to achieve energy savings, an extended life span and protection from weathering and ultraviolet radiation. Dual-flush toilets: Feature both high and low-volume flushes using technology that ensures low water consumption.

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. (www.energystar.gov)

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. (www.usgbc.org)

PaperStone: Countertop material made in Washington by compressing post-consumer recycled paper and a water-based resin (plant-based adhesives).

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

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

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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 design: Design that takes advantage of solar energy, that is derived from sunlight, to heat, cool and provide lighting in a home or office. Active solar uses mechanical devices such as pumps and fans to move heat from collectors to storage or from storage to use. Photovoltaic panels that collect solar energy, turning it into electricity, are also considered an active solar system. Passive solar depends on the siting and design of the home — with such features as south-facing windows, overhangs, shade trees — operating with little or no mechanical assistance. It uses a simple system to collect and store solar energy with no switches or controls.

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.

Wheat board: Similar in appearance to particle board, wheat board is moisture-resistant and made from chopped wheat straw, bonded with polyurethane resin.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, The Natural Resource Defense Council, U.S. Green Building Council, Built Green and The Seattle Times; The Northwest Green Home Primer; California Energy Commission's Consumer Energy Center.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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