One of the first things that I’ve noticed when reading through the green home links I’ve collected is that many sustainable solutions involve trade-offs that need to be considered carefully. If something that increases the energy efficiency of your home also reduces your indoor air quality, is that something you want to use?
For instance, compact florescent bulbs are much more efficient than regular incandescent bulbs, but they contain mercury* that is released if the bulbs break (even if you never have an accident with a bulb at home the bulbs will certainly break in the landfill and there are very few recycling options for CFLs today).
There are many other examples of this type of tradeoff. Just to mention one more, bamboo flooring might be much more sustainable than traditional hardwood floors, but bamboo floors often contain formaldehyde glue that will outgas.
I came across one quote that I think summarizes things well: “green homes have three fundamental legs: energy efficiency, the conservation of resources and good indoor air quality.” There might not always be solutions that meet all three of these goals, but this does provide a good guide for helping make decisions. On the other hand, sometimes there are solutions (instead of CFLs, use LEDs instead).
* Some argue that CFLs are still better since they contain less than the amount of mercury emitted by coal-burning plants that are needed to power the less efficient incandescent bulbs, but if you’re building a house that runs on solar or wind power this argument doesn’t hold up anymore.