The products: What are the raw materials used to make a product, how much energy is consumed during the manufacturing process, and what are the byproducts including on-site waste. Further, where does it come from how much carbon is emitted getting to the job, how long will it last, what happens to it (and us) when we throw it away? The Site and Impact: Does the building take advantage of natural light and ventilation, how many nature shade trees can we leave, can we cistern the water for garden use, can we reuse in-house gray water? The User: are we as an occupant recycling everything we can, are we composting organic material, do we cut the water off when just brushing our teeth? Keep in mind that green building is just one aspect of the fundamental shift that must take place to alter our consumption mindset. We need to find ways to create personal responsibility coupled with positive emotions and hopefully find real results from our efforts. Only in this way may we insure the movement’s progress and momentum.
If one were to get reclaimed heart pine from a tobacco barn in Georgia and ship it to Jackson Hole is that a green or not? We are using reclaimed wood, no one is cutting down a tree, but how much fuel was used to demolish the barn, re-saw the material and then again the fuel, aka carbon, to ship it across the country to the new job site. Metal roofing could be made from 50% recycled content, but the material we want to use is from Oklahoma, above and beyond all that is that it will last for 100 years. We are in a global economy and sometimes it’s hard to turn down cheep studs from Austria. These examples show that you really have to look that big picture to determine “greenness”. One other item that is tough for us as Americans is how much should “we have”, how much of this earth is “our share”. Everyone likes a generous gracious house, but are we taking more than our share? I am not going to judge, just ask the question. This all makes for the graying of green.
My attempt is to hit two easy things to green a building every time. We all want our houses to cost less to operate. Building envelope tightness and the efficiency of the equipment is paramount. Second, let’s build it right and it will last. If we build things of quality from an architectural standpoint, folks are less likely to destroy beautiful things. From a structural standpoint if we make a hardy structure, not wasteful, but something that is built right it can last for 100-200 years. Longevity equates to less future material use and less junk in our landfills. You could have the ultimate “green house”, but if it’s ugly, the floors bounce, and the drywall cracks because of poor framing techniques someone is going to tear it down before they tear down a beautiful thing that is built well.
Shades of Green:
Green is in vogue right now. Some materials are being made greener through manufacturing techniques that are simply better and cleaner for our environment at no additional cost. OSB plywood for example is now cheaper than sheet-plied plywood and 90% of it is made from what would otherwise be waste. 3 years ago veneer plywood used in cabinetry was 10-20% more expensive than traditional product. Today the same formaldehyde free veneer plywood is the same price as the traditional product. While some green items are cost equivalent as the manufactures react and as supply coupled with demand increases to reduce cost of such products, other materials come at a premium for green. At the moment a gallon of good quality paint cost about $25 while a gallon of no-VOC paint cost $30. While the formaldehyde free veneer plywood is cost comparative, fully FSC-certified plywood is still a bit more. While these items are not huge upgrades, each little thing will increase the whole cost. As much as we might want to use photovoltaic panels, a package for the whole house can cost $20,ooo-$50,000 depending on size of the array and the energy storage systems. While the use of photovoltaics is conceptually fabulous, when presented with a tight budget and you can only afford cabinets or getting off the grid, we all know what is going to happen. Even that is changing though. The 2009 stimulus package has a 30% tax credit for a photovoltaic system and panel prices have dropped substantially in the last two years. Is that enough to make it affordable to you and me? If an “everything green” house is a bit out of our reach let’s fall back to a shade of green. Let’s do the things that are good for the earth that don’t cost any more at all, that’s easy. Let’s try and seal the house as best we can with superior insulation products. Let’s build it to last. Let’s use as many low VOC products as we can. Let’s acquire as much as we can from sources within 250 miles. Let’s try to recycle on-site waste if we can. The industry is changing, but not changed…yet. This is a compelling and dynamic subject that we all need to consider in depth.
Certifications and Links:
There are multiple available independent certifications available for a house. Each one with higher stands than the next:
Other good background sites and information:
U.S. Green Building Council (sponsor of the LEED program)
The Forest Stewardship Council (sustainable foresting)
There are many additional sites out there; I am just listing some of the bigger issue sites. If you find a great site and you feel it worth listing, drop us a line so we might include it to inform us all.