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Green Building Principles & Common Sense

Common sense unfortunately is missing from most discussions of building green. There are groups that state that petroleum based products, concrete, & other items should never be used. There are contractors that simply state that it is a fad, and a complete joke while others push it no matter what the cost is. Most organizations & groups out there – will sing their own praises, while publicly blasting the other groups for their differences. What a mess for such a simple concept.

The concept:

A green house or building should be built that is durable, efficient and healthy for the people who live in it while minimally impacting the environment through proper site planning, design, while utilizing sustainable or recycled products where possible. In order for the concept to make sense, it has to work out financially, last, look good, and meet your current and future needs.

To accomplish all the above there are 3 items that must be taken into account by everyone involved in the process – the Methods, the Systems & the Products used. Failure to take them into account can result in a house that simply does not meet your needs, or will not last.

Methods include; the design, site placement, ordering & storing materials, controlling waste, installation procedures, construction management, etc… You can get the products, you can understand the systems, but if you can’t install them properly, store the materials properly, you can have a house that rots or is unlivable. If you do not properly site the house or design it properly, you can easily be overlooking natural lighting and heating sources, or be blinded in the morning & burn up in the afternoon. You can easily waste products by not designing the house around standard lengths & widths of lumber or other materials.

Systems include; how you heat & cool the structure, insulation, thermal & vapor barriers, recycling, drainage, managing runoff, and indoor air quality. While these systems appear to be and are sold independent of each other, you must consider how they relate to each other. As houses are being built tighter, and insulated better, you need to introduce fresh air in, while eliminating stale, humid, polluted air found inside. The good news is with a better insulated house you can downsize the heating or cooling needs of the house.

Products are essentially everything placed in your house which will probably include ENERGY STAR®, Water Sense, and Recycled products. This is one of the areas with the most dissension.

One of my favorite discussions is with the “Petroleum products & concrete are not green and shouldn’t be used” crowd. Talk about silly – that eliminates all plastics located in a house, including water lines, vinyl windows, vinyl siding, drain lines, wiring, appliances, electronics, etc… On the concrete side that eliminates concrete foundations, blocks, bricks, pavers, etc…

Are there other alternatives? Sure in some cases, you can use copper for your water lines, cast iron pipes can be used for the waste, and you could also build a house with wood foundations. However, just like the concrete & the petroleum products; copper, cast iron & the wood treatment require items taken from the ground which also consume allot of resources to simply turn the products into something usable.

Some Simple Common Sense questions to ask:

What does “Green” mean to me and what aspects are the most important to me? Is it I want to do my part to save the environment, look good for my friends, save money on energy, save water, have a healthier house, or some combination of the above? With that answered truthfully you can now start evaluating what you want in your “Green” house.

Will this product last? Has the product or system been tested by a third party to verify the claims or to verify it meets code? One example is building materials that have recycled content. They are generally considered to be a green product because recycling can reduce the volume of materials ending up in a landfill. A product with recycled content will generally cost more than other products it is intended to replace, but does it perform as well or better? If it doesn’t last as long – is it truly a better product? If someone claims that their product will last a lifetime, or reduce energy by X amount without testing, why would you believe them?

What’s the cost, how long till I recoup it, and are there any other benefits to me? For some this will not matter, for others can you afford it, will it save you money monthly & if it does when will you have recouped the extra money you put into it? Will it add value to your property when you go to sell it? Will it increase the livability of the structure, increased comfort or indoor air quality?

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  • Gregory Despain

    Thanks for the nice post. I always like to save concrete or construction related posts like this one.