There’s so much talk these days about “building green”; how does one sort through the spin and hype? I personally think that so much of this buzz is generated primarily to sell magazines and services! That said, I also believe it’s extremely important to consider the products we surround ourselves with, and the impact of our footprint on our environment.
Building construction is one of the most intensively consumptive activities on our plant. It consumes resources and produces waste more than most other effort humans perform! So it’s certainly a step in the right direction to “think green” when embarking on a new construction project – even at the scale of your individual single home. But green thinking gets complicated when faced with ever-increasing possibilities in designing your home to be as green as possible. This is where some common sense can be the best guide.
It’s our believe that, in general, simple moves can be the most effective, especially for residential construction. For example, proper siting that enables breezes to blow through operable windows is far easier on the plant than air-conditioning. A well-insulated roof that simply allows water to drain into rain barrels or gardens is better off in the end than “green roofs” that require extra structure and waterproof membranes that produce toxins during their manufacturing process. Metals and plastics require much more energy to produce than wood – timber is sustainable. As a general rule, if we think back to how indigenous peoples built their dwellings in response to their local environments, usually we’ll find simple, creative, very effective solutions to those same issues for which we now have expensive not-very-sustainable technologies to solve!
So what ARE sensible suggestions for building green? Here’s my list!
1. Design and Build small. Less building equals less resources, less cost, and a cozier home! Sarah Susanka has written an informative, breath-of-fresh-air series of books under the Not-So-Big banner. Visit her website to get a sense of this timely building philosophy, whether you’re planning a project or not! http://www.notsobig.com/
2. Remodel instead of tearing down/building new! Much less waste into the landfill – very simple. And a good remodel can usually create as much transformation as you can imagine.
3. Design in response to your local environment and micro climate. Sun exposure, prevailing breezes, optimal garden space, orientation away from noise and undesirable elements: all these should figure into your design to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your home, lessening the need for technological interventions.
4. Recycle, reuse construction debris. Opportunities abound for construction waste recycling. CTA recycles almost ALL of our construction waste. Old cabinets, fixtures, windows & doors, trim and appliances can often find new uses through one of several resale venues. In Seattle: http://www.earthwise-salvage.com/ and http://www.seconduse.com/ and http://www.re-store.com/ are just a few. You can also find the same for your own project – like hardwood flooring from a local gym demo! There’s an ever changing offering of cool stuff! Habitat for Humanity also will take good working appliances and cabinets.
5. Materials and finishes: there are many new and exciting legitimate green products on the market. Low VOC paints, lumber composite products, carpet and finishes (i.e. floor finishes) that are healthier within your home, and more sustainable in their manufacturing process; recycled tile, concrete counters, cork flooring: the list here is too long to cite. There is a great resource here in Seattle that researches and showcases green building materials: http://www.echohaus.com/
Overall, I think that “building green” is building simply. It just requires some forethought!
(see about our principals to for info about their long history of building green: https://ctabuilds.com/principals.html)