Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Green Misnomer & Other Issues

I just received a comment today about our house design being too invasive and "commercial looking". Well folks, I'm not building a conventional home, so prepare for something cool, hip and yes GREEN. And first of all, looks are a matter of personal taste, not a factor of how green is your green built home. I happen to LIKE MODERN. I don't want our house to have A-line gabled roofs, fake shutters or embellished exteriors that aren't the original thing (don't get me wrong, I like old European architecture, just not on our new house!). So, if you're looking for a green lawn roof or an Earthship looking abode, this is not our house, nor is it a point to make it look any more different than another modern house. The point is building green any way you like it (and to your taste!)

As I said in my post, just because it "looks" commercial, doesn't make it any less green or lower impact. Low impact doesn't only encompass natural building materials and making it "look natural" (which is just a facade anyway). Low impact also encompasses energy efficiency (our's is super efficient at 950 sf per ton HVAC, compared to 350-400sf per ton HVAC!), as well as sustainable (our SIP home will use a lot less dimensional lumber than normal stick built and that combined with our geothermal will save us about 60-70% in energy).

So, here's how I see how our house is GREEN:

- Sustainability by way of reducing the use of non-renewable resources (by our house using less energy and naturally efficient geothermal heatpump, we are reducing our carbon footprint by many folds, as well as using very sustainable bamboo, sorghum and local natural stone)

- Increased energy efficiency (like fiberglass windows and high quality insulation (SIPs)).

- Reduction in pollution (like using more fly ash in your concrete or using less electricity)

- Healthier environments (like the no VOC paints)

- Lower impact on resources (like our rainwater tanks)

So you must look at the entire picture, and not just one part of the whole green movement. It irks me that someone is calling our design unsustainable without seeing all the factors. Just wanted to make my point on my blog.... thanks for reading.

p.s. Our original goal was to make it more affordable, but I have come to realize that there are huge hurdles in this industry and a lot of people monopolizing on the green building effort. For example, subcontractors want to charge a hefty premium just because their unfamiliar, it's "new", and it's hip at the moment. This is VERY unfortunate, but only people like us can change this. I guess the only way is to raise awareness and get more people to build like us so that we can have more competition in this field. I have a few tips on this, how to make it more affordable, but it still needs to be worked on!


dan111174 said...

I've been following your blog for a while as a lurker. I too intend to build green and modern myself, hopefully this summer. However, I am also a foundation and concrete contractor and would like to offer my two cents.

In my business the "green tax" is a direct result of time on the job. Green is not necessarily harder, it simply requires more time. More up front planning is required on my part to integrate all of the trades up front. Here in Illinois we do basements, not post tensioned slabs such as those prevalent in Texas. (can you say "thank you, expansive caliche?") Anyway, moving from standard foundation walls to super efficient insulated sandwich walls requires about 3 extra days on the job. Not a lot in the grand scheme, but 3 days costs me about $3k in overhead and 1 foundation per week of production. So it also costs me about $5k in "lost" profit. By very rough numbers a green foundation cost me about $8k total. Sadly, I have to make up for that by charging extra. People that want green will find a way to pay for it, and I am starting to see that trend.

I have worked in Texas at a production homebuilder and with a commercial contractor. Now in Illinois I run my own company. Many of the technologies and methods are out there and have been for some time. I think it comes down to educated consumers and reasonably acceptable payback periods. Example: Here the payback on geothermal is about 20 years, while my insulated foundation pays for itself in about 6 years.

As consumers catch on and fuel costs necessitate improved efficiency it will become the norm. I just thought I'd point out why the cost can be higher. Having said that, my projected costs for my own house are around $85 per square foot, thanks to my knowledge of materials, scheduling and construction techniques. Items that were too much money up front had to get cut, but I worked hard to find reasonably price alternatives.

My apologies for the length of that post. Here's a link to a render of my project.

-Dan Newcomb

Jan & Myleen said...

Thanks Dan, for your valuable comment. I welcome all perspectives. I hear you on why things are more expensive in green building, but appraisals haven't caught up to us yet, so therefore, it has been difficult to get the proper loan amount. We shall see when our appraisal! I am not giving up yet!

I have a question since you are a foundation and concrete contractor... does all concrete contain fly ash? I heard that was so, and if so, what amount is considered a green foundation? My concrete guy said that we have 29% fly ash in our concrete, but on average, most concrete mixes are around 20%. What is your take on that? I heard you can get up to 50% fly ash but it becomes twice as expensive.

dan111174 said...

Short answer - Concrete only contains as much flyash as your contractor specs in the mix design. For structural stuff I can see going up to 30%. Above 30% you have a decrease in strength without performing serious chemical mojo.

As for flatwork (floors, drives, etc.) we don't like to go above 15%. Above that we have problems finishing the slabs.

Myleen - Thanks for the compliment on the design of my own project! The design was inspired by Ralph Rapson's "Greenbelt" case study house #4. I modified it heavily to fit the drive under configuration and my personal tastes. I drew it up myself entirely with Google SketchUp. (which is free) Sketchup handled the render for me.

Paul said...

ya know, you can't please everybody.

some folks have preconceived ideas on what a home should look like and what a bank should look like. it's narrow minded to assume that homes can't have flat roofs. it's your house and if somebody else doesn't like it, they don't have to live there. invasive and comercial....?

sorry, I sat on this for a while. I think I'm going to go install a drive through teller window in my car port. just because I've always wanted a home with one.

Jan & Myleen said...

haha, Paul! You're so right... and I don't care if everyone doesn't like our design style, as my taste is sooo different than the majority. I don't expect the Walmart or country, Cracker Barrel people to like our house. :-) But anyway, the point is to have a design that fits your sense of style and life, no matter what that can be. And if you want a teller window, go for it! I'd like an elevator and a 3rd story myself :-).

Anonymous said...

"Green" is tough. Take bamboo floors. Renewable? Absolutely. Bamboo grows to its full height in one season (that's right, one season, not one year). What about embodied energy? Well, almost all bamboo flooring is moso bamboo, that only grows well in China. So embodied energy is not so good for bamboo floors after accounting for transportation.

Not criticizing your choice. I'm just pointing out that what seems clearly green is sometimes really a compromise.


Jan & Myleen said...

Bob, you're absolutely right. There's sometimes a fine line on what is green. It's similar to our daily struggle when buying food too, for example, buying local vs. organic (see organic food post) and lucky if you can get both!

I think the best thing is to see what you can do under the budget you're given, whether that be only changing out your bulbs or investing in a geothermal HVAC. Every little helps.