A No Non-Sense Approach to Green Building
By Mark Miller
Everyone today is talking about “Green” from your neighbor next door to the President of the United States. With the topic on so many minds one would think that everyone has a good understanding of what the term green means. Who should we turn to for information on what it means to build “green”? Should we turn to our government for that answer? It wasn’t too long ago when it became news that ethanol production, which was supposed to be “green,” used more fossil fuel than it yielded. Even worse, later, this fact was also proven to be true regarding the harvesting of the corn (the main ingredient) in ethanol. How could that be? Producing gasoline from corn seems pretty “green,” doesn’t it? Yet our government mandates that a certain percentage of our gasoline be made with ethanol.
Ok, now that you’re probably scratching your head confused, let me tell you a story about a local project that used a “common-sense” approach to building a green house. Hopefully I will shed some light on building green by thinking “outside of the box.”
Builders, architects, and designers have been improving our homes for years now. The homes built today are tremendously more energy efficient than homes built just a few years ago. The availability of cutting edge products has never been greater and at price points that are reasonable for everyone’s budget. For example, although LED lighting prices are higher than conventional lighting, the payback time can be in just one year as opposed to five to seven in previous years. But there is also another part to building green that is easily forgotten. How are the products made that are going into this building? Does the manufacturing process follow the same philosophy as the one being practiced in the construction process? Is the factory in close proximity to the project? These are all good questions. However, I would like you to consider other factors to keep in mind when building green. What if we could use some products that were left over from other projects? In addition to that, what if we could use some recycled products salvaged from some local buildings before demolition? Well, that is exactly what we did in our venture to be green. In one of my local projects, I blended some new cutting edge products with some left over and re-claimed materials. I will give you a brief outline of how this house was constructed and the unique materials that were utilized.
The concrete slab and cement blocks for the exterior walls of the house all came from a local company. All of the interior walls were constructed with steel studs. The use of steel studs for all of the interior walls has many green benefits. First, we conserved trees as steel replaced wood. Now, we have created a structure that is immune to insects. This, of course, means that there is no need for any special chemical treatments like many builders use that never leave your home. Framing walls with steel saves time while the walls finish perfectly straight and plum. The windows installed contain tinted, insulated, impact glass. In addition, decorative window treatments were utilized in a way that will increase the glass performance even more. Using High-efficiency air-conditioning systems is also very important. The air-handlers have variable speed motors and the condensation lines are plumbed to drain directly into the swimming pool. This “re-claimed” water will keep the pool topped off and remove the need to use tap water for replenishment. The attic has a spray-foam insulation applied to the underside of the plywood sheathing. This not only provides the best possible insulation from heat and cold but also substantially strengthens the entire roof structure by creating one solid structure.
The entire house including landscape lighting is LED. The LED lighting is as much as ninety percent more efficient than traditional incandescent and fluorescent lights. LED lights do not emit the quantity of heat that the incandescent lights emit. This greatly reduces the load on the air-conditioning system. What the homeowners find most attractive about going green with LED is the fact that they may not need to change a bulb or light for twenty years or more. Most of the interior wood-trim and moldings that we used are remnants from past local projects. Most of the tile used for the floor and walls was either re-claimed or left over from past projects. All of the brick pavers for the home were also left over from previous projects along with the granite and marble countertops for the cabinets. This saved the need to manufacture a substantial amount of products needed for this home. A few of the doors for the project were also left over from a previous project including the front door. All of the plumbing fixtures meet the latest “low flow” requirements for water use and the master bath even has a “waterless” urinal. This process is not only green by the fact that building this house created much less of a “carbon footprint” than that of the traditional process but also saved the homeowner a substantial amount of money. Building like this is much easier that one may think. However, you must be a little open-minded to get the most out of it.
There are numerous sources for re-claimed building materials locally. Also, finding misordered, left over, and returned products is as simple as checking with your local building materials supplier. In many cases you can even name your own price. In addition, a quick search on-line can be an invaluable tool. There are warehouses full of building materials throughout the region. Numerous buildings and warehouses have been abandoned allowing savvy investors to buy various materials from the banks that were holding the mortgages on the buildings. These products can be purchased sometimes for “pennies on the dollar” from the “junk investors.” A good place to start looking could be Craig’s List. In future issues I will be providing a more in depth look at some of the products mentioned in this article.
Being an environmentally conscious builder or homeowner does require a new understanding of the concept “going green.” It involves both the use of new and innovative energy saving products as well as utilizing existing left over materials. Building green is the wave of the present, the future, and a way of life.
MARK MILLER BIO
Mark Miller has been in the construction industry for over 21 years and founded Westwater Construction, Inc. 19 years ago. He also operates a handful of other construction related entities including a LED manufacturing company. Mark can be reached for any construction related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or any LED lighting questions at email@example.com.
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