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Why Build Green?

It's really simple, summed up by the slogan: "Better houses, Easier on the Planet".  Our knowledge of what makes a good building, and what it's impacts on the environment are, has grown tremendously since 1990.  Much of the information isn't really all that new, but was ignored because energy was cheap, materials were plentiful, no one ever heard of sick building syndrome, and consumers were not aware that alternatives existed.

While the initial impetus was driven by environmentally minded people, the "Green building" movement has now reached the mainstream, because its ideas make sense to many people.  These main ideas are very simple, although each has many arguments and counter arguments. Click on the link, and get our side of the argument.

Builders are finding that green homes can bring them higher profits, and homeowners are finding the homes to be of higher quality and having lower operation and maintenance costs.

What about the Why Not?

The biggest obstacle in the market is lack of knowledge and experience.   No industry likes change because it means re-learning things, but because buildings last so long, the construction industry has a strong reluctance to try new things.   The main way to get builders to adapt green building is to ask for it.  In addition, there are numerous pioneers building demonstration projects that begin to form the basis for change.  Although there is a lot of easy things any builder can do, you will probably have a hard time convincing them unless you hire one who either already knows how or is willing to put in the time to learn.

The biggest impediment for many people is letting go of their notion of what a dream house is. Everywhere you look at featured houses in the newspaper or architecture magazines, they're always dramatically fancier than the homes most people live in.  Dream houses tend not to be as nice in reality as they are imagined.  Its not unusual to see a dream house go up and then five years later the owners moving out to something that better matches their lifestyle.  Until recently, the entire history of architecture focused on style, not comfort and function.  People who gravitate toward green building tend to no only want to save the planet, but value comfort, flow, feel and craftsmanship over status. 

Of course, its still possible to build a green castle.  Us eco-types will still call it an opulent waste of resources, but at least it will much nicer to live in than a real castle (which as it turns out, aren't very comfortable!).

Sometimes aesthetics can run counter to performance or environmental criteria, and in this case we offer these words of wisdom:

  • Every decision has some ramification - make sure its a good tradeoff.
  • Most problems can be solved by being creative.
  • The best solutions often come from letting go of specifics.

You can build in any style you want, but sometime stylistic elements cause you to lose performance or increase cost.  Those 18' soaring ceilings cost money to build,  cost you floor space, and tend to collect heat.  Glass those goes floor to ceiling doesn't improve your view outside, but it does increase your heat loss.   Putting a lot of glass on the west side of a house (for example, to take advantage of a view) can lead to severe overheating in the summer if proper precautions aren't taken.

Some people don't think the planet needs saving.  Whether you care about the planet or not, a house built using green principles will still tend to be more durable, functional, energy efficient, comfortable and healthy than one that isn't.

But isn't green building expensive?  While it is certainly easy for this to happen, it's just as easy to prevent it. Many things have very little or no additional cost, and if you factor in operation and maintenance costs, green homes often cost LESS over time.  Some banks are beginning to recognize this and are offering improved loan terms for green homes. What will always be true, is that the cutting edge techniques and materials will tend to cost more because they are not widely available and don't have economy of scale production facilities.

Don't green buildings look weird?  There have certainly been plenty of green demonstration homes that do look weird, but there is no reason this needs to be.  Any style of house can modified to be a green design--although some will adapt easier than others.  The main constraint that green building places is that the house be adapted to its climate.

Doesn't green living require sacrifice?  Green homes do encourage you to be aware of your environment and live with it, but don't necessarily require any lifestyle changes.  You can still have a TV, microware and other electric appliances and you don't have to read by candlelight.  Homes that are designed to have an extremely low impact on the planet do typically require some interaction on the part of the occupants, such as opening and closing windows to provide cooling.

To do it right, building green does require that you think and make conscious choices.  The result is often to educate ourselves about our impact on the environment and, in turn, its impact back on us.

Conclusion

Green building is a rapidly changing field, and it seems likely that what we call "green" now will end up being the standard choice ten years from now.

Fundamentally we believe that people are intelligent, and that if they put enough thought into it, they will make good choices.  When problems arise, if you let go of specifics, and let go of romantic notions,  you can get what you really want, just not in always in the form you originally imagined.

As more builders enter the green building market, the issue of exactly what do we mean by green building and whether a building is green or just greenwashing.  (for those unfamiliar with the term, greenwashing refers to something that appears green, but isn't).  There is much more about this in the Defining Green Building section.