Monday Special: Green Construction and Sustainable Design
Every Monday at Collier Construction, we get together during lunch to talk about sustainable building practices. We talk about new studies and innovations in green construction, and we put our heads together to solve problems and answer each others' questions. Whether it is the science of heat transfer or geo-thermal heating and air, we talk about how to build homes that have a minimal impact on the environment.
10/27/2009: Who Gives a Flip About Sustainable Rehab?
Collier Construction’s monthly Green Lunch round table discussion with industry experts, sustainability advocates and concerned individuals brought us yet another challenging topic – substantiating sustainable rehab – and 5 smart ideas for greening up existing structures.
REHAB IS GOOD
Repurposing existing materials is good, and any process that values the historic and structural integrity of an existing building moves us a little closer to a more eco-responsible economy. So if rehabilitation already contributes to the eco-good, what’s the point in talking about sustainable rehab?
Rehabilitation is costly. Rehab aims to transform an existing, unusable structure into a useful building. And there are significant economic and environmental costs. As part of this process, massive amounts of waste are generated, a great deal of energy is consumed, and energy and maintenance expenditures can be excessive.
5 SIMPLE SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS
So among a host of green lunch attendees, we discussed 5 ways to green-up existing buildings.
1. Know your energy grid: As Travis Close pointed out, if you are remodeling or renovating your home and want to invest in energy-saving products, the first thing you should do is have an energy audit or performance evaluation. EPB offers local customers a free energy audit – from simple to comprehensive – that will help you identify where your home is consuming too much energy (423-648-1372). Or for large-scale projects – contact Building Performance Consulting.
EPB’s Elizabeth Crenshaw also pointed toward the future of home-performance evaluation, explaining that the Power Board is currently piloting its fiber optic Smart Grid which will allow customers to manage energy use through a two-way communications monitoring system.
The sustainability standpoint: you can make smart choices for the long term when you know how your home operates, consumes energy and interacts with the environment.
2. Illuminate the problem: Perhaps the simplest way to save energy is with lighting – but as we all know, compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s) are expensive and LED (Light Emitting Diodes) lights are still too expensive for the average homeowner.
But think about it – Shawn Summey of Premier Lighting pointed out that CFL’s consume 75% less energy and produce 75% less heat than incandescent light bulbs while they cost an average of 30% more. So what’s the trade-off – CFL’s pay for themselves in less than one year and last an average of 8,500 hours longer than their incandescent counterparts.
And in case you’re wondering, LED lights last an approximate 50,000 hours. That’s a really long time – like burning the same light bulb five years straight.
The sustainability standpoint: Energy efficient lights mean less manufacturing, less production, less travel, less waste, less energy consumption.
3. Tank the tank: Would you leave your stove top on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week just to heat hot water for a pot of tea? No, because that does not make sense.
Problem is, traditional hot water heaters consume energy around the clock just so that hot water is available for showers and washing clothes (and using hot water for washing clothes is not always necessary anyway).
Well, if you’re rehabbing a home, you have an opportunity to bring a little more logic into the way you heat water. As Daniel LaTour of Mainline Plumbing explained, the tankless systems heat water directly without the use of a storage tank by running water through a pipe and into a heating element (either electric or gas), supplying a constant source of hot water on demand.
These water heaters can be as much as 50% more efficient than traditional water heaters. Learn more here.
The sustainability standpoint: Purchasing a tankless water heater, while more expensive, allows you to use energy as needed and save money in the long-term.
4. Seal the deal on energy: Most homes have an estimated 6 to 10 square feet of cracks and openings where energy is lost. However, you can prevent energy loss by sealing and insulating your crawl space and attic.
Open-cell spray foam insulation (see more here) can be applied to openings and cracks around plumbing and electrical fixtures. And there are methods for applying rigid foam board to crawl space walls, but you should contact a professional to perform this service as it is rather technically involved. Our advice, contact Jerry at Insulation Unlimited.
The sustainability standpoint: Whether or not you’re a DIY’er , paying attention to your attic and crawl space means reducing your home’s environmental footprint.
5. Restore and ReStore: Kim Ray of Conditionaire brought perhaps the soundest advise of all – reuse and restore existing stuff. Like cabinets and countertops that can be refurbished and refinished. Instead of hauling vast amounts of usable stuff to the landfill, make it usable and cool. In other words, be creative, be resourceful, be inspired.
Wait, your not creative, resourceful or inspired…? Okay, no problem. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga is. And they’ll be more than happy to take your unwanted hardware, light fixtures, tile, doors, windows, lumber, appliances, cabinets and furniture. They’ll turn around and sell it at bargain prices. They’ll raise funds for their operations, and you’ll get a tax write off while greening up your building and supporting our community.
The sustainability standpoint: The ReStore has diverted 400 tons of usable materials from taking up residence in the landfill. Now, whether you restore or ReStore, you’re preventing landfill use – good job!
SO WHO GIVES A FLIP?
All of this sounds nice enough, but the hard part is making it economically viable. In other words, sustainable rehab doesn’t necessarily increase the value of your building – from a market perspective. Most home appraisals favor the conventional flip – new countertops and a decked out bathroom – over energy upgrades and green products.
Sustainability advocates and industry leaders have continually sought out compelling ways to influence the market to embrace and value sustainability in terms of personal finance, the global economy and social responsibility. But at the end of the day, it comes down to what we demand. And studies show that people are willing to pay a premium for “goods and services produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way." Now that’s good news.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
So if you’re rehabbing a home or a major commercial project and you know the difference, it’s time to make a difference. Lower your energy bills, reduce CO2 emissions, and increase the value and life-expectancy of your building.
9/22/2009: DREAM BIG, THINK SMALL! - PART II
This is part II of a two-part run-down of Collier’s green lunch on Sept. 8th at green|spaces. In part I of this article, we explained that most homebuyers want the best price per square foot on the market. This makes perfect sense until we look at it from a sustainability standpoint. So we suggested that the home buying/building process include the question, “What impact will size have on my finances, my family and the environment?” This question helps identify the problems of building big. So in part II, we’ll look at the benefits of building small and what we can all do to promote “sustainable space.”
REVALUING THE SQUARE FOOT
Picking up where we left off – sustainability focuses on the environmental and economic impact our collective choices have over the long term. So the question we must ask – and then answer – is, “How can small green houses become a big part of a more sustainable housing market?"
To answer the question, sustainability advocates can help homeowners revalue the square foot by educating the public about the economic and environmental consequences of building big and the many benefits of building small.
Revaluing the square foot means spending less on square footage and spending more on sustainable design, green construction, and renewable energy. In the words of Wayne Williams, teach people to “Make it as small as possible in order to make it as nice as possible.” In this case, as green as possible.
Revaluing the square foot also involves a major shift in the way homes are bought and sold, built and marketed. Though architects, builders and realtors can encourage and promote eco-smart houses, they can not forge a market shift. Though banks and assessors can be open-minded and forward-thinking, they cannot cause a change in the valuation process. But homeowners can! By demanding more value for the square footage (instead of more square footage for the value).
SO WHAT CAN WE DO DIFFERENTLY?
As a group, we discussed 3 things Collier can do differently in order to avoid greenwashing and better promote sustainability.
1. Have the conversation anyway: At Collier, by the time we get involved with a project, the plans are already drawn. That doesn’t mean we can’t have the conversation anyway and help homeowners understand the benefits of building smaller. Benefits may include:
• Reduced energy consumption
• Little to no maintenance and repair costs
• Minimal environmental impact
• A better product and a better process
• A home that fits the homeowner
2. Watch our language: Avoid greenwashing and make sure we are not calling big homes green. Use language such as “energy efficient” and “whole systems approach” to describe the construction of big homes we may feel inclined to call green.
3. Educate the public: Make the term “sustainable space” apart of the green construction spectrum. Include “sustainable space” as part of our (re)source guide to green construction. Help the public understand that space can be designed and built differently to make a home feel and function bigger than it is. Like with the Madison Street homes.
WE CAN'T DO IT ALONE
The same kind of effort that Chattanooga has poured into incentivizing green construction must also be applied to making small green houses a bigger part of the local housing market. And it begins with all kinds of people carrying on this dialogue – so do you think big can be green?
At Collier Construction, we know that in order to do what is right for homeowners and the environment, it’s essential to have these kinds of conversations and include the input of others – including you. We are always excited to know what you think, so feel free to join the conversation, whether it’s shooting us an email or joining our next green lunch or commenting here! And thanks to Wayne Williams, Donna Williams, Jeff Cannon, Anj McClain, and Kim Ray for coming out to our first public green lunch and making it a good one.
9/15/2009: DREAM BIG, THINK SMALL! - PART I
This is part one of a two-part run-down of Collier’s green lunch on Sept. 8th at green|spaces with Wayne Williams of TWH Architects, Donna Williams of Live Urban, Jeff Cannon and Anj McClain of green|spaces, and Kim Ray of Conditionaire. If you’d like to join us for green lunch, contact us here.
Can BIG really be green?
Here’s an interesting question – one that we tackled during our first public green lunch – can BIG be green? One way to answer the question is with a simple yes – you can call just about anything green. But calling it green doesn’t make it green, even if it does consume 50% less energy or utilize renewable resources.
Why? Because building big means increased material waste and the unnecessary consumption of resources – that process of production, consumption and waste has a significant impact on natural habitats and CO2 emissions. Even if we utilize the full spectrum of sustainable building practices to build a big house, it doesn’t mean that the house is sustainable.
As Donna Williams of Live Urban explained, most people in the market for a home begin with the question, “What can I afford?” Followed by “How much space do I want?” and lastly, “What is the best price per square foot on the market?” In other words, we want the most square footage for what we can afford – then we buy it.
But perhaps this process should include the following question: “What impact will size have on my finances, my family and the environment?”
Why Size Matters
- FINANCE: The average home size in America was 2,330 square feet in 2004. And the average American household spends $2,200 every year on energy. That’s roughly $1 per square foot per year. With rising energy costs, nothing will stop the unnecessary costs of heating and cooling unused space. Not to mention upkeep and maintenance.
- FAMILY: Consider what happens when a family is given too much space. Does it allow for certain family members to avoid interaction, responsibility, involvement, work, accountability, etc? Obviously, this is a loaded question – but one worth asking.
- ENVIRONMENT: What impact does my decision have on the environment? Is it sustainable? Is it based on the long-term health of my community, the local economy and the environment?
The Sustainability Question
While an individual homeowner’s personal choice will not devastate the environment, sustainability focuses on the environmental and economic impact our collective choices have over the long term. Since 1950, for instance, the average square footage of a new single family home has increased nearly 140%. It seems pretty obvious that, as a country, we cannot reasonably sustain this rate of increase. Unless, of course, we all don’t mind that the average house size could reach 5,600 square feet in 50 years (that’s if it increased another 140%).
So the question we must ask is, “How can small green houses become a big part of a more sustainable housing market?”
7/1/2009: Why the Fireplace is an Important Part of a Green Home
Last week we had Clay Dennis of Southern Hearth and Patio come and talk to us about fireplaces for Green Lunch. He had a lot of important things to say, and here’s what we learned:
The fireplace is the only part of a home that we try to catch on fire. So being smart means we not only understand how to avoid burning down the house, it means we know the environmental, health and structural impact of the fireplace.
Whether you are burning wood or gas, you are utilizing three main ingredients to produce fire—fuel, heat and air. And depending on the fireplace installed in your home, you could be burning indoor air filled with pet dander and hair, deodorizers, mold, dust mites, pesticides and VOCs. Breathing this stuff causes health concerns, and burning it inside your home can be harmful as well. Which is why your fireplace should be directly vented to the outside where it can pull in air and release the byproducts.
One of the byproducts of burning fossil fuel (propane or natural gas) is CO2 and H2 which leads to increased H20 in the air. For instance, burning propane (C4H8) will produce one gallon of water for every gallon of fuel burned. Over time, this can cause problems for the structure of your home—such as mold, mildew and rot damage. And it is yet another reason why your fireplace should be vented to the outside. With a direct vent fireplace, there is no interaction between house air and the fireplace air.
From a sustainability standpoint, it is also important to evaluate the efficiency and environmental impact of fireplaces. Are we burning more fuel—wood or gas—than necessary? And are there cleaner kinds of fuel to burn?
Well, there are two particularly important innovations that have reduced fuel consumption. The E.P.A. rated wood burning fireplaces use 30% less fuel, can heat multiple areas at once and have 90% less ecological impact due to higher combustion temperatures. And these fireplaces burn cleaner by controlling combustion and secondary air—they reuse their own gas byproducts as fuel.
And because of rising gas prices, pellet fireplaces have recently gained in popularity as well. Pellet fuel technology uses cheap fuel made with 100% pre-consumer recycled content, burns fuel as needed only, and produces ultra low emissions. Pellets are made from wood waste generated in saw mills. And they can also be made of cornstalks, straw, and wastepaper. Because pellets are dispensed into the firebox automatically, you can achieve a slow, continuous burn and control temperatures and fuel consumption.
So whether it is time for you to make the switch to a new more efficient fireplace or just have your existing fireplace put in order, make sure you think through the varying effects a fireplace has on your home and the environment. And if you have questions, talk to Southern Hearth and Patio's Clay Dennis, NFI Certified in Wood and Pellet Bio-mass .
3/9/2009: Why Hardwood Oak is a Green Flooring Material
Why is 2 ¼ hardwood oak a very green flooring material? Well, it is a renewable resource, a beautiful product and extremely durable. It can be refinished 4 or 5 times, it can accommodate carpet, it contains no VOCs, and it is affordable. Oak products are often harvested using Sustainable Forest Management practices.
Fact is, while there are a number of very attractive sustainable flooring products, oak is a practical green choice. Bamboo and Cork, for instance, are both rapidly renewable resources, very chic, and durable—but bamboo is shipped from China and cork from Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy, and Tunisia. Oak, on the other hand, is harvested closer to home.
But not all domestic hardwoods are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. As GreenBuildingAdvisor.com encourages, “To make certain that you get environmentally responsible wood products, be sure to specify your interest in FSC-certified wood.”
For more, read our 5 Easy Questions to Ask When Choosing Green Products
One of the issues we discussed today is the issue of storm water runoff on construction sites. Rain water carries a lot of contaminants from the construction site into our natural water system. Among a host of potential solutions for reducing runoff, we are pursuing the use of larger gravel on construction sites so that harmful mud is not as easily tracked into the street and washed into storm sewer system.
According to the EPA’s website, “Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the waterbodies we use for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water.”
For more information, check out the EPA’s take on it
or let us know your thoughts.
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