by Eileen Weber
Did you know 18% of overall indoor water use and 37% of just the hot water use comes from household showers? Did you know that while the US is home to only 4.5% of the global population, it is responsible for over 15% of the world’s consumption of wood? Did you know that unhealthy air is found in 30% of new and renovated buildings?
These were just some fun facts from GreenBuilding.com, an organization based in Boulder, CO. They are the kind of statistics that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Green Building Council, and others focused on the benefits of green building want the average homeowner to know.
Building the new and renovating the old has taken a turn in the last several years. Homeowners, architects, and contractors alike are seeing the greater benefit of being more eco-conscious with their homes.
Barry Katz, an architect and builder in Westport, has been extremely vocal about the benefits of green building. He has written articles, given lectures, and even submitted entries to this web site about the endless possibilities of a “clean, green” future with the Obama administration.
But there are some homeowners who may balk at the initial cost of building green. To that, Katz says, “It doesn’t cost more, it costs less.” He said that before you build, you’re paying your mortgage, electricity and water bills. Before construction, those bills are higher. After construction, the initial costs essentially end up paying for themselves. “From the moment you move in to your [newly built] house,” he said, “your overall operating costs will be lower.”
In the January issue of Period Homes, Katz penned an article about building green and why he’s dedicated his profession to it. “We can no longer build homes that squander resources and run on fuels that are increasingly scarce and expensive,” said Katz. “[They] are poisoning the air, altering the climate.”
It’s that kind of passion that has brought green building into the mainstream. And it’s not just the architects who see that point of view.
Charlie Shafer, a general contractor with many talents who has “seen it all”, says his clients are going for super efficiency in the core of the home. He said that when cost becomes a factor, it’s the new technology and energy efficiency in boilers and water heaters that’s most impressive.
“People still want their Sub-Zero or their funky showerhead that rains down on them,” said Shafer, who founded Charles Shafer Restoration in Madison and has been in the business for about 25 years. “But, they’ll really spend the extra bucks to get the super efficient boiler or water heater.”
Shafer also said that he’s seeing more of a trend in local natural materials. “I’ve had clients who are really eco-conscious,” he said. “They think they want bamboo flooring. Then, they weigh the energy cost to manufacture it over the cost of getting local natural woods from mills here in New England, which are just as beautiful. The cost is too high.”
Both Katz and Shafer see some new trends in green building for the future. Katz believes that soon it will become commonplace that all homes, new and renovated, will eventually be made more energy-conscious as a standard.
“People will assume that this is the way things will be built,” said Katz. “Just like people assume they will have central air.”
Katz hopes we eventually reach a 0% net energy on our homes. Shafer, however, thinks the new trend will be in how we manage our space. He made the point that homeowners can use their existing space more efficiently rather than just building out. In regard to square footage, he said “I think you’re going to see people doing more with less.”
For the homeowner, however, sometimes going green has its headaches. Kraig and Suzanne Schultz rebuilt their beach home in Fairfield to be green. They knew what they wanted: a radiant efficient exterior, or “envelope”, wind resistant and efficient windows, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and even CFL light bulbs. But there were problems.
The Schulzes opted for ICFs (insulated concrete forms), a “LEGO®” construction of Styrofoam blocks fit together with concrete and rebar. Their project took 18 months to design and 14 months to build, about five months longer than it should have. Kraig Schulz mainly attributes that to the lack of experience in some architects and builders. He says too many of them have done commercial green building and think they can translate it to residential construction.
“These companies don’t have enough experience to make the project seamless,” said Schulz. “You end up trying to cobble the pieces together yourself. The burden is on the consumer to find someone who knows what they’re doing. For the residential folks, everybody’s a guinea pig.”
The Schulzes are happy with their home since they moved back in last June. But, they aren’t sure the hassle was worth it just to be green. Even just buying the right light bulb became a wild goose chase.
“We put in CFLs [compact fluorescent lights], but there are very few options to choose from,” he said. “We needed a color-balanced, dimmable, recessed, fluorescent light. There was one option and it’s $20 a piece. With 100 lights in the house, I’m spending $2,000!”
But Schulz did say he thinks issues like that will get better over time. With Governor Rell’s initiative to be greener and more efficient by 2011 and the increasing efficiency of technology, these kinks will eventually work themselves out.
“The policies and desire are there,” said Schulz, “but unfortunately, there isn’t the capability to accommodate it right now.”