There are a lot of terms floating around like “green building”, “sustainable building”, “energy efficient homes”, etc. All of which have at least some merit in improving the way homes are built. However, navigating the minefield of what we will call “green building” almost inevitably becomes a confusing and overwhelming endeavor.
Several years ago, I was in charge of purchasing materials and labor for one of the nation’s most respected homebuilders. We took on the challenge of determining the best ways to build the most “green” house possible within reason of being sellable. Almost always, green changes come with a price tag. We understood that in our middle to upper middle price point, people are willing to spend more for a green home, but only to a point. You could build an extremely green home, but very few are willing to pay several million dollars for an ugly 2 bedroom subterranean box.
The project turned into a six month study filling several large binders with spreadsheets, data sheets, comparisons, reports, etc. Worse yet, if you tried to determine the “greenest” product or method to any component of the home, you would end up with more questions than answers. To add insult to injury, the more answers you tried to find, the more questions you would end up with.
Here is a typical example of how it went. One representative for a product would come in and explain how their product was the best and most environmentally responsible because they did or didn’t use some particular process or chemical that improved the sustainability or eco-footprint by whatever percentage. The next representative would come in and explain how that was all wrong because it took more energy to produce a certain substance in the manufacture of that product and that this other product was the way to go. That gave us a nice research project for one of the purchasing assistants to find out who is on the level. That usually led to a cost benefit spreadsheet because both claims had at least some validity to them. With hundreds of components going into a house, it got maddening fast.
So, where did all of this ultimately lead us? Though wading through the massive amount of propaganda got to be a lot like wading through the filthy sewage plant of a political election, we did ultimately find that if you back up a step to look at the big picture, there is an elegantly simple answer to the question “How do we build the most ‘green’ house possible within a reasonable cost?” The answer is good old craftsmanship.
Is it really that simple? Of course not, but that one word should be the navigational true north to building a home. The most green home is one that functions efficiently and does not have to have major parts periodically replaced. The longer it lasts, the more environmentally friendly it is. For example, an HVAC system that is properly sized to the home, installed with quality materials, and the installer took the time to use mastic to seal all the joints and hung the ducts with two stainless screws through galvanized straps instead of one drywall screw through nylon straps is going to last longer and be more efficient than the system that was hastily installed with cheap materials, unqualified labor, but boasts a greater energy rating on a compressor. The fact that it was poorly installed nullifies any advantages.
Though some products were clearly better, like finger jointed studs are great for vertical applications because they are straighter and essentially made from scraps, it really depends on the quality of installation. Finger jointed studs will fail when installed in a horizontal application. Paying our insulating company to take the time to slit and wrap the insulation around electrical wires or staple it against the subfloor to eliminate air gaps not only made the home more efficient, but made the home more comfortable overall for the homeowner. After all, isn’t it more green to buy a screwdriver that is made from high quality materials and lasts a lifetime in the hands of a qualified professional than it is to buy one from the discount store that breaks after a kid with a summer job uses it as wrench condemning it to a landfill?
Rod Gunter is Operations Manager at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries. Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point. Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products. Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina. Gunter Building Solutions owns WoodAirGrille.com which produces wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.