The green building movement has taken the building industry by storm and everywhere you go, someone is talking about it. Well, we have had our fair share of questions regarding green building and these are our answers to some of them. If these don't answer your questions, please call us and we will be happy to answer your questions.
• Green building... what is it?
Green building is building a comfortable home that has the smallest impact on the environment during and after construction. Green building has acquired a stigma of being a tremendously complicated process. Depending on the involved parties, it can be.
The easiest way to build green is to build sensible. There are many great ideas for green building out there. You want to pick and choose the ones that will best suit your living style and locale. If you live in a climate where there isn't a long hard winter, how smart is it to install a radiant heat system that takes a day to heat up and to cool down?
• Why would I want to build a green home? Isn't it more expensive?
Almost always, green building is going to be more expensive than traditional building. It takes green to build green. However before deciding whether you will or not, you need to ask yourself a question.
Do I want to build a green home because...
- I believe I can make a difference?
- it utilizes sensible ideas?
- it will save me money?
Every green home that is built will contribute to the overall quality of the community. If you believe you're going to make a difference, the only cost issue is just how much you have to spend. If you like the ideas in green building because they make sense then you have to weigh your desires for practicality versus your budget. If you're looking to save money, you need to consider and compare the long term savings when choosing what system you will use. Except for very rare circumstances, you will not save money upfront when using green building practices.
One last thing to consider is your site. The attributes of your site will significantly affect the decision making process regardless of your motives. This gets back to the premise that green building is building sensibly. For example, air-to-air heat pumps work great as rule of thumb but only down to about 40 degrees. This is changing as new technologies are developed but it's something to consider.
• Aren't green homes built small to conserve energy?
Green homes are built small relative to the size of the occupancy. If you have a family like the Duggars, your home will be quite large. However, if you're retired and living by yourself or with a spouse, you will probably have a smaller home. Both can be green provided they use the right amount of resources. If this wasn't the case then most of the major corporate headquarters couldn't be certified as green structures.
• Does green building involve state-of-the-art materials and building methods?
Not always. Power and water savings usually involve relatively new technologies. However, when it comes to the basic construction of your home, green does not always mean state-of-the-art. Timber framing is thousands of years old; yet by today's standards, it is still considered a green building method because it is a sustainable building system.
• Why is timber framing a "sustainable building system"?
Timber frames are considered sustainable buildings mostly because of their longevity. A typical stick frame house has roughly a 50 year lifespan before major repairs are needed. Whereas a timber frame should stand for hundreds of years before major repairs are needed... if they are needed. Also according to the LEED scoring system a timber frame would fall under Innovation and Design where part of the plan is to build the most durable house possible. A perfect example would be found in Europe where timber framing was and still is in wide spread use because the buildings last so long.
Another perfect example of the sustainable side of timber frames is in all the barns that are being retrofitted. How many stick frame houses do you see being dismantled and reassebled in a different location? Most stick frame houses when dismantled are done with a backhoe and a bulldozer. All those materials then get sent to the local landfill. Which one probably has the least impact on the forests? One of the draw backs to reassembled frames or even reclaimed wood is the engineering. It is very hard for an engineer to sign off on a dismantled frame because the grade of the wood is usually unknown and the joinery is usually unknown.
• It looks like a timber frame uses more wood than a stick frame home. How can it still be a green building?
Looks can be decieving. Timber frames typically use less wood than a conventional stick framed home because the load supporting capabilities of the wood are optimized. Also, because of the nature of timber framing, the layouts of timber frames tend to be made up of squares and rectangles. Any time you simplify the design of any house, it will usually be a more efficient home.
• How energy efficient is a timber frame house?
A timber frame is only as energy efficient as the envelope that encloses it. The method that has shown the best energy efficiency is using "SIP's" (Structurally Insulated Panels). These are fixed to the outside of the timber frame and because they do not have thermal breaks in the insulation, they create a solid curtain of insulation. This drastically reduces the amount of heat lost by conduction through the walls and ceilings. Because SIP's interlock during application, they also create a virtually airtight building envelope.
• I've heard that an airtight home can have poor indoor-air quality.
In some cases that is true. How "healthy" the home is can be affected by the building materials used and by how the air circulation is handled. Air quality can be regulated through the use of high efficiency air exchangers. Not only do you introduce fresh outside air while expelling indoor contaminants, your utility dollars are maximized by transferring the energy from the outgoing air.
• How do I build a green timber frame home?
Building a green timber frame home involves planning how the site will be prepared, where the house is located on the site, and how its orientated to the sun. Make choices that minimize resource consumption both during and after the construction phase. Your dream timber frame home can be both comfortable and efficient.
• Is there a "green building code"?
At this moment, the NAHB™ (National Association of Home Builders™) has a set of guidelines that many builders follow if they consider themselves green builders. The Green Building Council™ is modifying a set of commercial green building guidelines for residential use. These guidelines were created by LEED™ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design™).
• So... is a timber frame home green?
The answer is yes. If you use reclaimed wood or wood which comes from a managed forest along with SIP's to enclose the frame then you will have achieved some of the elements in building a green home. The longevity of the frame, coupled with the efficiency of the SIP's, and the "Energy Star™" rated mechanicals will make any timber frame structure green. The "Energy Star™" mechanicals also help with the usage efficiency of water, electrical, solar, etc. Put it all together... and your home is green.
• Where do I start if I want to build a green home?
The first place to start is with a sketch of your house. That sketch puts your wishes and needs down on paper. The next step is footwork. Find out what green building methods you have access to and which make sense. Radiant floor heat for example... some areas it makes sense and it others it doesn't. Remember that green building is about building smart, not state of the art or with the most people involved. Once you have an idea of what systems you want to use, then you begin to modify your home to accomodate those systems. If you can't accomodate the systems in your home, then you might need to revisit the systems and see what options are available. The process in designing a green home isn't cut and dried. There will be many twists, turns, and switchbacks as you progress.
One place you can always go to for information at the start is your local building department. With the green building movement becoming so prevalent, the chances are high that they have already dealt with some "green systems." After that, Google becomes your best friend. On our Informational Links page under the Building Information menu, we've posted a few links to green building resources.
• Wow! That's a fantastic idea, let's use it!
Sound familiar? We all get caught up in an idea from time to time. The problem is that not all great ideas are practical or all that great. When you're researching green building systems, you will find plenty of great ideas. Take time to research them by looking at not only who makes the product but who is living with it and who has built/installed it.
One case in point are ICF foundations. The priciple behind them is great. The problem is that they tend to be marketed as "you and your buddies from baseball can form a foundation in a weekend!" When looking for an ICF company, make sure they will send a representative to help you get the forms setup correctly.