In today's slow housing market, the one bright spot is decidedly green. Everywhere you look, green building is grabbing the attention of otherwise cautious home buyers.
But all this attention raises the potential for "green-washing" — the efforts of overzealous marketers to label anything and everything "green." Building a green home is certainly much more than slapping down bamboo flooring. And the media hasn't helped the matter by parsing "green" into a bunch of unrelated "plug and play" solutions. Selectively focusing on one feature while ignoring others or intentionally misleading buyers about the green credentials of a product or process only threatens to diminish the concept of green building as a whole.
One of the reasons many builders and the general public don't understand green building is because it encompasses so much. Green building touches just about everything we do when we build a structure. It wasn't until I had to teach a green building course for high school and junior college construction career programs that I began to wrap my head around what it means to be green and how to explain it in concrete terms.
Soak your brain with the LEED for Homes (www.usgbc.org/leed/homes), NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines (www.nahb.org/publication_details.aspx?publicationID=1994), the SBIC Green Building Guidelines (www.sbicouncil.org/store/gbg.php) and the ICC - NAHB National Green Building Standard (www.nahbrc.org/technical/standards/greenbuilding.aspx), and you'll begin to find common threads between the different programs. You may realize, as I did, that the houses you build are already pretty "green" just by the nature of building along the coast. Coastal regulations and climate conditions typically force us to build to a much higher green threshold than might be required in other regions.
The important thing is to understand green building on two levels: the big picture and the more fine-grained details of implementation. You'll communicate with clients wearing your "big picture" hat. To provide a better understanding of this big picture, I break down green building into nine different branches of a tree (previous page). Not every branch is weighted the same, but none can be ignored. A perusal of the outline provided here will provide a quick check on how close you're already coming to building green and detail what practices you might need to reach the goal.
Eventually, you'll have to steep yourself in the practical side of pulling the pieces together on site, as well, but that will take more than one magazine article.
Most coastal homes I build or remodel have a design professional on board. If they are involved in green building, then my job is simplified. If not, I "green engineer" the project, focusing first on the following:
Water-managed details. Coastal contractors understand the importance of managing water and how to keep buildings dry. If you haven't already, develop a standard set of details for flashings, window and door installation, siding, and roofing that ensure your buildings will keep water out. (For more information on good coastal water management practice, see "Best Practice Wall Shingles," March/April 2007, and "Weather Barriers for Coastal Conditions," January/February 2008; www.coastalcontractor.net.)
Locally appropriate. Design features and structural details that suit coastal construction in your area, wind zone, and exposure. This isn't necessarily about aesthetics but rather about roof pitches, overhangs, exposures, glazing area, and structural load paths. If you get these right, you're well on your way to a durable home that uses less energy.
Building orientation. Clients want to maximize their view, of course, but we can tweak the design to take advantage of prevailing coastal wind patterns for natural cooling, to increase or decrease solar gain, and to improve natural daylighting (see "Designing with the Sun in Mind," Fall 2005).
Footprint. While builders are usually beholden to the wishes of our customer's desires, we can steer them to build smaller. Smaller houses require fewer materials to build and tend to use less energy. The net effect is a clear prescription for conserving resources.