EcoHome checks in with HERS Rater, BPI Certified Professional, Certified Sustainable Building Advisor, Level I Thermographer, and LEED for Homes Green Rater Ed Brown, who is a sustainable building specialist for the Partners in Sustainable Building program at Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI).

Ed Brown
Ed Brown

How did you become involved with green building?
As a custom builder and general contractor for more than 30 years, I have been consistently committed to high standards in construction technologies. In my efforts to maintain and improve those standards, I discovered the building science principles at the root of all good green building. These principles ensure builders are doing their best by the homeowner, the industry, the environment, and themselves. Working to assist Habitat affiliates in building affordable, sustainable homes has proved a great fit for me; it is really exciting to be involved in the great work affiliates are doing around the country. How does Habitat approach a green remodeling project?
For more than a decade, HFHI has provided the tools for new home construction to be more sustainable and efficient, as well as healthier and more comfortable. Our goal now is for all new Habitat homes to be certified to Energy Star standards or beyond by 2013. We are encouraging affiliates to apply those same filters and goals to all rehabs, and will continue to search out and provide the tools for them to accomplish that.

Another important part of green remodeling is third-party verification. Though not always available regionally or for the scope of work, green program compliance and independent review ensures quality and potential market value.

In your experience remodeling homes for Habitat, why is green remodeling sometimes more expensive than new sustainable construction?
By its very nature, remodeling work can be more costly because of the deconstruction requirements, inadequate energy conservation features, and both known and unknown durability and structural elements of the existing home. At HFHI, we also believe that remodeling homes can save money over new construction if the home is fundamentally sound and the infrastructure is serviceable. This is why it is so critical to perform a thorough review of existing conditions and have clear goals for the project.

You recommend a comprehensive home energy audit for whole-house remodels. What does this entail?
It is important to use a qualified professional who has training in building science and the use of diagnostic equipment. Two examples would be either a HERS Rater or a BPI Certified Professional. The auditor may collect utility billing records and conduct a homeowner interview regarding operations and maintenance of the home. More specifically, the auditor may perform air leakage tests on the building shell and duct system; review the efficiency and quality of the mechanical equipment; perform safety tests to ensure that the occupants will not be exposed to combustion gases; and use an infrared camera to survey the home for possible heat-, air-, or moisture-leakage-related problems. Finally, the auditor may perform software modeling of the energy efficiency of the home and perform a cost-benefit analysis of potential savings from proposed improvements.

You are a proponent of using an Integrated Design Process (IDP). What is that?
The Integrated Design Process is a practical planning process that considers the whole while dealing with its parts, creating a better house. This is accomplished by assembling a variety of professionals and project stakeholders to review the project’s sustainable building goals, challenges, and resource-efficient strategies. IDP potentially saves money by identifying critical elements early in the planning and throughout the building process. Members of the IDP team should include the builder, members of the design group, subcontractors, the rater, green building advisors such as a LEED-AP, and the homeowner.  The team may also include professional engineers, landscape architects, neighbors, and city officials as appropriate. It is advisable that core IDP members meet regularly.

How do you select green products?
Environmentally preferable material choices are an integral part of sustainable building, and it is important that we understand what this means. Life cycle analysis and life cycle cost analysis are complex subjects that examine the multiple factors incorporated in the embodied energy in the extraction, production, and transportation of the product, as well as the economics, environmental implications, and recycling attributes of any particular building material.

“Green” material choices are generally a matter of some environmental trade-offs. Thus, we encourage affiliates to make informed decisions based upon their particular goals, resources, and program’s priorities, while lessening the overall impact on the environment and meeting the long-term needs of the families they serve. The decisions on which products to use for any project are driven in part by the objectives set by the IDP team, methodologies employed in construction, the certification sought, climate zone considerations, and the “cradle to cradle” life cycle analysis discussed above. So, an appropriate product for one house may not be the best choice for another. Not to suggest we are “green geeks,” but the Partners in Sustainable Building team at HFHI live for the opportunity to talk with affiliates going through that process.

For more information visit and review the archived presentation: Greening the Residential Remodel.