When we committed ourselves to building, we started with three basic principles:
1) Build what people need, not necessarily what they think they want 2) Whenever possible, preserve what is already there 3) Build green
We have learned how challenging it is to stay true to these principles, particularly when it comes to Building Green. We hope you will carefully consider this section - to understand what these challenges are, how we cope with them, and what you as a customer can do to make Building Green become a reality and not a passing buzzword. We believe that people need and deserve homes that can accomodate a broad set of requirements, deliver those requirements in an aesthetically pleasing and comfortable way, and to do so with as small as possible impact on the environment. For example, we put a lot of care and attention in eliminating large spaces which are seldom used or provide little functionality - our homes are large - but we deliver in 3000 sf. what other builders deliver in 3500 sf or more. That means you won't find large two-story foyers in our homes but you will find great rooms that accomodate cooking, dining, and living.
The most "green" thing we can do is preserve what's already there. But, preservation is hard! It is easy to understand why "scraper" and "tear down" have become standard language in the building trade. Along with historical significance comes rotten sills and racoon latrines. Along with architectural distinction comes unlevel floors and unsquare doorways. Yet we treasure the past. We refer to building elements like "the sacred beadboard" and get goosebumps looking at hand-hewn 300 year old beams.
Building Green, particularly as it relates to residential construction, has no published standards. Increasingly customers are enamored with the idea - but they don't know what it means, whether they are willing to pay for it, and whether it will make any real difference in their lifes. We consider FIVE domains as we strive to Build Green:
1.) Design Size matters. The smaller the house, the less materials and energy it consumes. Simple matters too. Projections are like cooling fins. Solar orientation is critical – south facing windows gather solar energy. Our houses are not small. But they do deliver more interior space and function than homes that are 20-30% larger. For example, our 3900 sf post & beam barn will heat for less than half of a comparable house. We avoid dramatic (and unnecessary) entry foyers, hallways, and single purpose rooms. At the same time, we provide tons of storage, meaningful room sizes, and cozy nooks.
2.) Durability The longer something lasts, the greener it is – less energy to produce replacement materials, less material in the landfill, more money to spend on something else. Material choice has a big impact on durability – not just because the material itself lasts longer, but also when it is “timeless” in terms of aesthetics. Stone counters and high end stainless appliances not only last forever but they never go out of style.
But the most important factor is relentless attention to detail in construction. Water is enemy number one – and ensuring proper moisture control is a matter of both design AND execution. Take our approach to siding: whenever possible we use Hardiplank, a cement/cellulose product. It is low impact on the environment to produce, holds paint for extraordinary lengths of time (15 guarantee!), and will last forever – all true if properly installed with cut ends being paint sealed, flashed and calked. When hardiplank is not right, we use back-primed western red cedar – applied over strapping to leave an air space which ensures that any moisture will exit without impacting the exterior paint. When we use shingles, we buy them dipped in translucent stain which penetrates front and back and will not peel.
3.) Energy Efficiency Our systems choices are totally geared toward comfort and efficiency. Of course, we always use Energy Star appliances. And, whenever possible, we separate the heat distribution from AC distribution. Shared vents are a bad compromise. Heat rises – cold air sinks. Shared systems mean optimizing only one. No heat is more pleasing and more efficient than in-floor radiant. By heating the floor, thermostats can be kept lower (we turn them up in winter to keep our feet warm – a self defeating approach because hot air rises. When in-floor radiant is infeasible, we use radiant hot water baseboard. Our last choice is hot air – but even then we choose the higher performance hydroair technology. Lastly, we choose to use energy efficient, clean burning gas to power our homes.
4.) Waste Reduction Filling dumpsters is not green. During restoration that means reusing materials is key. In our projects, if we can’t reuse a viable material, we donate it. Our designs our in 2-foot modules so we achieve maximum use of dimensional lumber. We return pallets used for shipping material. And we recycle the mountains of cardboard that accumulate from shipping.
5.) Water Conservation The use of low water flush toilets is now mandated by building codes. We go further. We specify “moderate usage” shower heads (customers reject pure water saver heads). Outside, we manage stormwater to maintain ground percolation. We prefer stone driveways to maximize percolation. Our Parsons Farm project included an extensive wetland restoration to maintain percolation, eliminate silt runoff, remove invasive species, and replace with native species that would thrive without irrigation.