Whether you're new to green building and remodeling or not, chances you don't try to do everything right by mother Earth. Almost none of us do. We buy smaller trucks but still take trips by airplane. We put down 15 year asphalt shingles on a house instead of 35-year shingles or metal roofing, because it's cheaper--although we know it's not the greenest choice. Clearly few of us--with the noted exception of "No Impact Man," even try to live a completely earth benign existence. But we have the potential to get closer with each generation.
As builders, architects and remodelers, you have a lot of power. Your work lives on after you, and will one day be seen either as a marvel of foresight, or a blight upon the Earth. Why not consciously choose the former.
Warning. This may hurt a little at first. Some of the choices we are suggesting are ones you may have thought about and dismissed, or never even considered. But these are some of the big ticket items that are going to be first on the regulatory hit list in coming years anyhow. Why not beat the code officials to the punch?
1. Ditch the lawns. Lawns are a holdover from a different time, when populations were smaller, fossil fuel powered mowers seemed harmless and African Americans and women had no right to vote. We threw out the latter two backward ideas. Why not the former?
2. Put vinyl window and door makers on notice: PVC windows have been a great advance in terms of cost and low mainenance. But PVC is one of the least recyclable polymers. We don't have to give up synthetic windows altogether, but it's time to move toward products made with higher quality, easier to recycle, less environmentally destructive plastics, along with fiberglass composites and of course, traditional wood.
3. Install water purification in every home. Bottle water is an environmental nightmare. The best way to end that nightmare is to give homeowners the option of drinking water from their own tap.
4. Design for the next remodeler. Plan your home designs and retrofits so that future occupants can easily change wall, lighting and plumbing configurations. See our May issue (not yet printed at this writing) for ideas about movable walls, baseboard raceways for wiring and other nifty ideas that make future remodeling easy and environmentally efficient. Plumb with flexible PEX piping and removable fittings.
5. Build near public transit. The age of the 45 minute automobile commute is coming to an end.
6. Anticipate peak oil. Plan heating and cooling with the assumption that oil and gas prices will go much, much higher in coming years. So what if it doesn't happen for 10 years? You've still created an ultra-efficient system.
7. Think beyond air conditioning. On a related note, air conditioning is one of the biggest polluters know to man. Try any strategy that will reduce future dependence on this type of mechanical cooling: reflective roofs, heat pumps, geothermal, below grade construction, natural ventilation. You have many new tools to work with.
8. Educate a local planner. Take one local planning official on as a pet project. Offer to help him understand the latest advances in alternative building materials, home design and construction. Turn him into an advocate for radical green design.
9. Tap nature. Use every natural resource available to make a home more self sufficient. Grab the rain with a gutter and cistern system. Heat water with solar panels. Create electricity with PV panels. Design the landscape to include permaculture gardens that create food--not just decorative shrubs.
10. Evangelize. You'd be surprised how many of your peers are behind the curve on understanding why building green is more than just adding a few inches of insulation and painting a new sign. Train the trades. Educate your lumberyard. One day, they'll thank you.