Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Published 8-22-07

Imagine you’re the carpenter on a typical residential remodeling project in which there’s some demolition followed by some construction. Walls are torn out; others are added.  Old growth framing is removed that is embedded with framing nails as well as hundreds of smaller fasteners that held lath in place for the old plaster walls.

It’s time to frame the new walls.  Should you spend some time pulling the nails from the used lumber and reuse it, or, instead, go to the lumber yard to purchase some new 2”x4”’s?

Let’s turn to Natural Capitalism, a book authored by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, for a bit of advice.  At the beginning of the industrial revolution humans were relatively scarce – about 10% of current totals — while there was an abundance of material wealth. We focused on labor productivity and cared less about resource utilization.  Resources seemed endless.

Today, with nearly ten thousand additional people arriving on earth every hour, human numbers are bloated, while materials grow more and more scarce.

“Applying the same economic logic that drove the industrial revolution to this newly emerging pattern of scarcity implies that, if there is to be prosperity in the future, society must make its use of resources vastly more productive — deriving four, ten, or even a hundred times as much benefit from each unit of energy, water, materials, or anything else borrowed from the planet and consumed.”

Hence, to perform a given task, Natural Capitalism compels us to use more and more of what we have more of — humans — and less and less of what we have less of — resources.

Returning to my remodeling scenario, their logic supports the strategy of putting labor into de-nailing, and then reusing, an old stud, as opposed to purchasing a new stick from the lumber yard, sustainably harvested or not!

Let’s not stop here.

Traditional framing techniques were developed during the age of seemingly unlimited resources. Then came the energy crisis of the ‘70’s. The federal government studied traditional framing and concluded that 20 – 30% of the lumber in a traditionally framed wall is unnecessary!  “Advanced framing” was born.  Less lumber is needed with no threat to structural integrity.  Furthermore, where framing is eliminated, there’s more room for insulation, further reducing the energy needs of the resulting structure. (Yet very few builders are even aware of “advanced framing”; ask them to learn about it and apply it to your project.)

Dematerialization is about applying intelligence born of our recognition that what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years is foolhardy.  But we didn’t know any better.  When we marched across the continent clearing the forests and plowing the prairies, we didn’t know what we were doing because we didn’t know what we were undoing.

Now we know.





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