Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Can you afford to build green?

I’ll bet you’re thinking about money when I ask you this, right?

The majority of homeowners cite higher initial costs, or first costs, as an obstacle to building greener homes. 82% of you. So says a study by McGraw-Hill, produced in conjunction with the National Association of Home Builders (Residential Green Building SmartMarket Report, 2006).

But what about other finite resources besides money, like clean air and water, that will be affected by your decision to remodel or build? From this wider perspective, can you afford not to build green?  At what point will your finite resource of money take second stage to the health of (y)our environment, (y)our commons?


Maggie on readerboard


This assumption – that building green always means more money – turns out to be a faulty premise.  Yes, there are many green techniques that do cost more than their less-than-environmental, brown cousins.  Yet so many green strategies and materials actually cost the same or less than other, more traditional solutions.

Let’s talk about just a few of them.

Advanced framing is a framing technique that grew out of the energy crisis of the 70’s.  It’s A-1 Builders’ standard. Simply put, it should be called simpler framing instead of advanced framing!   Why? Structurally unnecessary framing members are eliminated so that, for a new, custom home, reductions of 20% to 30% less lumber may be achieved.  Less lumber also provides additional room for more insulation.  Less materials; lower heating costs.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

Building something smaller than the norm, or smaller than you’re used to, is another tremendous green building technique.  Although this represents one of the most logical of strategies, the typical homeowner will tell me their budget and how many square feet they think they need.  Consider this:  if the budget is set and the size is pre-determined, the only remaining variable is the cost of materials.  The pressure is on to minimize the quality, environmental health, and life expectancy, of the materials!

Imagine, instead, the additional money you could put towards the quality of the components if you were willing to build as small as possible.

One technique for achieving a smaller footprint is to imagine multi-purpose rooms.  Do you really need a dedicated guest room or a formal dining room?  Perhaps you can avoid building an addition by incorporating efficient space planning: using what you already have more effectively?  Perhaps rooms can serve multiple purposes?

Check out this math from The Sharing Solution by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow:

Average house size

1950: just under 1,000 square feet (sf)

2008: ‘roughly’ 2,500 sf

Average number of people living in a house

1940: 3.7

2009: 2.6

By my own calculations using the above data,  here’s the average square footage utilized by each person:

1940-1950 era: 270 sf/person

2008-2009:       960 sf/person

A 355% increase in space utilization in about 60 years

Can’t we do better that this?

These are only two among many other green and affordable techniques.  Both of them save money right away and over time, since your heating costs will also drop: advanced framing permits additional insulation to be used in place of the unnecessary framing, and building small creates less volume to heat!

Unfortunately, not all green ideas fulfill this win-win result of lower first cost and a longer life expectancy.  But partnered with a well educated designer, your remodel or custom home can result in an ecological footprint far smaller than you could otherwise achieve. 

It can be done.

Consider building smaller and using the savings to build a legacy you can be proud of.

As a radical act: want less!

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