Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Our Journey Towards Sustainability

Baboons HuggingAs a company, we acknowledge that our built environment – the structures within our culture – consume a vast amount of our resources and threaten the ecological systems that support life, from the ozone layer to the world’s forests. For example, a typical new home in this country requires about an acre of forest to build and its construction generates about four pounds of waste per square foot.

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

          Average home size:
          i.     1950 = just under 1,000 sf
          ii.    2008: ‘roughly’ 2,500 sf

          Average number of people living in a home
          i.     1940 =  3.7
          ii.    2009 = 2.6
          Therefore, the average sf/person
          i.      1940-1950 era = 270 sf/person
          ii.     2008-2009 = 960 sf/person
          iii.   This represents a 355% increase in the sf consumed per person!

Simply put, we can’t grow on like this!

In order to take responsibility for the implications of our work, changing the way we build has become a major driving force here… our  Journey Towards Sustainability. It is a journey towards a more sustainable way of life; building with the future in mind. In the long run we hope to promote a building industry that manages and distributes our resources, harvests raw materials, and manufactures building products in ways that can be sustained indefinitely.  Not for twenty years, nor forty. Indefinitely.

Our journey has affected this community in many ways… numerous organizations have been birthed by us and/or supported by our efforts and you can read about these HERE.  Organizations like Sustainable Connections, RE Sources, Futurewise Whatcom, Transition Whatcom, Living Democracy and Coal-Free Bellingham.

We’ve also been instrumental in steering this community towards sustainability via Rick’s Cascadia Weekly columns and his radio programs on KMRE-FM, all catered towards various issues surrounding this sustainability paradigm. Check out his Weekly columns HERE and his radio programs HERE.

In 2005 EnviroStars awarded us its highest rating — 5 Stars — and this 5-star certification continues to this day (2016).  A-1 Builders is not only the first builder to receive the highest EnviroStars 5-star rating in Whatcom County, we were the second builder in the entire state to be certified as a 5-star EnviroStar!

In 2005 EnviroStars awarded us its highest rating — 5 Stars — and this 5-star certification continues to this day (2016). A-1 Builders is not only the first builder to receive the highest EnviroStars 5-star rating in Whatcom County, we were the second builder in the entire state to be certified as a 5-star EnviroStar!

We’re trying to take every advantage of the fact that the construction industry is beginning to respond to these concerns.  New materials are being developed that use resources more efficiently and are, at times, renewable, biodegradable, low in embodied energy, and – hopefully – locally produced. Some material manufacturing processes are being redesigned to reduce waste and pollution. Manufacturers are recycling more, and new products made from recycled materials are increasingly available. A similar concern over toxins entering the environment is being reflected in less toxic materials.

“Rick Dubrow has taken his commitment to the community and to the planet to a new level with A-1 Builders.  Sustainability has been the foundation of our dialog as change makers for many years.  “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.  Most of us have not truly embraced its meaning or applied it to our lives in a significant way.  Rick has jumped in with both feet, even risking the success of his business, to model sustainability in Whatcom County.” – Joy Monjure, Education Coordinator, City of Bellingham Public Works Department Environmental Resources (Dec., ’02).

In order to make responsible decisions in the materials we use and the strategies in which we use them, we consider the environmental impacts for the complete life cycle of the material, including harvesting, manufacturing, distribution, installation, operations, reuse, or disposal. This is no easy task. Frequently these criteria are in conflict. Engineered wood products, for example, use trees more efficiently than virgin lumber, but they also contain a lot of glue and resins that out-gas and can create indoor air quality problems.

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“We have been honored to work with Rick Dubrow, local owner of A-1 Builders, on a number of community, state and national projects and know first hand his commitment to life. If you are interested in the most up to date thinking about sustainable building techniques, in quality buildings that are built to last, and in healthy, safe living spaces, then you have found the right business. The people of A-1 are passionate about their role in sustaining clean air, drinkable water, healthy forests and vital communities in Northwest Washington. They live their values in every aspect of their business and year after year (deservedly!) earn new admiration and national acclaim for exemplary building practices.” – Michelle and Derek Long (Michelle Long is Executive Director of Sustainable Connections; Michelle and Derek Long are the National Coordinators of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE))

Remodeling… the Oldest Form of Green Building

Repairing and upgrading an existing structure, as opposed to its demolition and disposal to create something new, typically shows a higher level of environmental responsibility.  We can often achieve impressive levels of waste prevention, reduction and recycling. In general, maximizing the lifespan of existing building materials represents a more sustainable approach to providing shelter than does new construction.  It is this environmental aspect of remodeling that has driven us to specialize in repairing and improving existing structures.

With respect to waste, we believe it is fair to say that repairing and upgrading an existing structure creates less waste than tearing down and building anew. No, it’s not perfect by any means. There are trade offs.  We understand that the great majority of the total energy (i.e. embodied energy; transportation; heating/cooling; disposal; etc.) used throughout a structure’s lifetime is utilized after construction.  So even though we may reduce waste by remodeling, an unintended consequence may be to create an energy-intensive structure overall, as compared to a new structure with superior thermal performance.

Remodeling on any scale, however, typically begins with the demolition of some portion of an existing structure.  Therefore, our work inherently creates a mountain of waste, unless high-grading this debris to its highest and best use becomes an important goal.  This it has.

But demolition means to do away with; to end; and we are suggesting a new beginning for these products.  Not their grave, but their cradle.  So we choose to use the word deconstruction to describe our more careful process of demolition with a higher purpose; a higher good.  Goods that will continue to shelter us; goods that will become food for other manufacturing processes; goods that will prevent harvesting virgin materials to make more stuff.

Lowest PricesDemolition seeks to destroy; deconstruction seeks to salvage.

Debris is such a looming issue in remodeling that we discuss debris management right away, even during the design process. To what level will we sort debris on-site, versus hauling it back to our office?  How careful does deconstruction need to be? Is our goal for a particular product to reuse it or not? Demolish or deconstruct?  Such decisions are made before we start the project.  Thus, each site becomes a unique challenge, not unlike the rest of the challenge in professional remodeling – performing a one-of-a-kind alteration to a building in which we must create a ‘manufacturing center’ in a client’s living room while they attempt to live there!

The last resort for our debris, before it is hauled away to a solid waste facility, is our ‘Absolutely Free’ holding area just inside our high-traffic-count road frontage on Northwest Avenue in Bellingham. If there seems to be any life left in anything, we place it out there for a few days, hopefully turning trash into someone’s treasure.  Broken up concrete; small pieces of dimensional lumber and plywood; pink sinks; cut-offs from trim, siding, etc.  We just keep challenging our own assumptions – we continue to be surprised – the stuff just disappears!  Our neighbors are addicted to dropping by here to see what’s available.

Sandwich boards go up when debris goes out to this ‘Absolutely Free’ holding area and the neighbors come out of the woodwork.  The mounds of stuff disappear, usually leaving us with a pile of sawdust and a few nails!

Remember this the next time you’re building a shed or fixing your doghouse. Drop by and snag some free scraps.

“A-1 Builders is an appropriately named company. Rick Dubrow and his staff demonstrate on a daily basis that sustainability need not be a mere concept but can be, and in their case is, a reality. They make a positive difference in our community: every day and on every job. If all businesses and, for that matter, all individuals, could operate with the sense of responsibility to their community, to the environment and to future generations, that is demonstrated by Rick Dubrow and his coworkers, our grandchildren will be grateful.” – Mayor Mark Asmundson, 2002

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