Monday, November 30, 2009

How to Handle that H2O?

So much to do, so little time! Sorry readers for not getting back to you sooner. I've been incredibly swamped of late.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with SF Mayor Gavin Newsom about the future of green efforts in the city. The answer? It's in the water.

San Francisco will be taking a renewed look at their water conservation programs in the coming year as our historical statewide drought cycle continues. They will continue to offer incentives to home owners to replace inefficient toilets, shower heads and faucet fixtures. Also, look out for opportunities to replace your traditional water heaters with tankless, on-demand varieties.

Unfortunately, SF doesn't have the same opportunities with regard to water reclamation. This Green Guy sees a huge future in reclamation practices, for both professional and DIY systems. Demand for water will soon compare to oil's as drought cycles and population booms collide.

If you live in a single family home, think about how you could use water that you've collected when it rains, whether to wash your car or water your lawn. Nature intended for the water to be put to use, why let it be runoff?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How much "green" do I need to go Green?

I'm frequently asked by clients if remodeling "Green" is more expensive. The answer is an astounding NO!

Competition in the burgeoning market of green construction is booming, bringing prices down for a wide variety of sustainable materials. At the same time, standard, non-sustainable materials are rising in price due to the decrease in their availability.

Labor prices for green building are complimenting this trend in materials as well. Green building specialists, who have been previously able to ask higher prices for their expertise, are no finding that they must be more competitive. As more contractors enter the green building marketplace, homeowners can expect Green building to become as competitively priced as traditional building practices.

Eventually, thanks to changes in federal, state and local public policies, Green building will become the new standard building practice and the need to ask, "Is Green building more expensive?" will become moot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bicycle Garage Built for 2

I've been thinking a lot lately about DIY weekend projects that will have substantial impact for green minded people. (I've had a lot of time to think, since its been a while since my last blog, sorry!)

My favorite is the bicycle garage. If you live in a suburban neighborhood like I do, chances are you have a modest house with a garage or driveway designed to accommodate your oil-addicted vehicles. For those of you who have given up your four-wheeled oil albatross, hats off! Most of us have bicycles, left forlorn in far recesses of our garage, hidden behind holiday decorations and yard equipment. Sadly, for many of us, retiring our cars may not yet be possible.

However, we can reduce our natural tendencies to jump in the car for local driving. The Danish use bicycles this way very effectively. For local trips to the market and around town, they jump on their bicycles, reserving a trip in the car for longer commutes.

I propose that if you want to do a weekend home improvement that will reap big Green rewards and reduce your carbon footprint in a big way, build a bicycle garage.

It doesn't have to be big. A lean-to style shed attached to the side of your garage to house 2 bicycles can be built in a weekend for less than $200. Even less, if you recycle the materials from an old deck or a fence (Always recommended).

The benefits of making your bicycles more accessible:
  • Less dependency on fossil fuels & a lower carbon footprint
  • Increased excercise (the good cardio-vascular kind)
  • Improved community engagement - riding bicycles allows people to be more connected with their surroundings
  • Fuel savings
The Bicycle Garage Built for 2 is a home improvement with exponential environmental benefits. Its also a project that you can feel good about having built as well as a project that will make you feel better as you begin to ride. Green building is often holistic, involving responsible building practices as well as lifestyle changes.

Good luck and thanks for staying sustainable!

p.s. If you'd like some ideas for how to make your own bicycle garage, send me a comment and I'd be happy to chat with you about it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Decks without deforesting!

Hello out there! I've been a busy builder this last week, I've been consulting with a number of new clients on projects ranging from room additions to bathroom remodels to options for decking. That being said, its been awhile since I've had the time to contribute to my blog.

Anyway, I'm back and excited about decking again! Since I've gone green people have asked me how I feel about building decks and until now, I haven't had a definitive answer. Redwood, cedar and ipe are all wonderful, naturally weather and pest resistant traditional decking materials that, while gorgeous, are being deforested worldwide at an alarming rate.

The plastics industry has tried to offer some alternatives such as composite decking and PVC decking that look-like and can be handled like wood. Unfortunately, these products just don't hold up when tested against the elements or standard "green" principles. First of all, plastics crack, warp and get extremely hot in warm weather. As composite materials weather, the wood fibers in them collect moisture and mold that discolor the decking. Furthermore, since composite decking is a combination of plastic and wood material, they to date are non-recyclable. Once the deck is no longer useful the deck cannot be disposed of. PVC isn't much better, since a portion of the material has to be virgin oil products and the process of manufacturing holds such a heavy carbon footprint.

And let's be honest, plastics just don't have the natural beauty of wood decking.

However, all hope is not lost! Let me introduce... BAMBOO DECKING!

This stuff is awesome! Bamboo is a rapidly renewable natural resource. Bamboo is already being used to replace hardwood floors, paneling, wall coverings, carpets, cloth, etc. and so forth. And now bamboo decking is available that has many of the same properties as redwood, cedar and ipe with the natural beauty unavailable by plastic alternatives. And it feels good under your feet!

Bamboo decking is sold by the linear foot and is made by compressing bamboo fibers into a denser board form and sealed with a soy-based oil for added protection. The glues used to bind the fibers contain no urea formaldehydes, resulting in a product that does not "gas-off" toxins as it dries out. Oh, and did I mention it costs about the same as traditional deck surfaces?

All in all, this is my new favorite for decking. I'd suggest you try it on your next project. This is what I'll be using for my backyard.

Here's a link of the outfit in San Diego that carries it:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Green Concrete? (Part 2)

As promised, I'm back with more thoughts on Green concrete mixes. While it's not a perfect green solution, at least the industry is attempting to focus on the enormous carbon footprint that the production of concrete represents. Following are some pros and cons to current concrete mixes attempting to provide more responsible products:

  1. Removes fly ash (captured coal industry pollutants) from landfills
  2. Needs less water than standard concrete mixes
  3. Requires less quarrying of virgin materials
  4. Creates an extremely high density concrete
  1. Health affects are not known
  2. May attribute to radon build-up in homes & release toxins into interiors
  3. Takes longer to set up than standard concrete
  4. No environmental standards for these products have been developed yet
While there are some big drawbacks for the uses of Green concrete mixes, all is not lost. I would recommend using this concrete whenever possible for projects that are outside. Retaining walls, pathways, fence posts, etc.. This way, the possible health concerns can be mitigated while finding a way to trap these coal byproducts in something other than landfills. Let's give a shout out to the cement guys for trying and the encouragement to keep it up! In the meantime, if you have an immediate product, Quickrete has a ready-mix Green concrete (1101-63) with 50% recycled content you can ask for. Contact Quickrete for a supplier near you at:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Green Concrete? (Part 1)

I must admit, when I think of concrete, Green is not what comes to mind.

In fact cement production is extremely energy intensive; some estimates calculate it contributes as much as 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Demand for cement worldwide continues to grow, with more than 3 billion tons produced each year.

Several cement manufacturers are advertising "green" cement formulas as an alternative to the standard quarried cement mixes of the past. But questions still remain as how "green" they really are.

Basic cement is composed of six components: Cement, coarse aggregate (rock), fine aggregate (sand), water, fly ash, and chemical admixtures (for different specialty applications).

Green concrete formulas support their environmental claims in two principal ways:

1. Using recycled aggregates
Green concretes often contain a percentage of coarse and fine aggregates rather than digging up virgin materials. This is slightly greener due to the reuse of the otherwise quarried materials, yet the processes involved in preparing these recyclables often use a comparable amount of energy (and fossil fuels) to produce.

2. Fly ash
Here is the sticky wicket. Fly ash is a waste byproduct from the chimneys of coal fired power plants and is composed primarily of silicon dioxide and calcium oxide, but may also contain a range of other toxic compounds. Before governmental mandates regarding air quality, this fly ash was released into the atmosphere. Now, much of it is captured and placed in landfills. This creates new environmental challenges, as evidenced by the Knoxville, TN coal spill that occurred earlier this year.

The concrete industry uses a higher percentage of fly ash in Green cement mixes than in standard concrete. Trade organizations and certification programs in green building are touting this as a great benefit, since using fly ash in concrete diverts it from landfills.

However, we still don't understand the possible health risks associated with using higher quantities of fly ash. To date there have been no environmental standards adopted for the use of concrete mixes with a higher percentage of fly ash.

Buyer beware when choosing Green concrete! In my next post, I will discuss the pros and cons of this concrete and safer options for the use of these products.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Welcome to Choosing Green!

Welcome to "Choosing Green"; a blog about the daunting world of Green building and construction.

I've been in construction and remodeling for as long as I can remember. I've also grown up with a reverence for nature and environmentalism.

Recently, the building industry has undergone a dramatic transformation. Driven by a few visionaries, adopted by architects, and fueled by consumer demand and public policy, the construction industry has finally grown a conscience.

What this has done is presented the average homeowner with a daily deluge of new products and (buyer beware!) product claims that aim to capitalize on our interests in remodeling our homes in a way that won't harm us or our environment. This has left most of us wishing to "go green" with the question, "Where do I begin?".

That's why I've started this blog. The mission of "Choosing Green" is to help people take Green building one step at time.

Green Doesn't have to be Expensive.
You don't have to completely strip your home and rebuild with "green" materials (although the industry would love it if you did). In fact, this would only be contradictory to Green principles; preserve your resources, remodel only what is necessary to complete your project. Unless you're building a new home, you've already harvested the materials to create your space. Remember, in green, less is more.

Green Doesn't have to be Technical.
You don't need to have a master's degree in bioengineering to make green choices when remodeling your home. Nor do you have to employ the latest innovations in manufacturing to benefit from Green practices. In fact, much of Green theory is common sense; ancient wisdom that has long been available and only been overlooked since we opted to focus our innovation on capitalizing on the "low-hanging fruit" of fossil fuels.

However, you do need to know what's available. And you need to know what's an outright scam. You also need to know about the pro's and con's. This blog is here to help.

Green Building is about Choices.
Every day there are more Green options available to us. No one solution is ideal for all situations. Green building is most effective when the individual circumstance is taken into consideration. Each of has much to consider when making decisions about remodeling; style, function, budget, health, environment, maintenance, etc... Green building is about knowing what alternatives are available to you and what works for your situation. It's about asking questions and doing what you can within your means.

Green is incremental.
Remember when curbside recycling began? At first, all you could recycle were glass and soda cans. Now, millions of tons of reusable materials are diverted from landfills every day from the daily efforts of people like you and me. Building Green can work the same way. Small decisions can have a big impact if each of us pitches in. We didn't pollute the planet overnight, nor can we do the same to save it. In the aggregate, our choices as consumers will change the planet and preserve it for our children.

Future installments of this blog will explore choices for homeowners and anyone remodeling a home. I'll weigh the pros and cons of solutions, dispel myths and praise options that we can all take advantage of. Most of all, I hope to inspire you to think Green!