Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for June, 2007

There are many shades of green

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

There is no such thing as a perfectly green building. Just about every green feature has a pro and a con. Cork flooring? Great, it is renewable, it can be put down with minimal adhesive, but was shipped from across the world. Icynene insulation is a wonderful, non-toxic product that can create an energy efficient and durable home, but it is also energy intensive to make, uses fossil fuels and will not quickly biodegrade. The list goes on. The Environmental Building News developed criteria for what makes an individual product green. There are 26 different aspects to each material alone- this doesn’t even delve into how or where the building is built.

In my opinion, about the only truly green home is one that was built using all natural and renewable materials, is off the grid, located in town, that didn’t harm a fly to build and used no net amount of energy to create any of the materials and created no waste. We don’t have too many of those going up in around here yet. So, instead we have worked very hard to create a set of guidelines, the HealthyBuilt Homes Program, which looks at the basic criteria of what makes up a green home and requires that builders look at all sections, not just one. We based it on a bunch of other program’s experiences and it quantifies the pros and the cons of the different materials. The homes are inspected to make sure that the points were actually met and that the features were installed correctly. The program is designed to award points to builders for doing things better.

There are several other certification programs (all with pros and cons, like everything) that will soon be available, with the cooperation of the WNCGBC, in Asheville. LEED for homes will be more difficult, less versatile and more expensive. It will be great for the greenest of the homes (and similar the HealthyBuilt Homes Silver or Gold Certification). The National Assocation of Home Builders has their program coming on line which is a little less stringent, and is self certifying (though this may change?).

I swear I am not as biased as most people think I am, the WNCGBC is program neutral, our core mission is to educate our community about the importance of green building and supports many shades of green, but HealthyBuilt homes is a great place to start because it is a middle ground. It is accessible by builders who want to try something new, but aren’t ready to go all the way yet. It also serves the greenest builders. Thus the levels of certification are very important to communicate, as well as clarity on what features they represent. The checklist isn’t perfect, but in my experience with the last fifty houses, the levels of certification are on target. A certified house is energy efficient, will most likely be more durable, comfortable and have better air quality than its non certified contemporary. A gold level is most likely very efficient, probably incorporates renewable energy, will have great air quality, and is probably either infill development, or in a environmentally sensitive planned community.

All three programs focus on the building itself and while the site is an important aspect to the programs, there is much left to be desired by many in this aspect. Thus some other programs have come up with “community checklists”. It is basically and addendum to the building specific checklist. As more developers become interested in the HealthyBuilt homes program we are left with a dilemma. If they encourage but don’t require green building, are they green? If they require green building, but don’t minimize there impact on local infrastructure or the land itself are they green? Well, again, yes and no.

There is no one size fits all approach. It is my opinion, and my recommendation, to the increasing number of folks that are aching for a definitive yes or know that we take this approach to new homes in Asheville.

1) The home must have to have a third party inspection

2) It must require HealthyBuilt Homes or LEED (to be available this fall). Energy Star can have a place, and has its own marketing, but green has to be more than efficiency.

3) Land planners/designers and a few others get together to review what already exists and create an addendum to HealthyBuilt Homes for communities. The debate about whether or not anything built out of the urban core can really be green will continue, but the houses in these sprawling developments are going to be built anyway. I feel that we need to help them minimize their impact, and allow them to market their accomplishments (though admittedly, a pale shade of green).

This leaves us still to deal with existing homes. We are working on renovation guidelines, but I don’t think it will have a certification aspect. I think the most important thing for realtors, is to market the green features of existing homes and not to market them as green homes.
We don’t want to green wash, but we do want to acknowledge and commend the steps that are being taken to make a difference to become more “green”, no matter what shade.