Sunday, October 26, 2008


So you are in the process of building or remodeling your home and you hear Energy Star, LEED, NAHB Build Green or Built Green, Green Advantage, Healthy Home and all the other accreditation programs that verify the "greeness" of a home. Which one is the BEST? Well I am not a great advocate of anything being the BEST when its about your home and your money. Its about realistic approaches that are both affordable and approachable when it comes to greening your home.

LEED is the Grandfather in the green build industry. They started the idea of labeling and classifying the levels of commercial builds green qualities by establishing standards marked "certified" "silver" "gold" and "platinum". The level being how much of a commitment the contractor and client were willing to make in creating the building when it comes to "greeness". The idea being the higher the standard, the more energy efficient, less wasteful and more in line with the environment and the community the building had on the landscape and its surroundings. In all its a a great concept and it pushed forward building science and the idea that buildings can be resourceful and beautiful while still be practical and useful. It encourages companies and communities to look at building in a holistic approach.

LEED has only in the past few years moved into home building and there are developers and clients eagerly pushing the envelope to make residences Platinum worthy. That said, LEED has decided to remain firmly involved in new build and not remodeling homes. And in that respect building a single family LEED home at the present is I believe not for the average home.

The NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) has launched their Green Build program with the idea of both new and remodeled homes reaching certification levels with the idea of promoting energy efficiency, environmental support and using smart and resource conservation in building. They advocate the idea by having a uniform and easily obtained levels of certification it will encourage further green building but more importantly affordability in the field.

Built Green is our regions local Green Build program affiliated with the Master Builders Association it takes it cues from LEED, the NAHB and of course builders on making Green Build certification a norm for them and again focusing on all the same bells and whistles.

Energy Star focuses solely on Energy use and resources. They no longer concern themselves with build technique only on the actual way heat and energy is conducted throughout the dwelling. Primarily focused on new builds they are working on launching a program focusing on remodeling homes but that is still in it nascent stages. There are other certifying programs.. the Healthy Home is another focusing on indoor air quality. So when building or remodeling it brings us back as to which one is the BEST one?

What the real question is: Is this Necessary when you are deciding to build or remodel your home?

The answer is yes and no. Its one of the reasons I went from Contracting to Consulting. My first thought "are there any significant differences here?" to "you really cannot do this without a third party consultant/verifier" and I thought the latter was something I was better suited. One: Because I could sort through the data and information rather quickly and decide which was which and Two: My ethics and ability to professional segregate myself from the business was easy. I had no real professional relationships or obligations that would prevent me from being unbiased and fair.

The next thing I realized is that these were primarily designed by builders for builders and once again when it comes to Construction customers ignorance or understanding falls to the wayside. I could think of no better place for me than as an advocate of the consumer since I had been both at one time.

So back to the important question: Are any of these necessary for the Home Owner? Yes and No. Yes if you want to certify the project for potential resale value (although eventually green will be the norm and at the present it may be critical but selling at the present seems to be more an issue than certifying anything) and if you want it. And Yes if you want to make sure the Contractor and you are on the same page about the procedure and products you want. But No if that is not essential and if the Contractor is ethical and honest and simply wants to do the work to meet the customer's needs. Then the criteria are just that criteria and guidelines that you can use to formulate the project but deviate and alternate from when costs or products are unavailable or out of the budget specifications.

The nice thing is that is why I created Vida Verde to find the appropriate and effective trade offs without sacrificing quality or level of greeness. Allowing flexibility on the project gives both the Home Owner and the Contractor opportunities to make the project feasible, workable and more importantly affordable.

Stars and Levels are great if that is what you need to feel secure about the legitimacy of the project. But in ANY project, quality record keeping, information and disclosure should be mandatory in any home building or remodeling project as its necessary for warranties, maintenance and resale disclosure. So go green and don't worry about what kind of Green unless its what you want and need to do. Being green is being independent of any mandate.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I liked this article so much I am reprinting it here as it addresses many of the issues I frequently assess when I review the exact necessity and practicality of the elements of Green Build. It also offers the most essential element often avoided in the discussion REAL COST ANALYSIS.

I would like to add that another alternative to affordable insulation was something brought to me during my recent Energy Star Certification/Verification course and that was the use of blown in or even green batt insulation with a layer of foam on top.. securing the R Factor but without the additional cost of a entire commitment to foam or a sacrifice of the quality insulation foam offers.


Preventing energy waste has become a household preoccupation in the era of nearly $4-a-gallon gas and rising prices for everything from airline tickets to milk. Whether motivated by environmental impulses or a desire to reduce utility bills, many Americans are researching ways to create a more energy-efficient home.

Statistics from a range of sources provide plenty of motivation. The U.S. Department of Energy's office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) estimates that draft reduction within a home can lower energy costs anywhere from 5% to 30% annually. Meanwhile, according to Department of Energy data provided by the U.S. Green Building Council, homes account for 21% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. And claiming a green home remodel makes for great neighborhood bragging rights.

Eager to lessen our carbon footprint and plan a responsible remodel, we undertook four so-called "energy audits" on our 1966 Seattle home, which has a finished 1,100-square-foot main floor and a partially finished 1,100-square-foot basement. We wanted to learn both how to improve the finished portion of our home and how best to add insulation and factor energy efficiency into an eventual basement remodel.
[A Quest for Energy] Marcellus Hall

Energy audits -- assessments of your home's energy efficiency -- run the gamut from free do-it-yourself audits offered online to paid inspections in which professionals with varying credentials spend up to three hours scrutinizing the home and determining what gestures will improve its energy efficiency and which fixes will reduce energy expenses. More sophisticated professional audits employ high-tech devices, including "blower door" fans, which lower indoor air pressure and enable technicians to measure draft levels, and infrared (thermographic) scanning, which can measure surface temperature variations and thus spot air leaks and poor insulation.

We started with two do-it-yourself energy audits offered free online, including the Home Energy Yardstick offered by Energy Star, the organization that promotes energy efficiency and endorses energy-efficient products, and Home Energy Saver, a free online audit from the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a Department of Energy lab operated by the University of California.

The free Home Energy Yardstick was disappointingly basic -- especially given how much data we had to provide from 12 months' worth of utility bills. However, it's not a bad starting point. The Yardstick calculated that we have a 1.7 efficiency score on a scale of 1 to 10 (oops). Tips for making changes were basic, such as using a programmable thermostat (already in use), energy-efficient bulbs (check), and Energy Star-endorsed appliances. Nice tips, but rather generic.

Next up, Home Energy Saver put us through more paces, asking us to answer 20 categories of questions ranging from insulation levels in attic walls to our furnace type. We had to guess at some answers, but, assuming we guessed right, the data provided were detailed: The program spat out nine pages worth of information on possible improvements, including the cost to implement each, and how much we would save in energy costs. For instance, insulating our basement to R-11 (insulation-speak for thickness levels -- the higher the better) would cost only $480 but could save us $115 per year in reduced bills. These were estimates, to be sure, but they helped us shape priorities.

The professional inspectors drilled deeper, looking more at the "building envelope" of our home and making more concrete recommendations. The Home Detective, a home-inspection company that also performs energy audits, sent an inspector who checked our exterior, climbed in our attic and perused our basement, but didn't bring out some of the higher-tech gear. The upshot? It suggested that we increase the "R" value of attic insulation to R-30 or more, insulate interior walls surrounding our non-insulated garage, and insulate the perimeter of the basement's ceiling -- an area known as the house's "rim joists." Minor fixes would include sealing ducts and any spot where pipes intersect with a floor or ceiling. The cost: $169.

Pinnacle Inspections used both a blower door test and infrared scanning to investigate how airtight our home is. The blower door test, which the technician ran twice to make sure results were solid, revealed that our home is relatively airtight for its age -- possibly due to our new windows. The technician seconded Home Detective's recommendation to insulate rim joists and walls adjacent to our garage, but also was able to use infrared scans to point out non-obvious sources of drafts on our main floor, all needing only minor fixes. These areas included the front door (which needs weather-stripping), switch plates (which need fireproof electrical insulation), window trim (which needs insulation), the attic trap door (which could use weather-stripping or other insulation), and a bathroom fan that is vented into the attic (and could be better insulated).

In the end, we felt that Pinnacle's high-tech energy audit was worth the $550 price tag, since it gave us short-term and low-cost repairs we could make now as well as guidance for future insulation projects. Now, we're ready to tackle that basement.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Green, Greener, Greenest

Which are the "greenest" or "best" choices one makes when deciding to go green?

Is it in Energy Efficiency? Getting one's home better insulated, using less resources, finding alternative sources of energy? Are those being green enough?

Is having your entire home greenovated the best idea? Where you throw out any and all products, items and goods that are potentially harmful to you or the environment out. Getting rid of any "off gassing" furniture, carpets, wood products or items that have in your home but have the potential of contributing to toxic indoor air?

Remodeling so that your home can take advantages of the latest in green building science?

Making those decisions are serious enough without adding the "green" equation.

Throwing out furniture that is older, mattresses that have not contributed to any sickness, replacing windows and doors, looking at your appliances are all important if they are contributing to depleting your most significant resource - finances. Nothing should be done that does not consider the long term impact to your immediate resources and the long vs short term paybacks of each.

Mattresses can be covered with dust mite protection and that may be enough. Doors and Windows may simply need to be examined for insulation around them and check for leakage and flashing issues... the appliances you have may be inefficient but if you cannot replace them think of ways to use them more wisely.. washing dishes late at night or doing laundry later to reduce your kilowatt usage. Taking your shoes off and have carpets dry or steam rather than shampooed can do wonders to clean the air and quality of life in the home.

As for heating and cooling needs.. well without proper insulation and ventilation it is all for naught. Getting a energy reading and deciding where the problems may be and they may be small enough to warrant slight repairs and upgrades vs complete overhauls could be enough. Opening windows and using those fans just above the stove or in the bathroom to circulate air may also be sufficient.

These are simple easy fixes to making your home green without taxing the budget or adding to the budget. The Green, Greener or Greenest choices can be simple affordable and easily done without the stress of remodeling or refurbishing your home entirely.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sustainabilty... Big Word Big Definition

I have been debating whether to use the term "sustainability" consultant instead of green consultant in my marketing materials. I have not yet taken the sustainable advisory program and while I think of myself as advocate of that concept I want to finish the course so that I will understand exactly what that means both personally and professionally.

Much of late has been made about companies advocating sustainability.. well that in some definitions means longevity. Certainly a bank like Washington Mutual had that in mind when it began and yet it took only a few years to destroy what has once been a "sustainable" business. Does any business willingly wish to cease in existence?

And then I realized yes... thanks to the dot coms of the 90s we learned that actually creating and building a business did not need the concepts of sustainability, longevity or even profit to merit millions of dollars in its sale. It seems that in fact the longer you were in business the less likely you were to actually sustainable.. Remember Friendster.. the precursor to Facebook? Does it still exist? What about Alta Vista? Netscape? They were sold but were they sold to be absorbed into the competitors pockets and disappear or were they sold to become viable members of the Internet/technology community? It seems so long ago that I can no longer recall.

Will no one remember Washington Mutual in the next decade except as the largest bank seized in history? Will no one remember its legacy of the school savings accounts or Christmas club funds? I remember my dad banking at a Savings and Loan.. where they gave gifts for deposits and to favorite clients.. the silver plated tray that still sits in my home long after that bank dissolved in the S&L debacle of the 80s.

How can anyone advise anyone on sustainable practices? Well one its good accounting, honest accounting and a system of fairness and legitimacy not just for those it serves but for whom those work. Would it be right to conclude that not paying a fair and marketable wage, offering health care and quality benefits for ALL who work there a reasonable assessment of a businesses sustainability? I am guessing one should not need an advisor for that.

Is an advisor one who just helps the company look at its global image, its local image and defines how it can make a better contribution to the greater community. Well that would be tough given this world and how we have no idea what is really going on in manufacturing or industry in countries whose measure of sustainability may well be "different" than ours. We are already struggling with what it means to be a "giant" and the repercussions of that, perhaps telling others how they should also run their businesses while our own collapse is not a good nor practical idea.

I keep going back to the question I was asked last week, "they pay you for that?" Well I would hope so and that I do have some insight, some perspective, some voice of options and hopes for anyone who would like to hear another idea on how to make our world, our businesses, and our homes more sustainable in the years to come.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Where is the Green

These past few weeks have been me scrambling to answer this question. I wonder how a small business person, sole provider and part time teacher can make it in this economy?

I started my business at first as a Contractor and realized that education was by far more needed to make green build the standard. And I do believe that that education is for the consumer first and the professional second. Change rises best from the ground up... the top down as we have seen the past few weeks has proven to be the wrong source to seek change.

So what does it mean for me and my company, Vida Verde? Well I still continue to educate myself. Just this week I completed Energy Star Verification Training to add to my National Association of Home Builders Green Cert. My final goal is to get a LEED AP, hopefully in Homes over the standard NC as that is more in line with my goals to make every home green in the future.

At the Energy Star training the belief that conservation of energy is not just a green thing its a practical thing.. again very much in line with my thought that Green is Affordable and Accessible.

I am still undergoing training for the Master Home Evaluator for the Lung Association and they do advocate simple change for better living.

It seems we are all on the same page... of course I was asked this week if people actually PAY for my advice... and yes they do... I think of what I do is bring information to people who have other and better things to do with their time and their businesses to research and find all the green options that will work. Not everyone has that luxury or inclination to do it themselves and frankly my job is no different than anyone providing any service.. mine just happens to be regarding green.

Of course my fellow former Builders are still either resistant or know-it-alls so they are too busy criticizing anyone who may threaten their profits or challenge their perspective.

The same builder with the "they PAY you?" wanted to know what my thoughts were with regards to many green build strategies.. was I pro LEED? Pro SIPS? and Did I provide cost analysis and data to my clients? I realized that this interrogation was less about me defending myself and more providing him an overview of what I do or don't.

I don't recommend or suggest.. I advise and with that I have limits.. I don't advise on construction, site analysis or building. The insurance and liability is too much for me to take that on. Instead I am a coach, advisor and researcher. I look at all the options in Green Build and try to find the best one and more importantly the most affordable one that will work. I am the person who finds what you need and tries to make it work for your home or business. What you do with the information is yours and that ultimately I cannot make you do it if it doesn't work... I just hopefully gave you some ideas or options that will work in the future.

My builder friend I believe was not satisfied with my response. But then again he shut his doors and was a LEED Pilot Home Builder so why he would worry about what I a sole provider would do seems interesting at best irrelevant at worst.

And in that I realized he is like everyone in this economy just trying to find his green.