Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Green is Better than your Green

One of the increasing concerns I have over going Green in residential projects is the competitive nature of Contractors over which Certifying and Verification bodies are better than the other.

Construction and Architecture is already competitive and at times mutually exclusive. The process of Green Build is essentially a process created to eliminate that and go even further to involve everyone from the beginning..

In Green Build the process is integrative from client, designer, builder, sub contractors, engineers, landscapers, verifiers.. all have an equal and significant role in the process. But if it becomes a pissing contest of who is more important in the process, the process is lost. And whichever process, whichever credential is selected to follow there is a risk that costs, accessibility, innovation and information will get lost to the notion of competition.

LEED, NAHB, Regional Built Green programs, Energy Star, Healthy Home and others are fundamentally all the same ideal. Quality green projects that take into effect the site, its long term affects on both the environment and home owner, the long term goals of the community, its landscape and the hopeful addition of safe, energy efficient and AFFORDABLE homes for EVERYONE.

I have reviewed all the processes and am working on completing LEED AP, am pending the NAHB test and am working on being a healthy home evaluator for the Lung Association as well as hopefully becoming an Energy Star verifier.. so I have had the opportunity to review all the materials available. I am a member of both my local non profit Green Build guilds and have seen their plans and levels and I cannot see any significant distinctions or qualifications that make one superior over the other.

And while I will admit I do not have the "longevity" in the green field as some of my counterparts, I possess the commitment, passion and energy to learn and grow. My main goal is to take all that data and find ways to make it accessible to those who want information without complication. And when I see that the goals and ideals are parallel I would hope those directly doing the work see the spirit in information and an exchange of ideas and experiences to move the ideals forward. Knowledge is to be shared not hoarded.

LEED has many more bells and whistles but it has the ultimate same base and foundation as the regional and national plans I have reviewed. And all of them would greatly agree that ultimately they all have the same goals, aspirations and concepts that are integrated throughout.. that all homes meet a standard of safety and energy efficiency for its residents. I don't see any representative of any of them saying "pick me I am the best" for the point would be redundant. They All are there to serve the consumer and provide the same information to the builder, etc.

And while I am not privy to the backroom discussion with the USBGC or NAHB professionals, I would hope they are not seeing this as a competition but a collaboration.

And in that vein once again sitting in my local green build community I would hope to see that occur as well. While many builders here are breaking ground literally and figuratively, they seem well too busy trying to out green each other with who is better at it than the other. And while that is not everyone as in all these types of environments he who speaks loudly carries a significant hammer.. and those hammers seem to dominate the discussion to the point little often seems accomplished.

I would very much like to see more information shared and exchanged. I would welcome local builders and contractors who are out there doing this being active in also bringing to the table their daily experiences and frustrations and successes so that green building will become more absorbed. My fear is that they still cling to that antiquated uncooperative old style of keeping that information to themselves as a way of crushing the competitor. This thinking seems in direct contradiction to the spirit of Green build. I still go back to the Green Contractor who informed me that despite the fact he was my competitor he could still talk to me... we really do still have a long way to go...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Green Job Day..

One of the things that was important to me both as a Contractor and again as a Consultant was the notion that GREEN be AFFORDABLE and ACCESSIBLE to anyone.

So it was to my great relief I found a site devoted to the belief that this is not a foreign concept and that Green is the wave of the future. Green For All is a national organization dedicated to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

If there is one thing I have continued to see is that at the present I see way too many white male faces predominantly leading the discussion. Ironically I read that Women are more "Green" than their male counterparts and I see a great many women present at the Green Build meets their role does seem to be in Architecture and not Contracting. Although we do have women owned Green focused Contractor/Builders in the area I would love to see them mentor and be more active participants in the Green Community.

We also desperately need more faces and people of color in the trades. I have yet to remodel a property without a minority and certainly when I lived in the Bay Area that would have been impossible. It is why I named my company Vida Verde to honor and respect the Latinos who have been most generous with their efforts and labor on my behalf and others in the Construction community.

So in that vein I encourage anyone willing to take Saturday, Sept 27th as a a day to bring Green to those who most need it... The website is

More than ever on this eve of a most significant election and in a time when our economy is at ever increasing need of stimulation and growth it becomes essential to open the idea that Green is the way to make our Country and our lives a better and more improved place. Green is for EVERYONE. It must be and it can be.

Please participate and go to GREEN FOR ALL to learn more. I look forward to seeing you there.

Conflict of Interest

I spend quite a bit of time musing this issue and trying to assist people without crossing a line. Its one of the reasons that I ended the Construction side of the business. I could not in good conscious educate then offer to do the work it smacked of a conflict. And why most Contractors are there to assist home owners in learning about the process, the education about Green is in and of itself its own specialized knowledge and one of which I spend a great deal of time and effort in attaining. Then to spend that time and effort in an attempt to get "job" only to be rejected but the knowledge and information was a part of the process it became something of a challenge to separate the two.

I tried the charging for Estimates so that the information provided.. the cost analysis and comparison of Green vs non green was at least compensated since it was proprietary and I think useful it still seemed to be lacking. I could charge less to provide this service, remove any "sales attempt" from the equation and ultimately allow the home owner to have useful and practical information that was easily accessible and something that did not require an immediate post contract or service.

In addition I found that Contractors like myself wanted the same information but did not have the luxury of time and resources to get it and needed at least some options on how to expand their knowledge and business to include green.

And in turn I could work with either and how I am compensated by one or the other had no affect on their relationships nor mine with theirs. I could be impartial and practical and still offer the same information across the board without appearing to have bias or a conflict of interest. I also could be individual in my presentations and look with detail at each client and their specific needs. The only outcome is their success and ultimately I am paid for providing a service to assist with that.

So what is a Conflict of Interest? It is where you have an ultimate interest in the outcome to favor you or your business.

Realtors (as you know my favorite target) offering to hold "First Time Buyer Workshops" Well they are not finance experts, housing or economic experts and their ultimate interest is in you being motivated to buy a house from THEM. Educating you to the responsibilities financial and otherwise is generic, optimistic and not solely based on you or your needs.

Its where you go to the Home Depot to learn how to tile but you leave with their products. They have no interest in you competitively shopping. The "free" makeover at Estee Lauder only again to leave with their product in hand. That is all a Conflict of Interest.

Sometimes it is very casual and certainly not insidious. Its meant to provide an an opportunity to introduce or advertise and market services, products and information. But there should be no sales pressure nor requirement to buy from them and in fact they should encourage you to seek out their competitor as a way of proving to you that they are superior by enabling and empowering you to ask questions and get more information to make a better decision.

If you have to pay for information you at least have an Agreement and a specific set of requirements and guarantees. There is no confusion as to what the person is offering and the obligations are spelled out. When its free it can be free and still very useful but know that ultimately no one gives away too much for free its just not practical or well a good idea.. Everyone has to make a living I just prefer it to be in a more upfront and direct fashion.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Emerald City

I am like Dorothy. I wanted to come home to find my roots again. I felt that here with all the green advocates it would be a great fit. It is ironic that Seattle's name is the Emerald City. Given the pattern of development here over the last few years you will need Emeralds to continue to live here. Yes we are embracing Green Build with significant public and commercial buildings being developed with LEED certifications. A city so consumed with green-ness that we are banning bottled water, plastic bags and making residents compost. With all that green being placed upon the residents I wonder if simply mandating public or commercial buildings green build is really fair or just.

I look at some of the buildings - residential and commercial - and they resemble post war Germany and not in a modern Bauhaus way. They are devoid of an aesthetic and contribution to design it might confuse people with the belief that green build is a mandate to be well ugly. Far from it it is to embrace light and flow and to take into account the site and its surroundings something many of our private developers have avoided. Architecture awards they may sacrifice in pursuit of Gold I guess.

I have said before its a cities obligation to plan an urban environment that offers vast types of buildings that serve a multitude of purposes. It also takes into account the types of housing and services that also serve a multitude of individuals and multiple incomes. This city has been drinking a little too much from a cup of technology to realize that most of the city and its peoples only own some its largess but are not of it.

It is also interesting that the Master Builders Association is one our Mayor's largest campaign donor. Would affordable housing be the possible result?

What I have seen is that in place of 6 family homes where approximately 24 would have resided they were replaced by 20 homes with at least 40 residents will dwell. But they do have LEED ratings. With that did it include replacing or adjusting the infrastructure and services needed to attend to that density growth? Something tells me all the garbage/water proposed rate increases are for the density added to the city. But now I see a lot of empty dwellings so worrying about the excess use and needs may be premature or at least unlikely. I also wonder how those empty homes and those trying to revise their assessments to be a real reflection of worth may have on our cities structure.

A simple counting of heads and of course appropriating the developers/builders and individuals who are using the services may be more sufficient way to remit fees. And while they are it did permit fees compensate for the road damage, the traffic backups and subsequent gas, mileage and wear and tear on private vehicles that have to drive around the roadways? Or why not public transport.. wait a private developer helped fund the 8 block trolley to well nowhere and well his buildings. Perhaps we can expand that to 12 blocks. This city built two Stadiums and the predominant way to get there - drive. Yes our rival San Francisco built a stadium but then again has Muni and BART to encourage non vehicle use. I am not sure all our Emerald City is all that green.

In the zeal to increase the value or our worth came, I believe, from private homes and of their individual tax assessments.. as in the case of the 6 family homes which I guesstimate probably totaled as 2.7 million in net value worth now becomes 160 million in tax assessments.. (This is based on the belief that the homes were probably 450K at the boon height in value and now the current properties average is 800K per unit) So in that situation did the developer compensate the neighborhood to repave the roads, adjust the sewers and utility usage to reflect such a massive increase? Maybe they did in campaign contributions.

Need/Value/Worth that is what it means to build housing. And what we need, the value and the worth are strictly at odds in this Emerald City. I will need to click my heels three times to go home again but I may have to hock my ruby slippers to remain living here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Big Star, Little Star, Green Star

I have mixed emotions about what it means to add Stars or Certifications to your Green project if it means adding bells and whistles to it that ultimately takes away the reality and usefulness of what green build means and becomes more about the number of stars you have instead.

I toured one of the first and only LEED platinum star homes on the market in the area. (There is a private home built for LEED platinum and while it removed what was surely a perfectly good home in exchange I think the least he could do was replace it with something ultimately improved and resourceful in both design and resources used so it hopefully compensates the trade off) LEED for Homes is only just in its nascent stages and while LEED is something that I fully embrace and encourage for Commercial build I hope that the spirit of which it arrives is not something lost in the housing market. I fear that the quest to be the biggest bestest LEED ever may be more important that building quality, safe and more importantly AFFORDABLE housing.

With the current market as is and homes green and not so green on the market I question anyone without the intent of improving the quality of life just to build for LEED sake.

I also find that the green market has drawn a lot of interest and capital to it, which is a good thing but if you don't understand the principals and the nature of building why are you building. Would your skills talents and checkbook be better served getting people to keep the homes they are in rather than adding more to the marketplace? Green or not green there are ways to bring this spirit, this need for conservation and alternative energy resources than building the uber monument to all things green.

I go back to Green Giants Jerry Yudelson and David Johnson and to our Kathleen O'Brien and see references to Affordable and Accessible.. healthy quality homes that are good for everyone. Now while I haven't asked them as Obama and McCain were with regards to what defines rich I am interested in knowing what they mean by affordable. Until that is clearly established I am assuming that it means market driven and within the means of the median home price. Well we already know that the median the past few years has been inflated so how is a home "affordable" and well for the builder does that mean "profitable"

I can't answer that as my background is in remodeling.. I was never into building and only once build an addition on top of an existing garage.. I am a big advocate of using the existing structure first and then well moving if it no longer suits your needs.

But I am a great believer that profit should hinge on what the company needs to survive and manage itself.. and if it is beyond the necessary range of what is fair as in the case of oil profits you wonder what is the purpose. So are builders using Green and especially the star/rating/certification system to inflate costs and therefore generate higher profits? Perhaps. If I was a builder and thought that the excess cost of adding verification would put my sale in jeopardy I would not do it.. but I would have documents and evidence that the home was built with all those equivalent standards in place and that he/she elected to not do so as to retain the budget. But if it was negligible and would assist in the process than doing so should be done with less the consumer in mind and more the builder as really who cares what the "rating" of your home is.. do you wear it on your head for all to see? Its kind of like name dropping only odder.. "hi I am Betty and I live in LEED platinum home." Okay thanks.

But knowing and having all the documentation is great for resale.. but again the point of Green build is the sustainable side which means keeping your home for years and by the time you resell the home that certification may well be outdated if building innovation continues on course so is it again for you or for your builder. And if its the builder than he/she should shoulder the cost.

I also worry that the more stars/levels pursued there may be a need to add features and items that are not really necessary and over the top for what the home requires to be energy efficient and healthy. If you have too many groovy features its kind of like adding lipstick to a pig.. true its Miss Piggy and she likes lipstick but would a 5 dollar brand serve the purpose over a 50 dollar brand?

Smart Build.. that is Green Build and being smart about your needs, your wants and more importantly your budget is what makes things both green and sustainable.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Green Assets

Owning a home is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of life. But like anything not everyone can nor feel they need to. In the past few years homes became the dot com stocks, overvalued, overpaid for and then busted to below worth. Another get rich scheme only this time with much more significant consequences.

This is not to lay blame or find reasons for how and why this happened. Pointing fingers at this point becomes hollow when you worry that the thing you have invested the most green in is now seemingly worth less than you paid for or simply you may lose it.

Home Equity... 1 out of three owe more on the property than it is worth. Foreclosures are up according to the NY Times; With as many as 2.5 million homes in the United States entering foreclosure this year and, at best, sales of only five million existing houses, the foreclosure price is becoming the rule in many areas. This means a lower value on all existing properties.. just as they went up they go down too.

How do you circumvent that? Well you never do anything beyond your budget or your means. You change your lifestyle and if you must improve a home do so by looking at what it means to be green.

Energy efficiency I believe is the most accessible, reasonable and affordable way to green your home. Go to the Energy Star website and see what they suggest and what to do about making your home more energy solvent. The paybacks on many improvements are rapid and of course beneficial in both the long and short term.

Look to make other green options in your home. Reduce Landscape, restructure the existing space and find new ways to "recycle" your own home. Simple adjustments to the interior short of a full remodel can bring new life into an old space.

Yes you can make green purchases and products to increase and enhance the overall value and aesthetic but do so with an eye for return and practicality. If it is not something you see yourself living with for the long term would someone else? Then maybe those changes in the property that you think will "sell" won't. Remember the fad of granite countertops anyone?

I resist taking information from Real Estate Agents.. they are in the business of selling and generating commissions and like my prior blog on Referral networks their interest is only aligned with yours but you are not their primary interest. Its what I like to call a conflict of interest. I know many Real Estate agents will take umbrage to that and there are those who are solid sources of information but those I have found to be few and far between.

Find a third party, a consultant, a decorator or even a home inspector and yes even a General Contractor who is there to provide YOU with advice. The agent is there to generate a commission that is based on the sale of the property, the higher the sale price the higher the commission, so they may encourage you to make expensive alterations that will sell the property but the costs are certainly not guaranteed.

A third party will take into account the existing structure, the materials, more importantly the budget for what is necessary to improve the property and get the APPROPRIATE and REALISTIC price. We are no longer in bidding wars and that is the reality.. because remember when you sell your home you may have to buy another and you can't price yourself out of the market on either end.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Green Elite

I find myself of late getting invited to many "Green" Events where those of like minded "greenies" avow the politics and moral superiority of being green. Well much like preaching to the choir I see nothing inherently wrong with anyone who shares the same principles getting together to build a community I have yet to find a community.

My first experience was with a Green Organization and there I found competitiveness, confusion and a collective mindset that having a difference of opinion was untolerated. I thought the whole point of the Green movement was to make things better but I am not sure divisiveness is a good way to accomplish that. It was there I first encountered the not so surprising and very traditional builder/contractor ethic "Hey you are my competitor so even though I am not supposed to talk to you I can..." wow you may be green but some things never change.

I also found confusion, misinformation and frankly passionate people well being passionate about what they know and like but that leaves little room for debate and discussion. I have stated before that even with Green Build I have some issues with products and their sustainbility. So in that environment where an exchange of experiences and knowledge would be useful it was frustrating to find little done.. again the antithesis of the whole Green Movement.

I also fear that this does send a message that you must be the next Green Giant in order to be fully recognized and respected. And while I understand businesses that embrace a deep green I don't know if I can fully embrace it myself as well it is neither practical for me personally or professionally. I always say "find your right shade of green" and that is what it is compromise and valued personal ethics. This is not a dogma nor a law but a choice of options.

And on that note I option to keep my mind open and do the best for me, my clients and the bigger picutre as I work on defining Green.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


What appealed to me most regarding the Build Green movement was the open discussion or the idea of collaboration in the form of the Eco-charette. I liked the idea of all the players being of one team working together to make better buildings, to make it affordable and contribute the ideas of improving the quality of our lives.

Well the idea behind green build is not to keep people honest but to find better and efficient ways to make a building live in its environment, to have all the parties contribute with their knowledge and offer that experience to lend to innovation.

One side of Green Build is the third party verification process. I believe that the intent is to establish ethics and accountability to those who participate to make sure the tenents of green build are followed and in turn establish a working functional protocoal and also to ensure honesty in the process.

Well that implies that there is dishonesty in the business of building.. and yes there is but I would like to point out no more so than in any other business. Contractors get a bad rap but there are many players in many fields who are equally disengenuous and use their work/positons/etc to gain success in any profession.

But Green Build wanted to remove that and lend an integrity to make this process something more than a fad, to learn from it and to make it something that we all can aspire to but more importantly attain. Having all the players on board be on the same page is one reason why I think verification is necessary.

That said who makes a good verifier? And can Contractors/Builders/Architects self certify and verify each other? I don't know fully the answer to that. I think some reason of expertise and familiarity with the build process is essential but again if everyone is on the same page, the docuementation will be sufficient for anyone familiar with the process should be able to validate the green criteria. However it makes it less of a learning curve if one knows some of the technical aspects. But should any builder certify another.. I think yes if they are unfamiliar or unaquainted with the company/individual they are verifying. Unfortunately I know of few builders who are not in some need of competition or fear of of it to be fully unbiased but those that are should be welcome to participate. But as in most male dominated professions the need for a pissing contest often outweighs the necessity for a higher order even I think with green build and its lofty and more huggy nature.

I also think that self certification must stop at any level. I do think that all buidlers should be required to certify and verify at all levels to make sure they are in fact doing all what is necessary early on.. so that costs and change orders and miscommunication is reduced or eliminated. But there should be no stars/colors or anything given in exchange.

I also think that there needs to be consistent and well established green build procedures. Regional programs should look to the NAHB or USBGC as the board from which to garner information and tailor their programs. I also think Energy Star and other Health related certifications should also be considered when it comes to further proving a homes worthiness on those levels.. having speciality endorsements and certifications can be useful for any number of individuals who seek specific buildings as well as for a company that seeks to differentiate itself in the market.

I also question why there needs to be specialized Real Estate brokers however as frankly the information provided to the Home Owner is another aspect of the Green Build movement and circumvents anyone needing or requiring further or specialized info. I believe the idea is to bring that knowledge to the forefront and again encourage and educate Home Owners on Green Build. Forcing them to only have a certain person to work with once again sets Green as elitist and specialized and ultimately associated with "unaffordable" or "unaccessible" to the general population.

I think more information is always best when it comes to anything and reducing the conflct of interest by having as many people involved with each a role to play, full disclosure of that role and making sure all the information provided is public and open for debate... Information is education for the Green Build movement and nothing represents that better than it to flow like a river.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Construction Referrals

One aspect of my business is Coaching. I want to remove some of the mystery, the feeling of a lack of control and more importantly add affordability to home owners remodeling projects.

Too many times I hear horror stories about Contractors and well part of that was why I did want to remove myself from the profession. I felt angry, embarrassed or well frustrated that I was in that category by simple "guilt by association." But having also served customers there are two sides to every story so I also understood that as well.

So in response to the customer and to my fellow Contractor I wanted to do some education and information that would make everyone on both sides of the table a little more informed and honest about the process.

One thing that I do take objection to are "Referral Networks" Those are where an organization/company or individual offers to provide you with a list of pre-screened Contractors. Well in the event of full disclosure they are "screened" by meeting a certain requirement or two.. some have to be in business three years or more, have provided a least three references be they trade or consumer and have the required State Licensing restrictions... such as Bond/License and Insurance.

The vetting process is that the onus of responsibility falls to the Contractor to provide that information and the "Referral Network" contacts or claims to check those references. Well they don't pull permits, contact vendors and especially Sub Contractors to hear the real story (such as Management/Supervisory skills as well as the real tell - payment history) nor contact the Contractor's bank or even visit job sites present or past to inspect the work. In return they also are paid a fee or commission based on the job they refer to the Contractor.. Who in turn passes that fee onto you the customer. Of course the Contractor cannot share that with you and in some cases they are obligated to continue paying fees to the network if you choose to use them again in a given period.

Contractors hate referral networks.. for the work they do get and the "go sees" they do go to few jobs are rewarded and each time that fee will get passed on to the final customer who does end up using their services. Many customer are also simply using these networks as a tire kicking exercise to understand the costs of what they are planning, getting bids and estimates from Contractors with little intent of geniunely hiring them as well. This is unfair to those Contractors who put in a great deal of effort and time trying to generate business and offer honest and clear estimates only to find themselves and their information used to foster competition between them and another Contractor or the Home Owner doing it themselves.

So as a Home Owner how do you find a Contractor? Well Referrals from neighbors, again good Trade Professionals you may have used (from Plumbers to Mechanics they know a great deal of people) co-workers or even organizations are good ways to start. Heck I still use the Yellow Pages (not just online), Craigslist or any other advertising. I tell them how I found them and those who are quick to respond, return calls and present themselves in a professional manner are usually ways to determine if we can establish a business relationship. I avoid Angie's List as frankly that is simply again another paid for site that people can use to generate misleading or inaccurate information. Anytime its paid for that is red flag. In the long run costs are passed onto the consumer and frankly relying on the internet for references that can not be personally checked is not a great way to find any service professional.

Comparing rates/fees and charges can be done over the phone. In the case of a Construction Project just asking them how they contract.. is it Cost/Plus, Time and Materials or Flat Fee can help you in deciding who and how you wish to pursue. Doing your own research on Costs, Materials with regards to the Scope of Work is also great ways to compare who is providing the most reasonable assessment of price. If you know a general idea of what things cost then you can determine how accurate the information the professional is giving. Asking for random bids to generate a competition will only serve to hurt you in finding the person or business that can best serve you and your needs.

If you cannot or do not have the time or inclination use a Construction Consultant or Coach to help you determine what your needs are (scope of work), the budget required and and more importantly how to screen and ultimately hire and MANAGE your project. Then there is one rule to follow: Ask them how they feel about the Home Owner as Project Manager which means full disclosure and open information. Any Contractor who does not respect or want to work with the Owner as part of a team is not the Contractor for you. That is the easiest way to find the right Contractor.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Green Politik

Well in the race to be green I have to wonder the origin of who was or is the Green Politician. I have already mentioned Al Gore but his history of poor recycling while in the White House and his energy hog home in Tennessee puts him in risk of Greenwashing, I think that we should ask ourselves who was the Greenest Politician.

Well we can thank Teddy Roosevelt. The big stick he carried was probably recycled and as a result can thank him for our National Park System. But in reality it was Taft who pushed for the parks and Roosevelt who urged the preservation and conservation of our natural resources. And gosh Teddy was a Republican too!

And later another Roosevelt, FDR within the New Deal, created the WPA which through the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to preserve and enhance our National and City Parks. Some of the projects that were built under those programs still exist today... talk about Sustainable. There is a WPA retaining wall in Madrona that I used to pass daily on my walkabouts. Although gone its not totally forgotten and many states have conservation corps that work on Ecological projects.

As we grew and our consumerism grew the love of nature and our environment took a backseat but there were noticiable efforts on behalf of green via the Audubon Society and our use of pesticides and their effect of the environment. By the early 60s Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was quite noted for its call to save our planet.

It was First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who embraced "greeness" as well with her infmaous "A Bush, A Tree and a Shrub" campaign. Who knew she was ahead of her time and today in Texas is a Wildflower Center devoted to preserving nature.

I don't recall Nixon being an enviornmentalist but suprise it was Nixon who founded the EPA. I guess all of his other "issues" overshadowed the good he did do for our resources.

By the time we got to Jimmy Carter we were fully in a recession but it was Carter (who I believe was perhaps a greater President than fully realized or even recognized) who understood the nature of finite resources. From him we got the Energy Bill, Super Funds to clean toxic waste and more importantly he knew then what we are realizing now our dependence on fossil fuels will be are undoing. This is a link to his most infamous and perhaps foreshadowing speech on Energy..

Jimmy was so "green" he installed solar panels on the White House which were later ripped out by Ronald Reagan (guess he had no love for TR) and our Government's decline on Environmental issues continued under his watch. James Watt anyone?

By the time Clinton came in his environmental policy was much like Gore's at the time... ignorant. A lot of the Hot Air we felt was not only the result of Greenhouse Gases. Both while wrapping themselves in a green cloak, neither did much in reversing the trends undergone in the Reagan/Bush years. Although Al Gore returned to the fold in his book Earth in Balance and now the epynomous Oscar winning Power Point speech, an Inconvienent Truth, it cannot be ignored that while in office little was done but adding clear cutting of forests on federal land.

And of course we have our current President, who has done little except point out the flaws of the Kyoto Treaty, but done little in finding an appropriate compromise to resolve the issues that face us. His solution to the gas crisis is to drill offshore. As you can see tree hugging is not part of man who spends his holidays clearing brush from his ranch.

So it appears the greatest voice in the Green Movement was apparently Jimmy Carter a one term former peanut farmer and a charming southern first lady who win the award of the Greenest Politik. They seemed to find the voice and the truth behind what is now an issue of global signicficance. And in tribute to Lady Bird I will plant some flowers today and for Jimmy have a peanut.. organic of course.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Your Green History

For many the awakening to the Green Movement came when a little Power Point Presentation by former Vice President Al Gore was made into a documentary called An Inconvenient Truth. Ironic since as a Vice President he did not participate in a recycle program and his own home in Tennessee is an energy hog but we all have our epiphanies and this may have been his.. he does ride the BART when in San Francisco.

For some that is where the Green movement began... in San Francisco with the Hippies. They advocated dropping out of society, well physically and psychologically.. although some of the drugs they used were "green" some were not. But they also embraced a return to nature and advocated a pure lifestyle.

But for me I am not sure when I truly embraced Green or well do really even know what shade of Green I am but I do know that my life has always been influenced by the first Green person I knew, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yes half-pint taught me about Green while many of those proclaiming its advantages were still in diapers - disposable no less.

From the Little House stories I learned about Straw Bale housing, being a pioneer and learning to live within your means and be self sustainable. Laura's valley was pretty green.

My next introduction was the Boxcar children. They were kids who lived in abandoned railroad cars and clearly were the inspiration for the Container Cities started in the UK and are now coming this way. Modern Condos and Apartments for modern boxcar adults.

But more importantly the biggest Greenies I knew, my parents. My mother made my clothes, my grandmother canned, my Aunts lived inside a city on a fully functioning farm as the city of Yakima grew around them.. they built their own addition onto their house (they were also the first Lesbian married couple I knew - modern and green and pioneers of a different sort) and were very self sufficient right inside city limits..

My father was how one says "cheap" I like the word "frugal" From German immigrant father and a mother who was raised on a farm in Virgina, he understood nature and well being careful with money. Our home in Seattle, in city as well, had a fully functioning vegetable garden, fruit trees, we composted, we were careful with energy we never had more lights on then necessary, we removed our shoes when coming in the house, we had one car and my parents believed that if I couldn't walk or take a bus to where I needed to go, then I didn't need to go there. I walked to school, they encouraged me to go to the library to "borrow" books and there I read all about my green influences. We were thrifty and careful and as a result I went through College completely without debt or loans. My father was a great advocate of the belief that if you can't pay for it in cash at any time then you don't need it.

We did not live a life without frills.. We had the first color TV on the block, being green doesn't mean listening to box radio.. come on how can you watch Planet Green? We had great parties and did not go without. We just didn't have more than we needed to make a quality life. I think Laura understood that value better than most.

Its hard to know when your Green History began or if it ever needed to. We all have some elements of Green throughout our life. Recycling has been around for most of people's adult lives, we all have faced some instance of energy conservation issues, being now or in the 70s. But for all of us understanding where it was is not as important to know where its going. And now seems a great time to move Green into the present and out of history.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Green Build/Good Build?

Green Build is not a guarantee that its good build. The idea behind green build is that it transcends code and minimum standards, that the builder/architect/etc have risen above what passes for average and gone beyond what is necessary to make a quality product.

But Green Build is no different than any build when it comes to construction quality. The products/materials and approaches may require a higher or different standard but green cannot overcome sloppy build and poor design and green is certainly not exempt from that when it comes to a finished product.

And Green Build has just as much potential to be bad build as any other. Why? Because when it becomes about another kind of green, money, the intent changes.

Green Build is also not the provenance of the modern - be it architect, builder or designer. Green is and should be available to anyone. That is the point. The idea of a budget should not be forsaken in pursuit of green build but it can be when its in pursuit of "stars" or "points" as in anything when you are looking for Gold or in the this case Platinum your interest may be less in the build but more in the acknowledgment of the build itself. And when one spends more time wanting accolades over providing affordable quality housing then I wonder if it is beyond what the "green movement" subscribes? Yet without the measure, without the scale we would have no ingenuity, no push forward to drive green build into affordable and accessible.

But how do you know Green Build is bad build? Well construction techniques, details and workmanship is the same regardless of the type of build. Sloppy finishes, poor layout, little information, not pursuing verification or certification can all mean that some corners were cut and others well avoided. When you see a wall with a pipe to nowhere, cables and wires loosely hanging outside an exterior wall, PVC pipes in a home touted as Green or a material you don't recognize and there is no information as to why it was used then like any home you have to wonder what you can't see is something you may need to.

All homes regardless of their 'greeness' should have permits, plans, project manuals and full material take offs and information that you are entitled to see to understand how and with what your home was built. All homes should be free with information and without that warranties may be invalid. Asking questions does not make you annoying it makes you informed, curious and well an active buyer who wants to know where their green is going.

Good build be it "green" or not meets a standard that is always higher, that merits recognition and respect. And green build that is not good should not be exempt from its failures.