Everyday “Green” Building

by Geoffrey Butler, AIA

It really is not rocket science, and it doesn’t take an “expert” and a lot of fees to do good green building everyday. It only takes people interested and knowledgeable in sustainable construction. We recently completed an addition and remodeling of a 1980’s home in Oak Knoll Subdivision (in Springfield, MO) with my son, Sam Butler, and his company, Sustainabuilt Construction. It was a typical 1980s design with traditional styling and lots of small rooms. It really was not set up for family living or entertaining. (See link to photos at the end)

The design work was easy. It did not take much to deal with the needs of a family with three young children and their desire to give each of them a bedroom and bath of their own upstairs on the same level with the master bedroom. We added more to the house to give us the area we needed and reconfigured everything. Of course, the master bedroom needed to be updated and expanded as well.

Downstairs we added to the house and reconfigured everything. We gutted the kitchen and a few other rooms to create a new family living area with an expansive new kitchen, family area and dining area. You really need to see it to appreciate it.

The green thing was pretty amazing since we really did not have to worry about it in the design. It was all about the green ideals utilized during construction. It does take someone who understands the options and knows what is a good value and what is not.

I should tell you that this entire project did not cost any more than is would have normally cost without taking a green approach. You do not have to throw money at a project to be green. That is stupid money. Smart money is doing a sustainable thing for virtually the same cost as normal construction.

Here is a list of things we did (or my son did) during construction:

  • Waste materials – use a waste hauler who separates the trash from the recyclable. Also provide recycling receptacles on site for cans, plastics and other materials.
  • During demolition carefully salvage the things which still have value but cannot be used in the new design. We salvaged all the old kitchen cabinets, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, doors and frames, windows, insulation, siding, deck material, and even the copper supply piping. All of this was donated to the Habitat for Humanity Restore. It will find a new life in another house.
  • We salvaged the old granite kitchen counter tops and reused them upstairs in the master bath on the vanity and in the master closet. The cost to reuse this fabulous granite was far less than the cost to build a plastic laminate counter top and the appearance is ten times better.
  • Regional materials are a big thing. It only makes sense to use materials which are grown and harvested here locally. Sam found a mill locally which made walnut flooring. The cost of the flooring was not much more than milled oak. It was only 30 miles north of us and it was beautiful. Everything we bought, we tried to source locally.
  • I don’t know if you can call it green, but we also took great pains to buy locally; patronizing local vendors and businesses. In many instances those people are friends and acquaintances who patronized our client or our businesses. It always pays to support people who support your business and it certainly helps to keep that money in the community where it can be circulated many times over. So, let’s call that recycling money.
  • The amount of insulation is important and we went for a minimum of R19 in the walls and R30 in the attic. We used EcoBatt which is made of recycled materials. Not really a premium for that. Just good common sense to get a very well insulated structure.
  • The crawl space was not the normal un-insulated crawlspace with vents. That creates problems with the heat loss through the un-insulated floor as well as potential mold from moisture from less than proper ventilation. We went the other way and ran a supply duct from the mechanical system in there, and took return air back to the HVAC unit. We insulated the walls of the foundation and applied a vapor barrier to the floor of the crawlspace. This will be a big savings on the energy consumption.
  • The HVAC system needed to be reworked and more equipment needed to be added. We went with very high efficiency units and well-insulated ductwork.
  • We did seal the house up tightly by filing all voids with foam insulation or stuffed batt insulation.
  • The windows were insulated with Low E insulated glazing, wood interiors and clad exteriors. the best we could get, but they were not really a big premium.
  • All exterior doors were pre-hung insulated units with full weather stripping and proper gaskets.
  • The millwork was built using a product called “wheatboard” which is really made of the leftover wheat after the grains are taken. This is a zero VOC product of a rapidly replenished raw material. Didn’t really add much to the cost, but it means a lot in reducing VOCs and in the sustainable front.
  • Indoor air quality is a big deal. We used no or low VOCs on the paint, mastics, carpet materials, flooring and anything and everything.

All of this is stuff that needs to be done on every project, but I can assure you that your architect can do this but the cost might scare you. Having a LEED accredited GC who can buy out the project using sustainable metrics and elements is really key. You are paying for them anyway, have them do the work to find the sustainable options is reasonable.

Aside from the fun of working with my son almost everyday on this project (which I would do for nothing), the neat thing is delivering a really neat sustainable project to our clients and doing so without spending a lot of money. It is the right thing to do and we need to do it every day.

Visit the Sustianbuilt Construction Facebook page to view before and after photos of the Feuerbacher Residence at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Springfield-MO/SustainaBuilt-Construction/73153648908.