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Architext #1301: Playing the GREEN Game!

So you're thinking about a renovation project and you want to be environmentally sensitive, but you're not quite sure how to "play the game". Here's a green primer by Architect Dom Narducci.

It’s the new buzzword.  We’ve all heard it, from car dealers, to food packagers, to detergent manufacturers, to builders and even carpet vendors.  It’s all about being Green!  We’ve been deluged with big Green’s lexicon: sustainability, eco-friendly, carbon footprint, efficiency, energy neutral….and on and on.  With the marketplace all aflutter with Green, it can be hard for the average consumer to separate out the “wheat from the chaff”.

Consequently, with regard to building projects, I’m often asked, “How do we participate?” and “We want to be Green, but how far do we go?”  To help, I’ve established four levels of “play” for those thinking about going Green.  Sometimes (perhaps, most of the time) “where you play” is driven by how much money you’ve got, or choose, to commit to your project.  Other times, your personal interest in the environment may dictate your commitment. In either case, I’m not discussing reasons today, just defining the levels of participation.

 Level 1: Spectator. Simply put, this is the Little Leagues.  Everyone can and should participate at this level.  Play involves making Routine Purchases of items that reduce electrical and water consumption. The key is to buy products that consume less electricity or water, but still  perform as well, last as long (or longer) and cost the same, or minimally more than their traditional counterparts. Examples: light bulbs, appliances, shower heads.

Level 2: JV.  While doing everything the Spectator does, players at this level pay particular attention to one element in their renovation or new build project. The Envelope.  The key here is to design an envelope system (walls, ceiling/roof, foundation) that will reduce the building’s heating and cooling requirements. This focus on energy efficiency can be as simple as increasing insulation levels (R values) and choosing more efficient doors and windows.  Initial cost may be higher, but energy savings over the long run will more than make-up for that!  .

Level 3: Varsity.  Players at this level already understand and embrace the Level 1 and 2 stuff.  Play at this level adds another dimension that involves planning and more initial cost.  The focus here is the building’s Mechanical Systems. Examples: High efficiency boilers, heat recovery systems, geothermal systems, solar systems, on-demand water heating, etc.

Level 4: Pro. This is the Big Leagues. The stuff of Levels 1,2 and 3 is automatically included.  Additionally, this Level goes deep in planning, design and Building Science. Playing at this level inevitably results in higher initial costs (both hard costs for materials and construction procedures, and soft cost for professional consultants).  Therefore, not many players get to this level. Here’s some of the planning stuff: site layout for solar orientation, landscape materials for wind and sun screening, rainwater harvesting, glass placement for maximum solar gain, room layouts and airlocks. And there’s more: rough and finish material selections based on reuse/recycling, longevity, life cycle maintenance cost, manufacture location and environmental impact, etc.

By design, this is a fairly light treatment of a very broad subject.  But I hope it provides you with a base level of information that will encourage you to learn more.  Then you’ll be prepared to decide where you want to play the green game, when it comes to your next building project.

Dom Narducci is a practicing architect in Southbury, CT.  He provides complete architectural design and construction managment services (Freestone-inc.com) and offers a line of stock house plans (FreestonePlans.com). Additionally, Narducci teaches and writes on design and construction issues. Comments are welcome. You can also contact Dom at: dnarducci@freestone-inc.com.

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Leslie Yager February 21, 2013 at 10:56 PM
I guess I am a "Green" fail. I have energy efficient light bulbs but a drafty old 1904 house and no insulation unless you count horse hair.
D.A. Narducci, Architect February 22, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Leslie- Thanks for the comment--FYI there are no Green fails! And yea, when we're talking insulation, horse hair counts. Cheers, Dom
Leslie Yager February 22, 2013 at 01:00 AM
My neighborhood zoned 'multi-family' so all the original houses, charming as they are, are being torn down, tossed in dumpsters, replaced by pricey oversized condos on small lots. At least living in an old house is 'recycling.'

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