Lots of people like the idea of building green, or a least a greener. But, although the term green building is often used, many of us are not quite sure exactly what green building is, or where to go to get easy to understand information about green building options.
This week we have an interview that will help explain what green building is and why it’s important. We’ll hear from Sheridan Foster, founder of Elemental Green, a great online educational resource for green and sustainable building products and techniques.
Before we get to that, let’s go over a Pro Term: Right sizing
Right sizing is a term that was originally used in the business world to refer to the reduction of the size of a company or organization. Corporate right sizing usually occurs by eliminating staff positions when business conditions necessitate a reduction.
Right sizing a house is similar. It usually entails reduction in the size of a house when changes in life circumstances necessitate a reduction. Or when homeowners reevaluate what’s really important to them and how they actually live in their homes.
Occasionally, right sizing might mean an increase in the size of your home, if your parents want to move in with you, or if you want to have more children, for example.
Ultimately, right sizing a home means to build or convert a house to an appropriate or optimum size—to optimize your living space and make it fit your lifestyle and living habits. Right sizing is figuring out what you really need before building or remodeling and designing your house accordingly.
Right sizing is about how you truly live, not how you fantasize about living, or how you think you are supposed to live. So, if you fantasize about having formal dinners, but you never actually have formal dinners, you might want to forgo the formal dining room.
If your builder or designer says your house plan should include a home office, but what you really enjoy is doing your work sitting on the couch with your laptop, guess what, you don’t have to build a home office.
Gale Steves, who wrote “Right Sizing Your Home”, found that the 3 space that most people would give up if they had to are:
1. The formal living room
2. The entrance foyer
3. The formal dining room
Right sizing is building a house that right for you. Not simply building a house that’s expected, or that’s the so called “industry standard.” Design your house for you are, not for who you think you should be. Take an honest look at how you actually live and design your house to fit that lifestyle— that’s right sizing.
Next up, is the interview that I had with Sheridan Foster, founder of Elemental Green. Here’s our conversation...
Michelle: Tell us about Elemental Green and your role there.
Sheridan: A few years ago when I was building a home for my family, I found it very difficult to find information in layman’s terms regarding green certification. And it was difficult to find sustainable alternatives for the materials which I was choosing to incorporate in our design. Each decision became a lengthy search for information and trips to various suppliers. I dreamed of a resource that would help people understand what it meant to be green and offered a curated set of solutions for home building or remodeling.
In 2016, I pulled together a technical and editorial team to create a resource for consumers, designers, and building professionals to find easy to digest information on green practices, beautiful inspirational projects, and most importantly real products and solutions for their green questions.
Our goal is to build momentum for sustainable home building and ultimately we hope that these practices become the norm.
Michelle: What is green building?
Sheridan: When you say green building, people often assume that means it makes use of renewable energy, but in reality it is a much more comprehensive set of parameters.
The key is to look at the problem as a holistic exercise in sustainability. That means every aspect of your home should be thoughtful of how it impacts the planet.
Was your site reusing an existing site or cutting down an old growth forest? Are the materials that you are bringing into your home sourced and manufactured in an eco-friendly manner? Do the materials contain chemicals which will be released into your indoor space? Are they durable and recyclable at end of life? How do you reduce your energy and water needs? How do you manage waste on the job site. Have you taken advantage of natural light and natural heating and cooling in the architecture of your house? Have you provided adequate ventilation?
Really, most any decision you can make regarding your home build can be made in a more thoughtful manner to emphasize sustainable goals.
Michelle: Why should people build green? What’s in it for the homeowners?
Sheridan: There are very compelling reasons why every build or renovation should be a green build. As the world continues to grapple with the long term effects of global climate change, we all should be doing our part to make choices that will enrich rather than deplete the earth’s resources.
But it is also better for you on a personal level. Firstly a green home is a healthier home for the residents - fewer chemicals and better ventilation mean lower rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses as well as improved general health.
Studies have also linked high-performance buildings to increased happiness and productivity. In a recent study of certified high-performance offices, improvements in cognitive function of 26% were recorded.
And of course there is the obvious benefits of saving money. Most people will think of the savings in maintaining the home due to lower energy or water bills, but there is also durability of materials and an estimated 30% higher resale value for green certification, not to mention tax incentives and in many cases code requirements for incorporating green standards.
Michelle: Is green building more expensive?
Sheridan: If we think of green in terms of reduce/reuse/recycle, then it can actually be less expensive for some areas.
Can you use recycled cabinets or appliances? Can you “right size” your home rather than building the largest allowable? Also, there are sustainable materials with similar price points to conventional materials. Budget shoppers can still make choices that aim for durability, water conservation, less chemicals, better manufacturing, etc..
Even things which will add on to the cost in the short term, such as some renewable energy choices, can be recovered in lower maintenance and utility bills and often tax credits. And green certified homes command a premium when it comes time to resell.
Michelle: How about more complicated? Is green building more complicated?
Sheridan: It sometimes can seem more complicated, especially if you are working with an architect or builder who is not committed to green principles. You can find yourself being the one doing the educating along the way. The green building space is really exploding - there are more and more fabulous green solutions out there every day.
Michelle: How can Elemental Green help us with planning and building a greener house?
Sheridan: The complexity problem is exactly what we are aiming to tackle at Elemental Green. How can the average homeowner or building professional find information that is free of jargon and timely without turning it into a full time job?
We make it our job to find the best articles and products and projects out there, and turn it into information that someone can understand without an architecture degree, or 25 years in the building industry.
Michelle: If someone wants to build greener, but can only do a little, what is most important?
Sheridan: I would suggest that you start with two areas - one is making sure that you use low-flow toilets and shower fittings. The demand for fresh water is outstripping the recharge rate, even in areas that we don’t think of as drought-stricken. This change also can be seen in cost savings to the homeowner right away!
The second area is an investment in your health. Think about the chemicals which you are bringing into your home with the materials you select. There are healthier alternatives for your paints, your cabinets, your carpets, and so on.
Michelle: What are your favorite green building trends?
Sheridan: I would say that one of my favorite trends is the push for “right-sizing” your home. You alluded to this in your earlier podcast on tiny homes. We don’t all need to commit to live in 800 square feet, but we should ask ourselves how we can incorporate multi-use rooms or storage to decrease our home’s footprint.
I also love the innovative products which are being made now- mushroom particle board, bark siding, gorgeous engineered surfaces. The list goes on and on.
These days green does not need to be a log cabin aesthetic, you can have a sustainable ultra-modern home, or traditional, or really any style that suites your taste. We want every homeowner to find gorgeous solutions that are right for their family.
Well, that's it for the interview. Special thanks to Sheridan Foster for educating us about green building.
I’m so glad I got to introduce you to Elemental Green. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to build a greener house. The site covers everything from solar panels to kitchen appliances, from roofs to flooring, and everything in between.
If you know someone who thinking about building greener, you can share this episode with them by text or email. And if you’re passionate about getting the message of green building out to more people, you can share this podcast with your social media friends and followers. Just look for the share icon. It’s towards the right of the podcast player if you’re listening from the website. Look for the 3 small circles within a circle.
Ok, let’s test and review some of the things that we covered. Ready for your quiz?
1. What is true about right sizing your home?
A. Right sizing always involves downsizing a house
B. Right sizing a house means designing a house that meets
C. Right sizing a house refers to building a house that is no more
2000 square feet
D. Right sizing means building a house that is the optimally sized
for you and how you actually live.
The answer is D. Right sizing means building a house that is the optimally sized for you and how you actually live. Right sizing has no size limitations, but the house should not be too big or too small for your needs and habits. It’s not about building a house that fits how you or others think you should live. Right sizing is about building a house for how you actually live. No extra "keeping up with the Jones" rooms and no “just because” spaces.
2. Which of the following is true about green building?
A. Every aspect of a green home should be thoughtful of how it impacts the planet.
B. Green houses can take on almost any aesthetic, from log cabin to ultra modern to completely traditional
C. Low flow toilets and shower fittings are a good place to start if you want to build greener home, but are unable to build a completely green house
D. All of the above
The answer is D, all of the above.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
Thank you for listening. I hope you learned as much as I did. Join me for the next edition of Build Your House Yourself University—BYHYU.
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