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What is green building?

This information comes from the "Greening Your Home" workshop series for homeowners presented by local green building guru Jim LaRue.

How do we distinguish a truly green building from one that just takes a few green items off the shelf?

As green building continues its march to the mainstream, we, more than ever, need “building science” experts like Jim LaRue to provide insight on what’s truly green and what is simply touted as green. LaRue kicked off his seven part “Greening your home” series on Jan. 10, 2008 with an investigation of the big picture of green building: foundations and sites.

Before addressing specifics, LaRue, who has decades of experience in the building trades, looked at the big picture of green building. For the building industry to have an impact on our environment, he says, it must address these questions:

  • How can we recycle building waste and deconstruct old buildings more usefully?
  • How can we find and create local building sources?
  • How can we find ways to make this quality of housing accessible to all?
  • Just about every manufacturer is now claiming their products are green—are they? How can we decide?

“Green building is constantly changing,” LaRue responds. “We should not get hung up on any product or system that becomes designated by public opinion as green.”

Instead, green building means to see our homes as a “system” that is shaped by structural, moisture, air movement, heat transfer and temperature issues.

Having a green building starts with a green site, which may include the following:

  • Take advantage of the sun’s energy (i.e., designing your house to capture its southern exposure)
  • Control water on site by grading (i.e. creating either a swale or ramp of soil around the foundation)
  • Disconnect downspouts and connect them to rain barrels or to water rain gardens (check to make sure your city code allows this. Cleveland does; Shaker does by permit.)
  • Reduce the water you need by using drought resistant native plants
  • Eliminate the use of chemicals on the lawn (reduces leakage into your house through soil gasses)
  • Use permeable surface materials for driveways and sidewalks (permeable concrete is now available and being used in Northeast Ohio).

A very important part of green building is for us as consumers to create a market for these big picture items like permeable concrete & pavers, setting up rain gardens, having fallen trees taken to a lumber mill instead of turned it into mulch (LaRue mentioned Cleveland lumber mill Metro Hardwoods, on Train Avenue, accepts certain wood that has fallen from our trees and remills it for wood products. In fact, a big oak that was felled for the Shaker Lakes Nature Center’s green building was remilled there and eventually turned into benches and trim work for the building).

A dry and tight foundation and frames are the top green building items, and the best investment in greening your home. Battling the perception that windows are the biggest heat loss, LaRue said that a major source of heat/cooling loss in a home is air leaking from vents, ducts, and gaps around chimneys and stacks. Sealing all seams and holes with caulking will help reduce this problem.

“Spending about $40 insulating and sealing air leaks in your attic is going to save you more money than replacing all of your windows,” he said.

A blower-door test, or home energy audit, is a good first move, before considering blow-in insulation. Natural gas company Dominion is offering $50 energy audits and rebate for energy efficiency work performed on your home including insulation contractors, who seal and insulate based on home energy audits.

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