As I write this, it’s been about a week since back to back snowstorms descended upon Washington, D.C. We who live in the Washington area know our town is widely lampooned as the place where schools shut down simply because of a forecast of snow, but this time we really did get a heap of it. Not only has D.C. gotten more snow this winter since record-keeping began here (beating the previous record-winning winter of 1898–1899), but the city received the third largest amount of snow in the country so far this season, just after Baltimore(!) and Syracuse, N.Y.
The intensity of the storms triggered different jokes this time, most of which were aimed at global warming proponents (see news reports featuring “Al Gore’s igloo”). But the free-for-all about whether the storms are evidence for or against global warming are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak; many people started questioning the evidence for climate change long before these snowfalls occurred. According to pollster Harris Interactive, its survey in December 2009 showed a 20 percentage point drop in the number of respondents who believe that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases lead to global warming compared to numbers from just two years ago. Similar results were obtained a month or two earlier from polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, CNN, and the BBC.
So if most Americans and, by extension, most of your customers, no longer believe in global warming or, at least, do not believe that it is being caused by human actions, what does that portend for green building?
Not much, really. That’s because the principles of green building have as much to do with providing a comfortable place for people to live and achieving that with an efficient use of materials than with calculating a building’s carbon emissions.
In fact, the main building blocks of green construction—siting and structure design, energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality, efficient use of materials, and waste reduction—all offer benefits for both your customers and you in the here and now.
Yes, you. The last two items on the list above have the potential to save you money. This month’s story, “A Fresh Look,” starting on page 84, illustrates how just one part of the construction process can have a meaningful impact on your costs as well as on a home’s energy performance. Builder Guy Haskell of Bountiful, Utah, builds high-performance, energy-efficient homes for 4 percent less than a standard home, while other builders claim that building for high-performance adds a 4 percent premium to their costs.
How does Haskell do it? Partly by employing optimum–value engineering (OVE) and advanced framing. By using two-stud corners, insulated box headers, spliced floor joists, and a host of other techniques, Haskell has realized 30 percent savings in his framing costs. The energy-efficiency bonus to this way of using materials more efficiently is that OVE creates larger cavities in the walls, allowing for a great deal more insulation.
OVE has also allowed Haskell to utilize much of the lumber that once would have been tossed as scrap and considerably reduce what he used to send to the dump. Which leads us to the last item on the list of green building blocks—waste reduction.
This part of the process has way more impact than you might think. The NAHB Research Center did a study that showed the waste created in the construction of an average 2,000-square-foot house comes to more than 8,000 pounds, with wood, drywall, and masonry making up the bulk of the debris. The NAHBRC also estimated that 80 percent of that material could be recycled. Getting a handle on this part of your process can add up to some big savings.
Call this kind of construction what you will—green, sustainable, high-performance, healthy, energy-efficient—it simply means better building practices and a better product. And it’s here to stay.
Unlike, I hope, the snow in Washington.