Avoid Green-Building Missteps

The road to becoming a successful green builder starts with planning

January 13, 2017

I completed my first super-energy-efficient home in 1982, and started Ferrier Builders in 1984 with a focus on building some of the most energy-efficient homes in the United States. Over a period of 34 years, during which my company has built numerous Energy Star, LEED, and National Green Building Standard-certified homes, I’ve experienced the same frustrations as other custom builders that are committed to building green.

I’d like to alleviate some of that frustration by revealing what I see as the five biggest missteps green builders make, and how they can get off on the right foot.

Failure to plan. The most common mistake is not taking the time during design and product selections to think through how they will impact the end result. In the rush to begin construction, it’s easy to skip careful planning of the house design, site layout, and products used in all stages of construction. 

Failure to communicate team goals. To successfully execute a green project, you must clearly and repeatedly communicate to the team the goals to be achieved, and how you will help them meet those goals. 

Failure to take into account passive-solar considerations. Energy efficiency scores the most points in green certification, and I feel it’s the most important. In our hot Texas climate, we are very careful to eliminate or minimize the heat from the sun entering the structure during the summer. The sun from the west is the worst. South is next, east is third, and north has no consequence here for summer heat gain. If we build the most airtight home with the best “R” values but the sun pours in through the windows during the hot months, we have committed “energy suicide.” We avoid this through elimination or placement of windows, overhangs, trees, etc. Conversely, in a cold climate one needs the warm winter sun to heat the home, so it’s critical to take steps to allow sunlight in.

Making mistakes that lead to poor indoor air quality. It’s critical to look holistically at all items in the home, from subflooring, adhesives, and sealants for concrete and other types of floors to cabinets, countertops, paints, and stains. You must evaluate every product for adverse effects. A very airtight home can quickly become unhealthy if VOCs or formaldehyde are outgassing.

Failure to reduce, reuse, and recycle construction debris. For most crews, this is a new and foreign concept. It will take education, patience, and perseverance in the form of daily monitoring. Well-thought-out placement of recycling stations on construction sites is crucial.

All of us have faced these challenges, and all of them can be overcome through advance planning, good communication, and attention to the basic tenets of sustainability.

Don Ferrier is president of Ferrier Builders and Ferrier Custom Homes, based in Fort Worth, Texas. 

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