The Traditional Approach
Green home building and remodeling requires a different approach than the traditional, established way of building. Traditionally, the homeowner, you, approaches an architect who designs the home, based on your descriptions, ideas, dreams and wishes. The finished design is then distributed to several general contractors for bid.
The general contractor in turn contacts his/her subcontractors to get bids from them for framing, roofing, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, excavating and foundation work, landscaping, interior finishes.
The bid prices are based on the interpretation of the drawings by each contractor. Rarely do the subcontractors talk to each other during the bid process. Rarely is the architect contacted with questions. Almost never is the homeowner, you, contacted. The contractors’ final bids usually include a list of exceptions and/or a contingency allowance, which might never be used, but is paid for by you anyway.
Homeowners most often accept the lowest bid. Why not? Unless you are familiar with and know the construction business, know the contractor’s quality of work, what other criteria could you apply?
The procedure outlined above often results in considerable construction cost increases, dissatisfied homeowners and sometimes lawsuits.
Huge resources are being neglected and missed when homes are remodeled and built the traditional way: Experience and trade-specific expertise, which could save you time, money and headaches.
The Green Approach To Building A Home
Building a green home must be a systematic approach and done as a team. The project must be looked at as a system, in which each component is connected to and depends on the other components. For example:
- Location of the home on the property will determine the amount of soil disturbance, excavation and landscaping
- Location, size and types of windows will impact the heating and cooling requirement
- Type of heating and cooling equipment will impact space requirements for furnace, heat pump, solar collectors, piping, ductwork, etc
- Choice of exterior wall will impact first cost versus installation cost versus insulation values versus appearance
You get the idea
Teamwork is required to make it all come together. The folks who design and build your green home, will be working with you and with each other for weeks or months. These are some important questions to ask when assembling your green building team:
- Do all of the team members agree on the importance of building green and are they committed to it?
- Do architect and contractors have experience in green home construction and if not, are they willing to learn? The majority if the team should have some experience in designing or building green homes
- Do you like and respect them? Can you see yourself interacting with each of them frequently and maybe work through some challenges?
- Do they like and respect each other?
- Do they take pride in high quality work?
- Can they accept input about their trade from other trades?
Don’t underestimate the importance of your team getting along and working well together. There will be times during the construction when tempers flare, tensions are high, pressure is on. And this could be just when the insulator has to do some very meticulous work to seal all leaks, while the electrician is breathing down her neck to hurry up so he can get his work done.
It is important to include as many of the trades as possible during the design phase. Decisions about choices in materials or heating system can then be done by all involved parties from a fully informed perspective. For example:
Someone mentioned to you the advantages of using structurally insulated panels (SIP), and that is what you would like to use for your green home. Preliminary investigations show that these panels would have to be shipped from hundreds of miles away. The general contractor suggests using insulated concrete forms (ICF). The factory is only 50 miles away, his team is very experienced with this system and he knows that he can do it cheaper than with SIP. The architect supports this idea, because she also knows that homeowner insurance rates are sometimes lower for homes built with ICFs, due to their resistance to termites, wind and fire.
General contractor, architect and HVAC contractor work closely together to determine if your green home should use solar collectors or a geothermal heat pump system for hot water and heat. They contact the wood truss manufacturer to help determine the impact of the heavy solar collectors on the roof frame. A call to the local geothermal heat pump specialists reveals that your future neighbors down the street installed a geothermal heat pump system two years ago and are very satisfied with it. With all this information, you can now make an informed decision.
When the time comes to put the final cost for your green home construction project together, you can be assured that unexpected costs will be minimal. You will know that you and your green building team are all pulling in the same direction.
Addressing and optimizing key factors up front with the whole team will result in a smoother construction process, lower costs and a much better green home for you and your family.