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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You say Green, I say HogWash

I've made a living out of being contrarian, not following the herd, etc... I build new old when this old house was a naive fad, I build small when the mcmansion was raging, I develop small little 15 acre pieces while everyone else was buying hundreds of acres and getting caught up in the planning boards for years.

Which leads me to - you say 'green', I say baloney. Not that building green and making homes more efficient is bad, it's just that many of the ideas are either nonsensical, unaffordable or so small in their impact to be hardly worthy of the energy it takes to describe them.

When the green thing started catching on in 2008 it was the first time I really realized how uncreative and copy-catty the press is - I mean, green was everywhere, on every magazine, every newspaper, every tv commercial. It was just a big echo chamber of mostly nonsense with some good ideas buried under tons of makeup and marketing.

I am a pretty serious builder with some pretty fast customers, and luckily I had the good fortune to be selling some homes during this initial green rage, and I tell you, I was shocked that my customers, - these cutting edge, hip (so, not you Gary or James :}) urban professionals didn't give a cat's ass about green - they cared about their tile, their kitchens, their wainscotting, but they saw right through the green baloney being offer up as value-added.

It wasn't as though they didn't care if there house was efficient or not - they just weren't buying into the whole idea that recycled cardboard was a good countertop, or that if you weren't composting your garden with your own feces then you were contributing the early demise of your children.

Green to me is high-performance, best practices, keep-your-eye-on-the-ball best practices. For instance there is a company out there- New World Home - a modular company who claims that their houses 'are the greenest in the country', that their homes use '50% less water', that by buying one of their County Living modulars, you are saving the planet.

Baloney. And homebuyers are smarter than that. Sure, if it was a faucet, or a light, or a paint claiming these things, no big deal. People will take it in good faith, whether the claims are true or not. Ask someone to spend $400k on a dubious claim, and you have exactly the problem they have - people don't believe it, or at least they want some serious quantitative proof.

Which brings me to my next point. I had no idea LEED did not measure a building's final energy performance. Here you have the good standard of green building, and to get LEED certification, you do not have to show any superior performance from your home. You have to pay a few thousand dollars, and you need to navigate a forest of paperwork and administration, but you do not need to meet any performance criteria.

Are you kidding me? Isn't it scary that the gold standard of green building has no capacity or tool to measure a buildings final performance? So, like I said, mainline green building is baloney. LEED organization is now being sued by a mechanical engineer who is claiming that without a final performance test, their accreditation is somewhat pointless, a marketing ploy. I'm looking forward to the lawsuits from homebuyers and condo buyers who claim to be paying the same amount in energy bills as their non-LEED house they owned before. It's a real opportunity for an enterprising attorney.

Here are a few green building truths, and while you don't need an army of administrators to achieve them, and you don't need to pay thousands of dollars in inspection fees, - they form the foundation of making the housing stock better - insulate with spray foam insulation, build small, and use your brain while building. I know our homes would measure up to any quantitative measurement and I have never used the word green in our marketing.

I prefer 'respecting the intelligence of our buyers.'

Relately, an Interesting New Yorker article hypothesizing that increased efficiency in homes and vehicles and what have you only leads to increased usage, because it's cheaper. So the more efficient we become, the more energy we use. If we drove a non-efficient uncomfortable Model T we would drive less than an ultra-efficient hybrid Escape - more efficient, drive more. We can use more air conditioning because it is more affordable because it is more efficient. If our light bulbs and appliances are so efficient our electric bill keeps dropping, we can keep buying more bulbs and appliances and electric gadgets.

It was a very interesting article about the pickle we are in.

4 comments:

  1. Good blog Chuck. I had no idea that it was a matter of paper work and money to get the "green certification". Thanks for the info.

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  2. Hi Liz, thanks for checking in. Is that really your name or is that your online alias? It's so much cooler than Chuck Petersheim. I'm jealous.

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  3. Liz Sweet or SweetLizJanuary 10, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    That my real name. I started following your blog from the Blog Cabin. Love your homes & cottages. Keep up the good work.

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  4. I LOVE YOUR HOUSES...
    MY GUY AND I, HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY A HOUSE WITH OUT THE BANKS HELP,BUT I DO FEEL THAT A NEW HOME FOR ME, WOULD HAVE TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION MY NEED FOR NON-TOXIC MATERIALS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE... I KNOW THAT SOME OF THAT IS A REALITY AND MABE SOME IS NOT.. I WOULD WANT THE BUILDER TO VALUE MY NEEDS ALSO??
    SO, HOW DO YOU WORK WITH SOME ONE WHOM WANTS THE LEAST OUT GASING AS POSSIBLE??


    ALWAYS,
    MELISSA

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