Green industry grows up
First in a three-part series.
Who wants to live in a sick house? In areas across the country, there is a "green" building boom and much of it is driven by the desire to stay healthy. Though they may not be Amityville horror houses, our homes and offices can make us ill. Just consider the potential toxins that can possibly be invisibly poisoning your family. The list includes radon, toxic mold, lead paint and dust, asbestos, all sorts of allergens, chemical vapors and carbon monoxide.
Indeed, an increasing number of health problems—including asthma, respiratory disease, sleep disorders and headaches—can be attributed to poor indoor environments. The more severe cases are being labeled as multiple chemical sensitivity and can create havoc with a person's life.
A healthy, "green" home ideally is made with non-toxic building materials, has energy-efficient appliances, windows, and climate-control systems, has solar capabilities, and uses materials that are recycled and are from renewable resources when possible.
The good news is that builders and their clients are being drawn to green, environmentally friendly ways of living. The interest is carried over into sustainable architecture and micro-environments inside the home.
At the Wood River Valley Home Show, Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5, valley builder Garth Callaghan and designer Marina Poole are showcasing eco-friendly green products, some of which are being used in the construction of a house north of Hailey.
Callaghan will have samples of Logix insulated concrete forms for walls and Low E Reflective insulation. Poole will have samples of certified wood flooring, recycled-paper countertops, recycled cooper sinks, natural cabinets and frames, which "don't emit any off-gassing," she said. Poole will also have samples of recycled plastic, reclaimed agricultural fiber and 100 percent recycled alum tiles.
Off gassing—emanating chemical vapors—is the key to the improvement of many of these newly green products. Some traditionally used products finish off gassing in a matter of hours; others may take days or even weeks.
Gone are the days of bulky and gerry-rigged items associated with the California back-to-nature bent in the 1970s. Chances are you may not recognize an energy-efficient house if you saw it. The guts of a green house are hidden well, solar panels are smaller and the products are architecturally pleasing.
"The technology has changed," said Ken Ferris, a Wood River Valley builder. "A lot of people went in the wrong direction 20 years ago. California gave tax breaks for using energy-efficient products, but they looked awful."
According to Green Living & Building consultant Nancy Taylor, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., the United States is slowly coming around to the green building movement. Due to necessity, green living in general is stronger in Europe where there is less land and resources and more recycling, she said. Taylor spoke at the Sun Valley Mountain Wellness Festival Saturday, May 28.
"We make these choices between health and cost," she said. "You become an active participant in your home when you go green. When building, you need to think about the land's orientation. Think about the house's footprint, the spatial relationship of house to land. Products should be reusable. Think about the waste. What happens to this stuff after we're gone? It's a different way of thinking. After you begin making the changes look at your utility bills, your doctor bills."
Taylor was forced to confront these issues herself when she was diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities. Now healthy, she built her own green house in 2002, which is showcased on the Homes Across America Web site.
Of course, as energy prices continue to climb, building green is going to become even more desirable. Up front costs are recouped over time through the use of natural and sustainable resources, like the sun. Green building will inevitably continue to become more mainstream through better technology, education and availability.
Is it just a fad? Hardly likely, said Morgan Brown of the Ketchum based consultant and development firm Developing Green.
"We've learned from our mistakes. It's transforming the way construction is done. The economics are driving it. So-called tree huggers might have gotten it rolling due to environmental concerns, but through the process we've figured out how to do it better. The health issue is also driving it. The first people who did green commercial buildings saw astounding rates in productivity and less sick days, and that hits your bottom line first. The evidence is fairly compelling and it's just a better way to build."
Next: New homes in valley hope to earn Green Building Certifications