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Going Green:  Reality vs. Hype?

By Lindsay Daniel

The “Green machine” media craze is in full throttle and what do you think of all this?  Is it real? Will it be just another fad? Are the sustainable measures way too expensive for your home?  And, what do you get for your efforts?

As a residential architect, I embrace this new movement and from what I have learned so far, I believe the answers are “yes” and “no” to all these questions.  Your personal beliefs and values are all wrapped around these answers.  But with my elementary study (5-6 years) into this complex subject, I have found some helpful basic truths that might quell some apprehensions and give you a better grasp of what all the hype is about.

First – “Green” can be achieved within any style of architecture.  So, no, your home does not have to look contemporary to be green.

Second – There are “Shades of Green”.  Which shade you fulfill depends on your own goal, effort, and budget.  The lightest shade of green would involve using a small amount of green products in your home (like the typical Energy Star rated appliances, bamboo products, compact fluorescence bulbs, etc.).  The darkest shade is where tax credits and/or green certifications are achieved.  The majority of us will most likely fall somewhere in between the lightest and darkest shades of green.

Third – The real returns are found in operating costs, health benefits, and conservation of our planet.  At this point I have not been able to discern any major benefit for our homes gaining “green certification”.  However, stronger governmental tax incentives could change this.  Also on the horizon will be new local building code changes with increasing energy saving measures.

The planning issues for “going green” to consider are:

  • It is a process – It takes teamwork and educated considerations at each step from the purchase of your property, the design of your new home or renovations, the construction and finish materials/products, the construction process and waste removal, landscape design, maintenance process and products used.  Basically the process is holistic and integrated with the homeowner, design team, contractors and sub-contractors all working toward the same goal.  The budget parallels the shade of green you achieve. 
  • The time frame parallels the shade of green – The darker shade of green will take the longest to produce if you are going for certification. For that, you have to apply for, document, and prove what you have achieved.  But, overall, the length of time the homeowner stays in the home plays the major role in determining their return on investment.
  • It is a system of products all working together – achieving “green” only works as a system!  For example: One car part does not make a car operate…it is all of the parts working together to achieve any real results.  A great example I heard recently was,  “it doesn’t matter how much extra  insulation you install…if you paint your exterior walls dark you are absorbing more heat into the walls and it will radiate to the inside!”….and thereby, breaking down your system.  Good results only occur when one system supports another.  
  • You have to be a good detective – There are a lot of grand marketing claims of savings and benefits with “green products”.  Your detective traits and pointed questioning will help you here along with some research.  But do consider the moral issues in deciding for yourself just how green a product really is.  Is it really green if the people who mine the natural resources are being plagued by lung problems and their local environment is being ruined by the extraction of that material for the earth?

I personally believe this all is not a fad, but rather us looking at our future guidelines and regulations.  This is a major adjustment to our present way of thinking and planning to build our future sustainable environment.  And, we can do it!

Lindsay Daniel provides residential architecture services to Charlotte, North Carolina and the surrounding communities.