Getting Started with Green Building and Remodeling

Michael Anschel
Otogawa-Anschel Design + Build

The key to successful green building lies in two things: planning and communication. One of the big challenges in green construction and design is sorting through the vast ocean of information including all of the facts, fictions, and applications. Location, climate and building type all can change the assembly of materials and methods of installation. Consider also the composition of the actual building materials, and concerns such as sustainability, safety, and durability.

Here are some helpful solutions:

1. Start by hiring a design professional who has experience in green design and construction. Make sure you can communicate easily with this person. Common questions include : Have you designed a certified green project? Do you have a green accreditation such as MN GreenStar AP, NARI CGP, or LEED AP? If you find a designer whom you really like, and there just isn’t enough time for them to learn everything, consider hiring a green consultant who can guide everyone through the process. Get everyone involved before you draw a single line.

2. Before starting your new project, test your home for air leaks and possible moisture problems as well as “combustion spillage.” This will help you better understand how your house is currently performing, areas that could be improved in addition to your new project, and possible problems that exist before you make your plans.

3. As you are designing your project, utilize a reference guide such as MN GreenStar, MN Green Communities, or LEED for Homes. This will allow you to keep your project in balance among the numerous green concerns: energy efficiency, water conservation, resource efficiency, indoor environmental quality, site impact, and community impact. Certification has become less costly and planning for it from the start is a simple and invaluable step.

4. If you are planning an addition to your home or considering replacing your heating and cooling equipment, require that your designer obtain Manual J load calculations from an HVAC contractor or energy efficiency expert. These will help you determine the proper size for your new mechanical system, and may also help identify elements in the design that could be changed to reduce the size and the cost of the mechanical system.

5. Selecting your contractor at the same time you select your designer is ideal. Some companies have both design and contractor in house, which helps to integrate the process. Having your contractor involved during the design phase will help to manage cost expectations and provide better communication of the goals and importance of details in the green design.

6. During the designing phase, your designer should involve the various trade contractors who will be working on the project so they can familiarize themselves with the space and help identify solutions that will improve efficiency and reduce cost. This is called a multidisciplinary approach, and is proven to be very successful in reducing cost and avoiding mistakes.

7. Select all of your materials during the design phase. Never start construction or sign a contract without knowing all the details of the project, whether it is the color, size and performance of the windows or the knobs on the cabinets. It all impacts the overall cost and the execution of the project. In green building, every step of the process is documented to ensure that things are done as specified.

8. Test your project at the beginning, at the end, and during construction. Blower door tests and infrared thermometers are two means of measuring air infiltration. Insulation of all types is difficult to properly install. Take the opportunity to catch errors before they turn into an expensive and highly disruptive problem.

9. Finally, make sure the work is done as you and your team determined it should be. The easiest way to do this is to have your project certified by a third party reviewer. Even if you choose not to certify the project, take an active role in the process and require that everything be documented and collected as if the project were to be certified. After all, if you paid for something built green, you should get it green.

As you can see, getting your team together to start the process is truly the key to successfully remodeling or building green. Following these three steps will help ensure your project is a success: include the people who will build it from the beginning; test the project thoroughly; utilize third-party reviewers.

Read Up

The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building:Redefining the Practice of Sustainability, by 7group, Bill Reed, and S. Rick Fedrizzi, Wiley, 2009.

Building Green in a Black and White World, by David R. Johnston, Home Builder Press, 2000.

Builders Guide to Cold Climates: Details for Design & Construction, by Joseph Lstiburek, Taunton Press, 2000.

Act Locally

Minnesota GreenStar
Roseville, MN

Verified Green
Minneapolis, MN

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