Green building is designing and constructing a comfortable home that has the smallest impact on the environment during and after construction. Green building has acquired a stigma of being a tremendously complicated process. Depending on the involved parties, it can be. The “green building” movement has become a politically driven industry with accreditation and certificates presented to the homeowner upon completion of their home and subsequent inspection. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes, and neighborhoods.

We feel like the best definition of “green building” is to build a home sensibly.

Almost always, green building is going to be more expensive than traditional building. It takes “green” (dollars) to build “green” (certified). However before deciding whether you will or not, you need to ask yourself a question.

Do I want to build a green home because…

  • I believe I can make a difference?
  • it utilizes sensible ideas?
  • it will save me money?
  • I want to be recognized?

Every green home that is built will contribute to the overall quality of the community. If you like the ideas in green building because they make sense then you have to weigh your desires for practicality versus your budget. You need to consider and compare the long term savings versus the short term cost, when choosing what system you will use and how it will affect your budget. Except for very rare circumstances, you will not save money upfront when using green building practices. If your motivation is to be recognized within your community as being the “green building guy”, then you have already defeated the original purpose of building green.

One last thing to consider is your site. The attributes of your site, location, exposure, elevation, climate, terrain, etc., will significantly affect the decision making process regardless of your motives. This gets back to the premise that green building is building a home sensibly.

Yes. Timber frames are considered sustainable buildings mostly because of their longevity. A typical stick frame house has roughly a 50 year lifespan before major repairs are needed. Whereas a timber frame should stand for hundreds of years before major repairs are needed… if they are needed. Also according to the LEED scoring system a timber frame would fall under Innovation and Design where part of the plan is to build the most durable house possible. A perfect example would be found in Europe where timber framing was, and still is, in widespread use because of longevity.

Another example of the sustainable aspect of timber frames is found in the ‘reclaimed barn’ industry. These companies dismantle North American barns and resell them as packages to be raised elsewhere. How many stick frame houses do you see being dismantled and reassembled in a different location? Most stick frame houses when dismantled are done with a backhoe and a bulldozer. One of the drawbacks to reassembled frames or even reclaimed wood is the engineering. It is very hard for an engineer to sign off on a dismantled frame because the grade of the wood is usually unknown and the joinery is usually unknown.

Looks can be deceiving. Timber frames typically use less wood than a conventional stick framed home because the load supporting capabilities of the wood are optimized. Also, because of the nature of timber framing, the layouts of timber frames tend to be made up of squares and rectangles. Any time you simplify the design of any house, it will usually be a more efficient home.

No. We have explored this option in the past and our mill was certified FSC at one time. However, we have learned that FSC timber comes from the same forests, same trees as regular timber. The only difference is in the paper trail. The paper trail adds cost to the timber and sends more money to bureaucrats who have never even walked through the woods of the northwest.

In addition to that, the people involved with the harvesting of the timbers understand that the forests are their livelihood. The idea that they would blindly log an entire forest makes no sense when considering the generations that will follow them. Being a good steward of their resources not only includes logging wisely but also replanting trees to replenish the forest for their future. It just makes sense.

(The other side of it is that if all the forests were logged, John wouldn’t have anywhere to go Elk hunting!)

A timber frame is only as energy efficient as the envelope that encloses it. The method that has shown the best energy efficiency is using “SIP’s” (Structurally Insulated Panels). These are fixed to the outside of the timber frame and because they do not have thermal breaks in the insulation, they create a solid curtain of insulation. This drastically reduces the amount of heat lost by conduction through the walls and ceilings. Because SIP’s interlock during application, they also create a virtually airtight building envelope.

In some cases that is true. How “healthy” the home is can be affected by the building materials used and by how the air circulation is handled. Air quality can be regulated through the use of a high efficiency air exchanger. Not only do you introduce fresh outside air while expelling indoor contaminants, your utility dollars are maximized by transferring the energy from the outgoing air.

The first place to start is with a sketch of your house. That sketch puts your wishes and needs down on paper. The next step is footwork. Find out what green building methods you have access to and which make sense. Radiant floor heat for example… some areas it makes sense and it others it doesn’t. Remember that green building is about building smart, not state of the art or with the most people involved. Once you have an idea of what systems you want to use, then you begin to modify your home to accommodate those systems. If you can’t accommodate the systems in your home, then you might need to revisit the systems and see what options are available. The process in designing a green home isn’t cut and dried. There will be many twists, turns, and switchbacks as you progress.

One place you can always go to for information at the start is your local building department. With the green building movement becoming so prevalent, the chances are high that they have already dealt with some “green systems.” After that, Google becomes your best friend. On our Informational Links page under the Building Information menu, we’ve posted a few links to green building resources.

Sound familiar? We all get caught up in an idea from time to time. The problem is that not all great ideas are practical or all that great. When you’re researching green building systems, you will find plenty of great ideas. Take time to research them by looking at not only who makes the product but who is living with it and who has built/installed it.

One case in point are ICF foundations. The principle behind them is great. The problem is that they tend to be marketed as “you and your buddies from baseball can form a foundation in a weekend!” When looking for an ICF company, make sure they will send a representative to help you get the forms setup correctly.