Most Common Mistakes Green Homes Make

by: Sara on 08/21/2014


Have you ever dreamt of building a green, eco-friendly home but assumed it was to expensive? Miki Cook and Doug Garret explode the myth that high-performance, environmentally friendly homes have to cost more in their new book Green Home Building, Money Saving Strategies for an Affordable, Healthy High-Performance Home. In today's blog Miki Cook talks about five of the most common mistake people make when building a green home.

Building a green home can be a challenging endeavor, especially if you don’t speak the language of construction.  For a successful project, you must be able to communicate your needs, wants, and goals to the building designer and the home builder and work through the details that, hopefully, will result in  the home of your dreams.  Having seen this all go awry far too many times in the real world, I’ve noticed there are patterns to the failures.  Here are my top five mistakes, their causes, and what you need to keep your eyes on to prevent them from happening to you:

1)            Lack of a firm plan. Building a green home that meets your expectations requires extensive planning, building specification details, project team collaboration, and budgeting. Missing any one of these can kill your budget and ability to achieve your goals.

2)            Bad Design. This is usually the result of a complicated and/or too large design.  Every time you turn a corner in the exterior wall you add complexity to the structural members, foundation and roof, requiring additional framing and waterproofing materials to support the tensions created.  Having “extra” rooms that seldom get used also adds cost not only to build initially but also to heat/cool, furnish, clean, and maintain.  These erode your budget and you end up lacking funds for the high-performance finishes and systems.  When over-budget, the first things cut are the green features and thus you never achieve your goals. A good design includes passive, climate specific strategies and is resource efficient, and this includes the design of the mechanical systems that will deliver efficient operations. You can have all of this on your budget.

3)            Wrong builder.  Hiring a builder who is not experienced or committed to green building.  This usually results in your goals being ignored once they get the contract signed because they just don’t “get it”.  They lack of an understanding of building science and high-performance materials, systems, and paybacks and this manifests itself in bad building specs, taking low bids (you think hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs), and not verifying quality installations that will deliver the paybacks that you expect.  Never sign a contract with a builder who will not put the building specs that you have agreed upon in writing.

4)            Green Bling, i.e. spending money without benefits. This is usually the result of chasing points on a green building certification checklist, instead of looking at the project synergistically to achieve your goals. Just throwing money at add-on expensive systems and finishes (until your money runs out) without understanding the “building as a system” performance paybacks usually mean that you won’t ever see those. Require the use of computer modeling software to show you the return on investment of alternative performance enhancements before you invest in them.

5)            Lack of homeowner education on operations, maintenance, and benefits.  This again isusually the result of the wrong builder and/or trade contractors. Unable to really understand high-performance benefits themselves, they cannot communicate to the homeowner what will be required for the home to deliver on their expectations.  Require thorough educational documentation and commissioning to assure benefits and expectations are met (and have this in your contract).

Miki Cook is a senior green building consultant in Austin, Texas, has spent her career in the building industry and has been a verifier for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes, ICC-700 National Green Building Standard, ENERGY STAR, and the Austin Energy Green Building program.  Along with co-author and building science consultant, Doug Garrett, she wrote GREEN HOME BUILDING: Money-Saving Strategies for an Affordable, Healthy, High-Performance Home, which was released in July, 2014.  The goal of the book is to provide guidance on building a truly green home on any budget.   All of the concerns listed above are thoroughly discussed in the book, in layman “construction” language that will enable you to have the necessary conversations to keep your project on track.



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