Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Who's the greenest of them all?
I've been waiting for the responses, the letters to the editor at Seven Days, the expressions of dismay and frustration with the piece Ryan and I wrote the other week on our green home. Because what I've learned is that regardless of how "green" you are trying to go....it's never green enough. Someone is going to find the chinks in your armor, the flaws in your plan. It's really a glorified pissing contest. As soon as you mention that you're considering bamboo floors, a little voice chimes in with "But they have to be shipped from China! Think about the carbon footprint!" (Okay, so that was me trying to convince a friend to invest in locally harvested hardwoods...but you get my point.) Somebody will always know more than you and be convinced that their shade of green is truer than whatever hue you're purporting to build. It's not that we're not open to new suggestions or feedback...we are...but I'm also tired of the knee-jerk reaction some people have--that instant, uncontrollable urge to tell where you've gone wrong and tout their own, green-er cred.
Case in point. I open Seven Days today to read the letters to the editor. And there it was, in black and white--a journalistic Mannequin Pis. For your reading pleasure:
I hope your insurance is paid up, since you are giving professional advice that is likely to make the occupants ill [“The Green Standard,” June 24]. There are numerous definitions of green for a very good reason: It is a complex issue. Your twofold is not good enough since you recommend sealing the building as tight as possible to save energy and do not mention indoor air quality. What you have done is essentially placed a plastic bag over your head and tied it off. In a sealed building, in the middle of the winter, particulates build up along with water vapor, CO2, and combustion gasses from the furnace, fireplace and stove. It’s like closing your garage and keeping the motor running. One of the professional challenges we have is providing filtered and tempered fresh air after the building is tight. The challenge is to use as little fossil-fuel-derived heating or cooling to do the tempering. My current professional challenge is to use natural ventilation all year round without resorting to a fan. Oh, and, by the way, opening and closing your windows and doors do not provide enough air changes to keep you healthy. And when it’s 20 below out, you do not want to sacrifice the heat.
There was another inconsistency ... in one paragraph you tout Styrofoam ICFs and SIPs while in the next paragraph you rightfully pillory oil-based products. Styrofoam is a petroleum-based product.
As much as I like Marvin Windows (and have met and spoken with Susan Marvin), don’t you think you might promote a Vermont-based window manufacturer?
The current green lighting technology is heavy towards daylighting design combined with LED lighting on sensors and controls. CFLs have mercury that can be dangerous when broken.
Now, there are a few green building experts in Vermont. How about doing an exposé on all of us?
Jonathan Miller, FCSI, AIA
Miller is a Construction Specifications Institute fellow.
Jonathan actually makes some good points...but points that we have already considered. While it was not included in our article (perhaps it should have been), we are installing an Energy Recovery Ventilator (or ERV) to help the house breathe. It is essentially a set of lungs for the house. It will replace indoor air with outdoor air (taking air from the bathrooms and pumping fresh air in through various closets), continuously, through all seasons. When a house is built as tightly as ours is, monitoring indoor air quality is critical, as Jonathan describes. But we got that one covered.
He is also right that ICFs and SIPs are petroleum-based. But what's the alternative? Build a traditionally framed house that leaks energy like a sieve? Such a house will require additional energy for heating/cooling...which means the emission of more greenhouse gasses. I would love to know Jonathan's strategy for creating a super-insulated building envelope that does not use petroleum-based products or excess wood. Maybe there is one that we don't know about. In my mind, the best way to reduce the use of fossil fuels is to ensure that your house is energy efficient. Insulating the heck out of the envelope is an effective way to achieve that objective. Some trade-offs have to be made (see previous dilemma about bamboo).
I'd also love to know what Vermont-based window manufacturer creates windows comparable to Marvin's Integrity line (fiberglass) that are both energy efficient and affordable. I couldn't find any. There is a nice wood option from Green Mountain Window Company but I don't think they make a fiberglass frame. From everything we read and have heard, fiberglass really is the frame material of the future. If there is a VT company that makes cost-effective, fiberglass windows, I truly would be interested.
Finally, I agree that LED is the way to go with lighting. We looked into it. But, in the end, it was too expensive a proposition for us. CFLs are better than regular incandescent bulbs and fit our budget. If we were trust fund babies (subtle reference to BFP article; see June 1 post) we would be on the LED bandwagon.
While I appreciate Jonathan's feedback, I am generally fatigued by the incessant need of those of us who are building green to "one-up" each other. Yes, offer suggestions and reactions. But don't cop an attitude or talk down to us from your green mount. Let's support each other, congratulate each other for trying to take what small steps we can to make our domiciles more earth friendly. Can we call a truce to the pissing contest? As a chick, I've always been at a disadvantage...less accurate aim. Thanks.
(Photo by Markus Koljonen)