Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is Green Building? A Whole House Approach is a Key Element

Homeowners who are interested in Greening their existing home should seek some guidance before diving in too deep. A prime example is having a solar electric system installed on a house that has multiple problems of inadequate insulation and air infiltration. Spending thousands of dollars to generate electricity to heat a leaky building is a waste of both financial and natural resources.

A Whole House Approach considers the building as a system with interrelated parts. A first step would be to have a blower door test conducted to determine the locations and extent of air leaks. Heat generated inside will seek the colder space outside any way it can. Money can be better spent on sealing and insulating, upgrading the home's overall performance, before adding a new expensive component like an elaborate photovoltaic system. With this approach, the size and expense of a solar system (if desired) can be moderated to fit the improved building system.

Contact us for assistance in analyzing where to begin Greening your Whole House.

Tom Trent Builders Certified Green Building Professional

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is Green Building? It's About Performance

How Green is my building? It can be looked at as how a home or place of business performs with respect to energy use, indoor air quality, general comfort, and impact on the environment. A drafty house with excessive moisture (promoting mold), that costs a small fortune to heat is pretty hard on both the budget and the state of mind.

Most of the buildings we live and work in could use some help--ranging from a tune-up to an overhaul--to improve their performance. The benefits of a better-performing building include lower heating/cooling costs, higher comfort level, and less negative impact on the environment.

The average useful life of a furnace is about 15 years, with decreasing efficiency over time. As much as 30% of the warm air probably escapes under the house or in the attic before it warms us due to unsealed, leaking ductwork.

Many buildings built before the last decade have what would now be regarded as inadequate insulation to conserve the warm air generated by the inefficient heating system. And there are a myriad of air leaks that could be sealed where plumbing and electrical components penetrate into the living space.

Single pane windows (homes built as recently as 30 years ago have these) and unsealed crawl spaces promote condensation and interior moisture, which can lead to mildew and mold in the home. There are health risks associated with these conditions.

These are but a few of the most obvious places to start the tune-up or overhaul your building needs. Contact us to schedule a complimentary evaluation of your building's performance.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What is Green Building? Thoughtful Shopping for Materials is a Key Element

There is a myriad of choices that can be made when selecting and procuring building materials, regardless of the scope of the project. Rather than automatically going to the "big box" corporate retailer to buy (probably) materials manufactured in Asia with that big carbon footprint, think about taking a little time to find a Greener alternative.

The money spent at the corporate outlet leaves the local community. The transportation involved in getting the materials from outside the U.S. to your neighborhood consumes a lot of energy and produces a lot of CO2 emissions.

We are fortunate here in Sonoma County to have several local family-owned building materials retailers that are competitive in price with the corporate giants. Having grown up in a family that operated a business like that, I rarely darken the door of the "big box" store. The dollars spent in a locally-owned business circulate among friends and neighbors, rather than leaving for distant corporate headquarters.

I recently finished a kitchen facelift including new flooring. I was able to purchase American-made laminate flooring with almost all recycled content at one of the locally-owned suppliers at a very competitive price. That transaction supported American jobs, provided a healthy, low-carbon footprint improvement to the home, and circulated dollars in the local community.

This is just one small example of how thoughtful materials selection can have a ripple effect moving toward sustainability, both globally and locally.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CAL GREEN--California Green Building Code 2011

Taking effect on January 1, 2011, the California Green Building Standards Code will require all new residential and commercial buildings to be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible. The result of several years of work, it will also serve as a model for other states and building codes. The general goals of CAL GREEN are to promote "greener buildings constructed with environmentally advanced building practices that decrease waste, reduce energy use and conserve resources", according to Governor Schwarzenegger.

Some specific requirements for every new building include:
--Reduction of water consumption by 20%.
--Diversion of 50% of construction waste away from landfills.
--Installation of healthier, low-toxic building materials.
--Requires separate water meters for nonresidential buildings indoor & outdoor water use.
--Calls for moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects.
--Mandates inspections of energy systems (heat furnace, air conditioning & mechanical systems)
for nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that greenhouse gas emissions may be reduced by 3 million metric tons in ten years. Property owners can label their facilities as CAL GREEN Compliant after passing inspection, without an additional third-party verification. Approximately 40 local jurisdictions already have voluntary Green building standards in place. CAL GREEN will provide a consistent, state-wide mandatory code, setting a high standard for the entire country.

Thanks to California Green Solutions for the above summary. We look forward to working with the new code in the coming year. Contact us for assistance as you develop your building project.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sonoma County Energy Independence Program Gains Momentum

I paid a visit to the "energy store" yesterday...that's the office of the innovative county program that provides financing for home and business owners to retrofit their buildings for increased energy efficiency, located at the Water Agency on Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa. I needed some more of their brochures, having passed out quite a few of them at my booth at the Solar Fair.

I asked how the program is going, and was told that since its inception last March, nearly 600 applications have been accepted with projects underway or completed. Other local governments in the Bay Area are developing their own versions of this program as well.

I am currently working on a project on an older home adding floor insulation, replacing the outmoded forced-air heating system with a 95% efficient furnace and all new sealed ductwork, and replacing all the old wood sash with new dual-glazed windows that have weatherproof cladding on the exterior and wood showing inside.

More information about the SCEIP can be found on their website

Tom Trent Builders

Friday, March 27, 2009

Financing Is Now Available for Greening Your Home or Business

On March 25, 2009 the County of Sonoma launched an innovative new program which offers property owners the opportunity to finance energy efficient improvements through the property tax system. Sonoma County is the first in the state to implement this new effort to improve energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy generation, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All nine cities within the county are also expected to join this program.

Improvements must be permanently affixed to the property, and can include (but are not limited to): high efficiency windows, solar and/or tankless water heaters, solar panels, upgraded wall and roof insulation, "smart" irrigation systems, and high efficiency HVAC systems. Working with their contractor, property owners determine the scope and costs of proposed retrofits and apply for funding from the county. If approved, the county pays the up-front costs, places an assessment lien on the property, and the owner repays the county through the property tax system over a 5, 10, or 20 year period. If the property is sold, the new owner takes on the obligation to repay for the improvements.

Contact Tom Trent Builders (707) 865-1250 or for more information and to schedule a free consultation. is the official website for the program, where you can get all the details and application forms.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What is Green Building? Resource Conservation is a Key Element

One of the most important aspects of Green Building is the careful use of natural resources that become construction materials. Starting with concrete for the foundation, lumber for framing and trim, structural panels for subfloor and sheathing, right on through insulation, cabinets and finish flooring, there are important choices that can be made to minimize pollution, waste, and environmental degradation. I have more than 15 years experience in this kind of building.

I want to focus on a couple of Sonoma County family-owned businesses that are not only suppliers of Greener products, but also leaders in pointing the way toward a Greener future in the construction industry.

With respect to concrete, the production of Portland Cement is perhaps the most heavy carbon footprint of any building material. The aggregates (sand & gravel) have to be mined from the earth and processed to be of any use. Austin Creek Materials in Cazadero operates a quarry, extracts gravel from a creek, and processes and sells aggregates and concrete. Several years ago, this company received national recognition for its careful environmental practices regarding the fish habitat in Austin Creek. More recently, it is working with some local entrepreneurs to make ecologically safer concrete available to the industry and the public. This new product will contain much less Portland Cement (substituting flyash and other substances), and much less natural aggregates (substituting crushed recycled old concrete). It costs more to produce and purchase than standard concrete, but its environmental impact is much lower.

Looking at forest products, the old-style logging practices resulted in clear-cutting, erosion, and loss of animal habitat. While these methods are on the decline, the real change is happening in forests that are managed and harvested in ways that are environmentally responsible. The Forest Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization that sets standards for these new approaches and certifies specific companies that are marketing their products as having been harvested in a sustainable way. Trees are individually selected for cutting and are replanted in a biodiverse manner. Each log is tracked in a "chain of custody"--from the forest, to the mill and finally to the retail supplier--to certify its authenticity. In Sonoma County, the principals in Mead Clark Lumber Co. have created a wholesale business--Natural Forest Distribution--that specializes in making FSC certified products available for the West Coast. Again, they cost more to produce and purchase, but the long-term benefits for the forests--which absorb CO2 and provide animal habitat--are incalculable.

Contact me and let me help you plan your new home, addition/remodel project or repair job utilizing these locally-available Green products and materials. We can build a first-quality project that helps improve the health of the local economy and the planet.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Green Tax Credits Available in 2009

As part of the economic bailout, Congress has included some energy efficiency tax credits for homes and businesses. Here is a brief run-down. Check with your tax preparer for the details on how to take advantage of these.

--Purchase of hybrid car or SUV $250-$3,150 depending on vehicle weight and fuel economy.
--Purchase of heat pump or central air conditioner $300. Purchase of furnace or boiler $150. Only certain Energy Star products qualify.
--Replacement windows up to $200. All Energy Star windows qualify.
--Insulation and sealing up to $500-installation must meet building code.
--Ground source heat pump up to $2,000. Only Energy Star models qualify.

Thanks to Dawn Killough of Green Building for this information.

Contact me for a walk-through assessment of your home or business to start saving money on energy costs. These kinds of improvements start paying for themselves the day they are completed and contribute to overall sustainability as well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inauguration and the Green Building Academy--a Double Dose of Inspiration

Inauguration Day--never before have over 2 million Americans come to Washington to stand in freezing weather for hours to celebrate a new President. Barack Obama, though, inspires people to do out-of-the-ordinary things. I have watched on TV many of the Presidential inaugurations in my lifetime. The one from the past that kept coming to mind was John Kennedy's--the last time until now that we have had a truly gifted leader emerge at the right time to take on the enormous problems the country faces. And of course, I was reminded of Dr. King's dream of freedom and equality for all citizens. Symbolism became reality when President Obama was sworn in.

He has called upon every citizen to be part of a new "era of responsibility" to each other, our communities and country, and the planet. His challenge to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the remaking of America", saying "we are ready to lead" once again is exactly the attitude that is needed in these times.

This remaking is already underway here in Sonoma County. I participated in a meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Green Building and Design Academy at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa yesterday as well. A former client--for whom I built a solar-powered house seven years ago--teaches there and initiated this unique program. It has 30 sophomores, more than half of whom are "at risk" academically, socially or economically.

After only one semester in the program, these kids have become passionate about learning because they see a future for themselves working in Green technology and business. Some want to be hands-on technicians, retrofitting existing buildings for energy-efficiency or installing solar systems. Others have already set their sights toward higher education to learn marketing, engineering, construction management or computer science, all with a Green emphasis.

Some of these students who could barely express themselves last fall now go out to speak publicly before adult community groups telling about their reasons for getting involved, their personal difficulties in school in the past, and their new plans for the future. This program is the only one of its kind and I am thrilled to be a part of it. It is evolving spontaneously in response to a real need and is a guidepost to a hopeful future.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Green Building Creates Jobs, Saves Energy and Money

That's the message that the U.S. Green Building Council has been advocating to President-Elect Obama's transition team. This organization (which has lead the national green building movement) developed the LEED standards for greening buildings to improve energy-efficiency, resource conservation, and indoor air quality. On-going talks with the transition's energy and environment group have resulted in the new administration placing a high priority on programs that will improve government buildings and schools as well as create jobs. The White House itself will undergo green building renovation to point the way.

This is a ray of hope that the upcoming federal economic stimulus, aimed at dealing with the present financial crisis, will include elements that will not only circulate dollars but also promote positive change for the environment. Who can argue with the need for healthier schools and more energy-efficient public buildings?

On an individual level, nearly every existing home, business or workplace could be "greened up" to improve its energy performance and promote a healthier indoor environment. Change of any kind starts at home, at the micro level, doing what we can with what we have. As a Certified Green Building Professional, I can help you develop your "to do list" to get started (in the words of David Johnston) "changing the world one room at a time".